'It’s Our Year!’ For once the proclamations coming out of Anfield were right.
It is indeed ‘their year’, but such conversational murmurings applied solely to the Manchester City supporters spilling through the gates of the visitors section of the Anfield Road Stand.
Beaten but not bowed, the vanquished City fans had seen their team lose a battle, but not the war.
2018 will undoubtedly be a good year, perhaps even a great year, to be a blue, as Pep Guardiola’s team evolves into something rather special.
The giddy Scousers have long since forgotten what it feels like to be the Champions of England. Yesterday’s delirium and lifting of the ‘We Beat Manchester City Cup’ will have to suffice.
Andre Marriner’s final whistle acted as a release mechanism as the all pervading anxiety gripping the Merseyside masses gave way to scenes of hysteria.
Only seconds beforehand, City had threatened one of the most remarkable and unlikely of comebacks in Premier League history. From 4-1 down they came within a whisker of snatching a 4-4 draw, but it wasn’t to be.
A calamitous eight minutes of Keystone Kop style defending, had seen City seemingly imploding much to the delight of the baying hordes in The Kop, The Centenary and Kenny Dalglish Stands, not to mention Martin Tyler in the Sky Sports commentary gantry.
The Kleenex share price went through the roof as Tyler single handedly worked his way through box after box after box of the famous tissues, such was his lack of impartiality and Liverpool bias.
If ever evidence was required to illustrate Sky Sports’ sheer unbridled joy at finally seeing City lose a Premier League game, here was Tyler the provider – shooting it out by the bucketload – not bad going for a 72-year old pensioner.
It was so different when City clawed their way back to 4-3 with late goals from Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundagon. The draw looked more than likely.
It was time for Tyler & Co to put down the tissues and go online for an express delivery from TENA Men.
As it was, the only leakage problems stemmed from a City defence who hit the self destruct button, in a way not witnessed since they ventured onto the Blue half of Merseyside almost a year to the day, losing 4-0 at Everton.
Tyler was ecstatic when Sadio Mane scored Liverpool’s third, conjuring up a wholly inappropriate comment, claiming it was ‘…payback for the red card at the Etihad.’
It beggared belief.
Here was Sky’s Commentator-In-Chief spewing out some warped sense of natural justice, that kicking City’s keeper in the face last September merited some sort of reward for the Senegalese striker.
Suffice to say Pep Guardiola exuded class and dignity when congratulating Liverpool on their victory, completely devoid of snide innuendos and Tyler-esque tackiness.
The City manager had been proven right.
He’d said all along that his team would not go through the domestic season undefeated. Sadly his assessment was correct.
It’s a measure of City’s amazing achievements since last August that Manchester United fans were all over social media like Psoriasis – red, flaky and crusty – rejoicing in Liverpool’s ‘Cup Final’ glory.
That said, it would be churlish to deny Liverpool their spoils, albeit aided and abetted by a cluster of uncharacteristic City errors.
The normally exceptional Ederson was a fraction too slow getting down to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s hopeful 20-yard drive, whereas he was just plain unlucky when his ‘sweeper keeper’ clearance went straight to Salah, who promptly sent the ball sailing into the City net from all of 40 yards.
Since returning from a hamstring injury and 12 match absence, the previously imperious John Stones has looked a bit rocky at times. He was at fault for the second goal, when Firmino outmuscled him to the ball.
It follows on from errors against Burnley and Bristol City which resulted in goals, so the sooner the young central defender is back to his best, the better.
Even Pep’s ‘Superman’ – The General – Nicolas Otamendi was at it, bungling a clearance leading up directly to Mane’s ‘payback’ strike.
City’s 30-match unbeaten Premier League run stretching back to April 5th was coming to an embarrassing, possibly humiliating, end until the Sky Blue’s ‘Fight Till The End’ mentality kicked in.
There was no hint of the pending defeat when Leroy Sane equalised at 1-1 in the 40th minute, followed by City’s subsequent dominance in the opening stages of the second half.
Prior to kick-off, any hope of a historic City win at a ground where they'd won just twice in 37 years, was tempered with pragmatism.
Many City supporters would have happily taken a draw and saved themselves the pain of the journey down the East Lancs Road.
The fact City lost – yet again – but still maintained a 15 point lead at the top of the Premier League, is glowing testimony to the excellence of Guardiola’s team this season.
As English football marvelled that City could actually be beaten, one could only laugh as good old Sky Sports News went into overdrive on how Manchester United could cut the gap to City to ‘just’ 12 points – JUST 12 points – with a win over Stoke.
Blimey, at this rate Jose and his soon-to-be new boy, Alexis Sanchez, will surely be top of the table themselves by the end of February!
City were beaten fair and square by Liverpool, but now, after a horrendously hectic schedule, have the novelty - the luxury - of five days without a competitive fixture.
Over the past few months Pep has often been quoted saying he will learn more about his players by their reaction after a defeat.
It doesn’t bode well for Newcastle United when they roll up at the Etihad on Saturday evening. The Barcodes league record against City in recent years is even worse than City’s against Liverpool.
City have won 19 and drawn 2 of the last 21 league meetings since the man City fans love to hate – Michael ‘Monotone Drone’ Owen – scored in a 1-0 Toon win in September 2005.
Hopefully City will see a lot more of David Silva as they strive to fire on four fronts with vital League Cup and FA Cup ties this month, plus the Champions League knockout stages just around the corner.
Merlin’s emotional challenges and the health of his newborn baby boy are well documented. The life and well-being of tiny Mateo Silva transcend football, but as Mini Merlin gets stronger, it can only aid his Dad’s availability for the day job.
Understandably, City’s recent performances – either in part or in whole – have lacked some of the zip from earlier in the season. The rigors of a ridiculous schedule and injuries were bound to take a toll.
The ongoing riddles of Vincent Kompany’s fitness continue to frustrate the City skipper, Pep and fans alike. Brilliant Benjamin Mendy – as entertaining off the field as he is electrifying on it – won’t be back for at least another two months. His loss down the left flank cannot be overstated.
More encouragingly, Gabriel Jesus and Phil Foden should be available later this month before the January transfer window closes.
It’s a window that’s proven a pane for Pep, with the protracted Alexis Sanchez saga now succeeding in boring the backsides off most City fans.
Quality reinforcements are always welcome, especially when there’s a quadruple to be won, and the next 16 days will reveal whether Guardiola will do any wheeling and dealing.
Either way, 2018 will be Manchester City’s year…and most likely so too will 2019, 2020, 2021…
By David Walker