Liverpool’s confidence and self-belief has been gathering ominous momentum throughout manager Jürgen Klopp’s remarkable rejuvenation, but Sunday’s victory over reigning Premier League champions Manchester City may just be the moment when they began to feel unstoppable.
When Liverpool last had the opportunity to overcome City, when victory at Etihad Stadium in January could have given them a 10-point lead at the top of the table, they slipped to a defeat which in the final reckoning cost them the title.
This was the day when Liverpool could make the statement loud and clear that they are in no mood to be denied, and that their wait for a title will not stretch beyond 30 years.
- The 21 seconds which swung the title race?
- I don’t know if we can catch Liverpool – Guardiola
- Cox makes first return to Anfield
And this time, there was no mistake as a 3-1 win put them eight points clear of Leicester City and Chelsea and, perhaps more significantly, nine clear of Pep Guardiola’s side.
It was a game that lived up to its billing, full of quality, controversy and incident, with the champions playing their full part, but Liverpool will know this result may come to be seen at the decisive moment in their pursuit of that elusive crown.
Nothing will be taken for granted – but this is now Liverpool’s title to lose.
If the Reds do not win it this season, given their form, focus and current advantage, they will never forgive themselves. Yes, it is only November, but only one team can deny Liverpool from here: themselves.
Leicester will have a say. Chelsea will have a say. Manchester City will have a say – but everything we have seen from Liverpool this season, accompanied by an astounding sequence of only one loss in 51 league games, screams that Klopp and his players will have the final word.
City and their enraged manager Guardiola will have pulled out of Anfield nursing a sense of grievance that an early penalty claim against Trent Alexander-Arnold was ignored, an emotion exacerbated by Liverpool sweeping to the other end in seconds to score through Fabinho.
The Spaniard clearly felt City were on the wrong end of the key decisions and he was correct to outline how well his team played, but there is a ruthlessness, relentless and a surging energy about Liverpool that makes it difficult to see how it can possibly go wrong for them from here.
Liverpool benefited from their opponents being stripped of injured goalkeeper Ederson and midfield influence David Silva, but if you give Klopp and his team an inch, then a mile is the very least they will take.
For all City’s excellence and threat in possession, Liverpool knew where the soft underbelly lay and were able to probe – with inevitable results.
City, with the benefit of hindsight and without Aymeric Laporte, have been left under-manned in central defence after the failure to replace Vincent Kompany. The injury to Ederson could not have come at a worse time.
Ederson’s replacement Claudio Bravo was not to blame for Liverpool’s first two goals, although he was indecisive for Sadio Mané’s third. The 36-year-old Chilean, however, simply does not possess Ederson’s quality and authority, not just as a goalkeeper but as a key component in City’s playing style with the ball at his feet.
Anfield has also been nothing but a theatre of pain for Guardiola since he arrived in England – and for City themselves over a much longer period – so this was the wrong time and wrong place for them to reignite their faltering title prospects.
Liverpool are unbeaten in their past 17 home Premier League games against City, winning 12, since losing 2-1 in May 2003. Guardiola has lost eight matches in all competitions against Klopp, three more than he has against any other manager.
This was Liverpool’s day and there was a sense – despite all City’s efforts – that this was their victory from the moment Fabinho’s searing sixth-minute drive flew beyond Bravo’s outstretched right hand.
Klopp is perfectly right to warn against getting carried away. It is not, though, getting carried away when announcing it will take an uncharacteristic Liverpool collapse to deny them the title this time, even after only 12 games.
The Reds have won 11 of their first 12 Premier League games, and only Manchester United have had a bigger lead than eight points at this stage of the season, when they won the title in 1993-94.
Klopp’s side have won 24 and drawn two of their past 26 home games, with victories in 18 of their past 25 away from Anfield. They have won 42 and drawn eight of their past 51 league games, slipping up just once on that night at Etihad Stadium in January.
The Americans use the old phrase “The Big Mo” to colourfully describe the sort of run Liverpool are on – the time when a team or an individual picks up such momentum that nothing can derail them.
Liverpool have that look about them. They look energised despite their intense, physical style and they have game-changers in all areas.
They look like the complete team. There is no obvious weakness.
Liverpool will of course be pursued by the three teams behind them – but you simply cannot make a convincing case that anyone will catch them.