Liverpool vs. Manchester City Was Much More Than Just a Football Match

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Liverpool vs. Manchester City Was Much More Than Just a Football Match
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Something strange is happening in the Premier League. Since it became the richest league in the world it has become practically a mathematical certainty that the club that pays the most money in wages wins the most trophies.

Now, Liverpool, not wanting to be excluded, have also declared an interest in coming to the party normally reserved for the four "big cheeses," or four big budgets. The difference being that they have done so without a team made up of big names, without any great tactics other than a lethal counter-attack and devoid of any of the psychological mind games so loved in the UK.

In the simple world of Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool, what drives them on are the goals of their strikers, the speed of Raheem Sterling and the other two S's: the quality of the long pass of Steven Gerrard and, on Sunday, the souls of the 96 fans who perished 25 years ago at Hillsborough and who were so movingly remembered at 1:36 p.m. with an impeccably observed minute of silence.

At the end of an emotion-packed afternoon, Gerrard gathered his fellow warriors in a circle in a rallying call, urging them to give that final push in the four remaining games that would bring him the league title that he has never won.

It was a reminder they have to concentrate every minute of every day of the next month on winning as a fit and lasting tribute to the 96 lovers of the Reds who left home to go to watch a football match on April 15th, 1989 and paid with their lives.

It was that type of game at Anfield; that type of afternoon.

The start of the match would prove to be key, and typical of what has been seen from both sides all season, with a switched-on Liverpool all revved up and ready to go from the off, and a cold, almost lacklustre, uninterested Manchester City.

A typical battling show from Luis Suarez saw him win the ball before serving it on a silver platter for Sterling with a pass that sliced City’s bland defence in two. Sterling, who is much more than a fast player now, had the calmness and presence of mind, along with his fleetness of foot and fast-beating heart, to stroke the ball to the left of Joe Hart’s despairing lunge and into the net. A goal for the forward; a goal for all of Anfield.

On the pitch was a young side, a team hungry for success with a mixture of speed and attacking attitude against a City side with defenders and midfielders seemingly unable to make up their mind whether to try to calm the red-hot atmosphere or start to attack.

Little surprise, therefore, when the visitors fell further behind, this time following a corner that Martin Skrtel met with his head for his seventh goal of the season and Liverpool’s 101st of the campaign.

This was a Liverpool doing all the right things; a Liverpool making full use of dead-ball situations with a positive dynamic and a self-belief. In short, a Liverpool team that knows it has everything in the locker needed to win the title.

But then it revealed its Achilles' heel: a failure to control games. City bared their teeth in the last five minutes of the first half with a spate of pressure high up the pitch, considerable ambition and the realisation that maybe passing the ball to David Silva could be their route back into the game.

Convinced they could turn the scoreboard on its head, Manuel Pellegrini’s men grew in stature as the second half progressed. Silva reduced the arrears and didn’t even bother to celebrate, such was his and his side’s commitment to get back into the game.

The next goal looked like it could have the defining properties of where the league title would find its resting place at the end of this season, and it came for the visitors again via Silva, whose cross was deflected into his own goal by Glen Johnson.

City were now in complete control and, while a draw would have benefited them more than the home side, went in search of the winner. Twice they came agonisingly close to a third in a match of such intensity that saw two players, Yaya Toure and Daniel Sturridge, succumb to muscular problems.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

In the end it became clear that the side that took the pressure better and made the fewest errors would take the spoils.

And it was Vincent Kompany with a mishit, hacked clearance that fell to the feet of Philippe Coutinho, who struck the ball with what seemed like the full force of history behind it; history that this Liverpool side are striving to write following more than two decades without a league title, as due tribute to the 96 who lost their lives in Sheffield and for their families who have strived for so long to bring to task the authorities who for so long denied their negligence on that tragic Saturday afternoon 25 years ago.

What we saw at Anfield on Sunday was much more than just a football match.

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