Reds' storm of emotion blows City to pieces
Liverpool 3 Manchester City 2
Liverpool have the look of champions and the look on Steven Gerrard's face at the final whistle of this tumultuous victory told a powerful story.
The tears in the eyes of the Liverpool captain signalled the deep significance of this result. It meant that Gerrard and his exciting team were closer to the title, closer to a first league championship in 24 years. It meant everything.
His team had given everything, first technically and then physically and mentally. For a half, they were a storm in red, blowing Manchester City to pieces, scoring through Raheem Sterling and Martin Skrtel.
After demonstrating their thrilling qualities, their pace and poise, Liverpool then faltered, conceding to David Silva's strike and a Glen Johnson own goal, before demonstrating their other traits, their resilience, their belief. Philippe Coutinho scored the winner and Liverpool are climbing back on their perch.
This was Liverpool's 10th win on the spin and their ability to do it the hard way, to stand up to such formidable opponents as City, bore the hallmarks of champions. The momentum is with Liverpool. Their fans' emotion, their manager's tactics and captain's commitment are sweeping them towards the Premier League trophy.
"Dare to dream" read the banner in the Kop, and they do. If they defeat Norwich (away), Chelsea (home), Crystal Palace (away) and Newcastle (home), they are guaranteed to be crowned champions.
They know there is work to be done, obstacles to overcome, and Jordan Henderson's late red card rules him out of three of the games, while Jose Mourinho's Chelsea must never be discounted, but this felt pivotal for Liverpool.
City will not give up the chase, not with Silva as good as this, with James Milner showing why he should start, with Vincent Kompany such a leader and Joe Hart (right) such a 'keeper. Even if Yaya Toure's groin injury has ruled him out for the season, City still have plenty of class, such as Sergio Aguero returning from injury. Pablo Zabaleta, that embodiment of determination, will not let City give up. But they left Anfield vanquished and frustrated.
This game meant so much. It was also more than a game for Gerrard and his Liverpool team. Emotion also flowed because of the powerful, special nature of the occasion, because of the moving tributes paid to the 96 Liverpool supporters who went to a game 25 years ago this weekend and never came home. Gerrard's cousin died at Hillsborough and the midfielder always looks for Jon-Paul Gilhooley's name by the Shankly Gates.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers spoke afterwards of how energised his squad had been driving into Anfield, seeing all the fans who were beseeching them to defeat their closest rivals. The bond between dressing-room and support is always strong here and the players were undoubtedly motivated by that reception. They want this trophy as badly as their captain.
The last time Liverpool lifted the league, Gerrard was a nine-year-old kicking about on the scrap of tarmac outside his house on Ironside Road in nearby Huyton. Since then, he has lived with the sounds of jubilation along the East Lancs Road. He watched Roy Evans' title-chasers tail off, played for Gerard Houllier's side which faltered when "10 games from greatness", and then suffered further, deeper disappointment when going so close under Rafael Benitez.
Gerrard has lived these years in the shadow of others, constantly reported for England duty in the summer to be met by those from other clubs turning up as title-winners. He has endured years of opposing fans chanting "have you ever seen Gerrard win the league?".
So that is why Gerrard so stirred his team-mates before kick-off, why he was so determined in covering back to stop Edin Dzeko getting a clean shot on goal, why he helped create Liverpool's second and then rallied and organised the team late on. It was why he gathered the players in a huddle at the end, his eyes red
dening with emotion as Jon Flanagan, Mamadou Sakho and Skrtel first gathered round him, hugging him, then Simon Mignolet, and the rest.
It was why Gerrard felt it was the longest 90 minutes he had ever been involved in. It was why the Kop so passionately backed the team from the moment Gerrard had run out to warm up. The part played by Liverpool fans here cannot be overstated. They played a central role, joining Gerrard in urging the team on.
They chanted Kenny Dalglish's name as he emerged before kick-off with Ian Rush to receive a floral red-and-blue "96" tribute from City legends Joe Corrigan, Mike Summerbee and Tony Book.
City showed their class. The visiting fans, doing their club proud, held up a long banner of "YNWA 96" in the away end and then joined in the immaculate observation of the minute's silence. The Kop was transformed into a mosaic, highlighting "96" and "25 YEARS".
The emotions were pouring from the terraces, and the adrenalin was running through Rodgers' players but there was intelligence in their movement and ice in the veins. Luis Suarez had a hot-headed moment, catching Martin Demichelis, and being deservedly cautioned by Mark Clattenburg before parading his more composed side, slipping Sterling through. The teenager slowed, revealing superb poise, turning and then stroking the ball past Hart.
City's horrendous start soon worsened. Toure tweaked his right adductor wafting a shot into the Anfield Road End, carried on for a couple of minutes but eventually limped off. It deteriorated further after 26 minutes. Gerrard's header from a Coutinho corner was athletically pushed over by Hart but Liverpool went for the jugular again. Gerrard drove the corner to the near post where Skrtel flicked a header home.
There were flickers of hope for City before the break and Mignolet denied Fernandinho. Manuel Pellegrini clearly delivered some inspiring words at the interval. There was a new mood to City, a new enterprise, particularly when Milner came on within five minutes.
And so this became one of the classic Premier League games, full of attacking and occasional controversy, not least when Suarez dived in close proximity to Demichelis, enraging City, who were expecting a second yellow card. None arrived. Channeling their anger positively, City pulled a goal back after 57 minutes. Milner created the chance, finding Silva, whose finish flew past Mignolet.
Game on. City were a team transformed, spreading nerves through the hosts. They equalised within five minutes. This time it was Samir Nasri providing the opportunity for Silva, whose shot deflected in off Johnson. Still City hunted another goal. Aguero came on and slid a ball across for Silva, whose effort just went wide. But then Kompany sliced a clearance, and Coutinho met the ball, sweeping it past Hart, and Liverpool dared to dream again.
There were still moments of concern. Henderson was sent off for going in studs raised on Nasri. Skrtel was fortunate that Clattenburg did not spot his handball. Liverpool held on. If they stay strong, Gerrard and company may soon be holding onto the Premier League trophy. (© Daily Telegraph, London)