How wrong can you get? We got what, at the time, I called “a world-class stinker of a game.” It finished 0-0. That was bad enough. But after the game both coaches managed to make matters worse by announcing that they were pleased with the game: “I’m really happy,” said Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp. “I’m satisfied -- it’s a good result,” said Man City’s Pep Guardiola.
But of course they weren’t talking about the game. They were talking about the result. That two top teams had just churned out what I termed “an ugly insult to the sport” apparently meant nothing to Pep and Klopp. The 0-0 tie brought joy to them because neither team had lost, and that was all that mattered.
The utter banality of that game left a bad taste that has lingered -- right up to last Sunday -- October 3. And here we were again: Same venue, Anfield. Same teams, Liverpool vs. Man City. And those same two coaches, Klopp and Pep, the pair who had been so proud of presenting a truly dreadful game in 2018.
We again ended up with a tied game -- but, my, what a difference! This time we got a superlative game, we got four goals, we got two teams possessed with a non-stop determination to win. We got end-to-end action, we got a wonderful world-class goal from Mo Salah, we got Man City twice coming back to tie the game.
In a game like that, the defenses are simply not able to function with the military organization that has cast such a blight upon the sport. When there descends upon the field a universal desire among the players -- not just some of them but all of them -- to run their legs off, to play their hearts out, in pursuit of a victory ... well, what does that mean?
For this game, replete with world-class players, it meant pretty well non-stop, high-level soccer. We don’t get that too often, so it borders on the disrespectful to point out that there were flaws to be seen. Well, so what? They were, if there is any such thing, constructive flaws. Mistakes by defenders that open up attacking options are always welcome to me.
Anyway, most of the errors were the natural concomitant of a competitive game played with such intensity at such high speed. One of them, the only one that annoyed me, was a coaching error -- Pep’s insistence on a formation that does not include a center forward. Man City’s dazzling passing game, their approach play, adds up to a big fat zero if there is no player ever-ready to pounce on the suddenly created, and just as suddenly vanishing, opening. Sergio Aguero, so wantonly cast aside by Guardiola, was sorely missed here.
Liverpool, clearly, could not match Man City’s superb passing game. But after a shaky first half, they settled down and always looked the more dangerous team, the more likely to score ... not least because, with Dioga Jota, Salah and Sadio Mane, they have a formidable penalty-area threat. Mane’s goal was a beauty, Salah’s brought up memories of Pele at his unstoppable best.
Man City had to fight back twice. Phil Foden, as good a youngster as England has produced for decades, got their first equalizer with a goal similar to, and every bit as good as, Mane’s.
Then came Salah’s sublime contribution. After that, this remarkable game got what the script surely called for as Kevin De Bruyne made his mark. His contribution to the game up until this point had been solid, reliable -- but somewhere below outstanding. I’m an admirer of De Bruyne, a player who always wants to play an attacking role, who likes taking risks.
Even so, he never seems to me to do quite enough. I’m an expert in that role. The words “should do better” popped up regularly in my high school reports. That’s how I feel about De Bruyne. A frustrating player to watch.
But it was De Bruyne who made the final move, who scored the final goal. This shouldn’t have happened of course. De Bruyne should never have found himself unmarked at the edge of the Liverpool penalty area, He did and he reacted immediately. A first-time left-footed shot. Goalkeeper Allison would surely have saved this one. But De Bruyne got lucky. Liverpool defender Joel Matip got in the way and deflected the ball away from Allison. Lucky? If so, then De Bruyne is the sort of player who deserves such luck, who creates his own luck.
You’ll be wanting to know, no doubt, what Klopp and Guardiola thought about the game. The hell with that. I remember their fatuous comments from three years ago, so who cares?
So you’ll get my opinion: it was a wonderful game. Forget about formations and tactics and coaching cleverness. We saw players making things happen, for their team, for themselves. We saw the sport at its exciting, vibrant best.
Just for a change, we’ll let the TV expert have the last say. This is NBC’s Robbie Mustoe: “Some of the moments of quality we saw in this game take the breath away. It was that good. Just a brilliant game of football. Brilliant managers, brilliant players, brilliant goals.”