At ten past twelve my eight year old nephew, Charlie, had decided that Jordan Henderson’s magnificent curling shot from edge of the box too top right corner of Joe Hart’s net was the best goal he’d ever seen at Anfield. By ten to two he’d revised his opinion. He wasn’t alone; it was a day for revising opinions.
Four thirty on Friday morning this team got home. Four thirty after playing a debilitating 120 minutes plus penalties on a heavy Turkish pitch. Four thirty after sitting in the crawl of Turkish traffic to a delayed flight. Four thirty Friday morning and we’re playing again at noon on Sunday against the team that pipped us to the title last season.
“Champions. Champions” sang the bladdered City fan walking across Stanley Park at us after the game having spotted that one of the four of us was wearing club colours. That one being eight years old. Classy but we all have our idiots. “Yes, you are” was the only reply. They are. Champions. For the moment.
We may have contributed to Chelsea winning the title back today but honestly? Not even vaguely interested. Only interested in us. Only interested in the fact that we sent out a statement of intent today; showed what we’re capable of.
What we’re capable of is much more than we suggested on Thursday night. What we’re capable of is going toe-to-toe with the best clubs in the country on equal terms. What we’re capable of is out-playing, out-fighting, out-thinking and out-footballing those teams. Even on no sleep and no preparation.
This match was about the way that little Joe Allen (the much derided ‘Welsh Xavi’) could dictate play from the centre of the park, could contain Yaya Toure for 90 minutes in as effortless a manner as one could imagine and make everything happen. It was about the best ninety minutes that the ex-Swansea lad has put in whilst wearing a red shirt. It was about grace and mobility and speed and vision.
It was about the rebirth of Dejan Lovren. From that moment, from that miss, from the devastation that he felt in Istanbul to return home to find that he’s clearly targeted by City as the weak link in the team? He stood firm, passed through some shaky moments and started to show some actual defensive capabilities. I’m calling it now; Dejan Lovren will come good. These are the first signs.
And it was about the sheer, utter genius of ‘The Little Magician’ Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian has embarked on a shock attempt to populate May’s Goal Of The Season awards with ten of his own. After the ‘out of nowhere, off the bar and bouncing down’ success at Southampton last week he decided that today was the time to go for a peculiar ‘arrowed yet looping and dropping’ slice of beauty. From nowhere again. Nothing seemingly on. Again. Suddenly 2-1 up and seeing out the game.
There had been scares, obviously. There had been threats. It wasn’t easy. City are a very, very good team. Their equaliser was a magnificent team goal, carving us open on the edge of our own box. Voices in the stands blamed defenders, claimed we were too slow, too likely to stand off rather than challenge but the simple truth is City can do this to you. Silva, Nasri, Dzeko, Aguero; these are excellent players, expensive players. Our game winner cost £8.5m. When the superpowers come knocking - and they will - we can just move the decimal point up a notch. Genius costs and we’re not letting go.
We escaped a couple - Aguero hitting the post was a warning sign - but so did City. Sterling could have had a brace, we had two (correctly) ruled offside; one a moment of sheer quality from the tireless and influential Adam Lallana, another man who could claim to be having his best game in a red shirt. We were, quite simply, the better team in one hell of a game of football; the sort of game where you know for a fact that the neutrals have had their money’s worth.
So where do we stand? Well, the world thought that we would be found out at Everton, at Southampton, with Spurs and City at Anfield and instead we’ve taken ten points from twelve. We’re the only team in the Premier League unbeaten this calendar year and we’re up to fifth. We’re three points off third place and we have yet to play our second game against the two teams above us. Third is ours for the taking. United at home in a few weeks is massive but today was massive. It was, as my nephew described it, “epic brilliant”.
Burnley at home on Wednesday, Blackburn in the cup on Sunday, one step from the semis. Third place and our one remaining cup; would you have had that in November? That’s a comeback.