At 4-1 up, the Anfield crowd was cheering every ball, roaring their team on to what looked like a statement victory in front of the watching world.
And yet, there was always a sense that the game wasn’t done yet. And so Manchester City proved, threatening a late comeback.
In some ways, that just makes the Reds’ victory all the more impressive. Pep Guardiola’s side were hardly at their very best, but the nature of their revival – when they had a real chance to nick a point right at the death – showed that they’re the league leaders for a reason.
And yet, the fact that Liverpool could only just see the job through despite the blitz they subjected the City defence to midway through the second half, suggests that they’ll still need to tighten up over the coming weeks.
Going forward, you can argue there’s no one better. On form, Liverpool are as good as any team in world football. In order to get that stellar front three into the game and back into form, the midfield needs to be on song. On Sunday it was, but even that raises more questions for a Liverpool side who are coming to something of a crossroads.
Over the next year, we’ll learn a lot about Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp. Losing Philippe Coutinho is a blow, but one they can recover from. But the performance of Emre Can – the subject of recent transfer rumours – against City at the weekend shows that Liverpool’s progression will be better with the likes of the German still in the team.
This weekend, his contribution in a frenetic game was vital.
Getting on the ball and keeping things ticking over is vital in this Liverpool side, and Can is certainly more adept at that than Jordan Henderson, whose injury may well have helped Klopp’s side keep their heads in a game played at such a furious pace. With 52 touches of the ball and more touches than the majority of the Liverpool side despite being withdrawn for the final 15 minutes including injury time, Can showed his quality in a game with plenty of good players gracing the pitch, especially taking into account his pass accuracy of 89% – not bad in a game which provided fast-paced Premier League theatre from first to last.
More importantly, though, it’s when Can was replaced with James Milner that City came back into the game.
Perhaps it’s too much to suggest that City’s threatened comeback was all down to the absence of Liverpool’s German midfielder, but with the arrival of James Milner, his assurance on the ball was sorely missed, and City were able to gain a much firmer foothold with which to get further up the pitch. Indeed, it was Milner’s missed header which partly allowed Gundogan the space to poke home City’s third in injury time, setting up the grandstand finale.
Perhaps that’s less surprising than it should be. Can wasn’t just the classy quarterback keeping the play ticking over. He also contributed with more tackles than any Liverpool player aside from Andy Roberton, who also had a great game, and you can add to that two further interceptions. But perhaps it’s not a stretch to suggest that he may have made more than the six tackles he contributed to his side’s defensive performance had he stayed on the pitch until the end.
One win doesn’t mean that things are completely rosy at Anfield, though it does point to what this team can achieve given time to improve and the players to make them better. But the performance from Emre Can might be the biggest takeaway from an iconic game – losing him on a free in the summer might well be a big mistake.