It was Anfield at its ferocious and unyielding best. An occasion where the decibel level is a literal shock to the system. You’d forgotten it can get this loud and your fight/flight response has something to say about it. It can literally take your breath away; at least it does mine.
All you can do is join in with the fullness of your throat to force out the air, before desperately slurping it back in for the next stanza. I guess it’s what gives Anfield and especially The Kop the sense it’s a single living entity that can impose its will.
That’s what happened on Sunday, anyway. It was a day when Anfield, in lock step with the players and manager said “no”. Enough. You shall not pass. There was talk in the Sunday papers – from the usual source of poetic platitudes and minimal substance – of this game being “a Viking funeral for high-Kloppism.”
A fire was certainly lit, but the only mourners at the pyre were an unhinged bald fella in the opposition dug out and within the gruesome away end, for whom success has only brought out the worst. Seriously, what happened to them? They used to be alright.
It was an afternoon where every touch of the football felt like it could be the difference between winning and losing. Every slight positional decision crucial, every whim of the officials potentially devastating. We felt it in the crowd. The players responded to it, and the manager quite correctly got a red card because of it.
On the face of things, there was less on the line in this fixture than in years past. The league seemed gone. They’d started the season as dominant as ever. We looked tired – aged even – while they looked refreshed for a new cycle. It felt like Guardiola had finally seen us off as a rival after years of his brilliant team – regardless of the legitimacy of its assembly – driving us beyond conventional limits.
That’s why Sunday felt just as important. Perhaps a defeat, and a potentially heavy one, would have been that Viking funeral, underscoring our early season fears and anxieties? This was a big moment and Anfield knew it.
This sharpened the players too. Suddenly we were anticipating, playing with instinct, without hesitation. We looked younger and invigorated. Van Dijk and Gomez looked every bit the impenetrable, unflappable partnership they were for much of the title winning season. The hundred-sprints-a-game scrappy Andy Robertson, for whom a few weeks' rest must have felt like months, was back.
James Milner, a man forged rather than born. Once again, when the big occasion rolled around, he told Father Time to sling his hook. Harvey Elliot with the most mature performance you’ll ever see from a kid of his experience. I haven’t been this fond of a young player since Michael Owen and I’m desperate for him to be everything he can be. Darwin’s chaotic cameo, which I loved. Hendo like a man possessed, having finally been let out of the traps. Mo, looking closer to that best in the world icon we were so terrified to lose. He was the literal central figure today.
There was a moment in that second half, after the incredible Ederson save, when the goalkeeper required some treatment. Salah stood in the D hands on hips as the crowd belted out his name. Ten minutes later the net bulged. As he turned and walked back; there was another moment. Just a brief acknowledgement that us sticking with him and the team mattered.
Often, when George plays You’ll Never Walk Alone at the final whistle, it’s in pure celebration. Sure, this was a celebration, but it was also in true defiance. We’re still here. Still standing, still punching. Players, manager, and crowd. We won’t go quietly. We don’t plan on going at all.
Anfield is quite simply the best place in the world on days like this. Bear hugs and handshakes on the way out, hoarse voices pushing out a few more choruses in the stairwells, thousands of beaming faces all moving in different directions, eager to spot and share the moment with their mates. It’s an unbelievable privilege to be part of it and one that’ll never, ever be lost on me.