City’s afternoon soon got worse when Yaya Toure clutched his knee and had to depart. City will be hoping that the man who has scored 7 goals in the last 9 league matches hasn’t done any serious damage. And it did expose the reliance City have on the Ivorian when Javi Garcia came on as his replacement, hardly an adequate like-for-like. He immediately earned a booking. Liverpool almost had another golden chance when Sturridge almost put Suarez in, only for Martin Demichelis to poke the ball away with the very end of his boot. The corner that resulted gifted Steven Gerrard a completely free header in the middle of the box, which he squandered and was subsequently furious with himself. But it didn’t matter because the corner that came from Gerrard’s miss was flicked in by Martin Skrtel. The defender expertly nudged away Vincent Kompany and spun the ball off that chromed dome into the far edge of the goal. He is the highest scoring defender in the league and has become utterly vital to Liverpool since the second half of the season. This second hammer-blow winded City even more and they looked rattled, even in possession. Whenever anyone other than a red player had the ball, Anfield whistled and jeered to such a volume, it was nearly deafening. The crowd was like an extra player for Liverpool, and their jubilant backing surged through the veins of their players. Manchester City had a chance to pull one back, Fernandinho forcing a great save from Mignolet with a screwy volley from inside the box, but apart from a free kick that was wasted by Silva, City didn’t have any chances of substance and ended the half deflated and downcast. Liverpool had been completely on top, and worse, they had that glint in their eye that said they were keen to deliver a walloping.
When you think about the absolute thrashings that Manchester City and Liverpool have handed out this season, the expectations for this clash, maybe the title decider, were right to be sky high. And did it ever deliver. Liverpool won in a breathless encounter, one where the swings in momentum where extreme so as to be jarring. City should have certainly been expecting a fast start from Liverpool, but expecting it is only half the task. Liverpool exploded out of the blocks, completely controlling the first 30 minutes of the game and going two goals up after 26 minutes. The first goal, scored after six minutes, was down to an exceptional display of composure from Raheem Sterling. Luis Suarez had been booked early on, showing Liverpool’s eagerness maybe a little too much, but straight after his indiscretion, he made a telling contribution. It was his perfectly weighted pass that released Sterling, who scampered away into space. There was still a lot to do from there, however, but the young Englishman made it look easy. He paused just for a moment, with Kompany and Hart between him and the goal, swung to the left, then back to the right. The simplicity of my description betrays the ingenuity of Sterling’s movement, and it completely bamboozled both the City captain and goalkeeper. It left him with most of the goal open to his right, and he tucked the ball away without fuss. There was still 84 minutes to play, and already Liverpool had made their bright start pay. Sterling, boosted by his goal, grew into the most dangerous player on the pitch, putting Daniel Sturridge through on goal soon after but the chance was missed badly. It wasn’t just Sterling either, Liverpool were positively overflowing with swagger, getting to every ball quicker and with more verve, pinging passes around and generally bossing the game as they saw fit. Phillipe Coutinho typified the atmosphere when he rabona’d a pass to a teammate when a simple sidefoot would have done (but then where’s the fun in passing without a flourish?)
City came out for the second half with renewed vigour and energy. James Milner came on for Jesus Navas, a change that seemed conservative at first glance but proved to be significant. City enjoyed much more possession, and crucially, they controlled the ball with a sureness that starkly contrasted the nature of the first half. And they this newly generated assuredness paid off ten minutes into the half when Silva finished off a striking bit of interplay from Fernandinho and Milner. Milner crossed after an elegant one-two with Fernandinho and the ball was dinked in by Silva. Suddenly momentum was with City and they continued to control the game, worrying Liverpool. Dzeko then missed a chance by a foot or so, but Liverpool, always lethal on the break, also had an opportunity through Sturridge. The England striker went down in the box after a long run but Mark Clattenburg (who had done exceptionally well to keep up with the play) was unconvinced.
City then struck again, silencing Anfield, in the 63rd minute, Silva scoring a strange goal indeed. The ball was pinged around the Liverpool box, falling to Silva who shot from an extremely tight angle. Only a lucky deflection off Glen Johnson allowed the ball to beat Mignolet and, with that, Silva had his second, and City their equaliser. Liverpool were stunned, and their play began to look desperate and frustrated, as a string of offsides followed. To throw away a two goal lead in this potential title decider was an egregious blunder to make. Silva somehow managed to miss (in a Gascoigne vs Germany manner) a chance made by Sergio Aguero, who had come on for Dzeko, despite not being completely fit. That would have really hit Liverpool hard but it wasn’t to be. And that profligacy was punished when Liverpool scored the winner soon after. Vincent Kompany, who, in a way, had been responsible for the first two goals, was horribly at fault for the third. It was his embarrassingly twanged clearance that went straight to Coutinho, who pounced and slotted into the bottom corner. It was a harrowing moment for Kompany, who was playing with an injury, maybe the most costly error he’s made during his time at City. Suddenly it was all Liverpool again, and Flanagan scythed down Milner aggressively but legally to symbolise the change in momentum yet again. There was only 15 minutes for City to equalise and they never looked likely to, even after Jordan Henderson was sent off late for an ugly over-the-ball challenge. Liverpool held on to win their tenth in a row, and Steven Gerrard was a storm of euphoric emotion in the team huddle that formed after the final whistle. He was rallying his troops, letting them know that, after this victory, Liverpool deserves this title. The game lived up to the billing and Liverpool came out on top. It was a gruelling test for them to take, but one that all champions have to pass if they want to win it all. Liverpool passed it and it looks like nothing can stop them from winning their first ever Premier League title.