Premier League champions-elect Liverpool look down from their perch at Man United

Blog - The Match, Clubs, English Premier League, Liverpool, Manchester United, Story
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LIVERPOOL, England — The genie is out of the bottle. When Mohamed Salah lifted the tension inside Anfield by making it 2-0 against Manchester United in the 93rd minute, the roar from The Kop was almost on the same decibel level as the night Liverpool came back from 3-0 down against Barcelona in the Champions League last season.

It was relief, meshed with belief, and for the first time, the home supporters chanted “We’re gonna win the league,” despite it being pretty obvious to everyone else for weeks that Jurgen Klopp’s team are going to be crowned champions of England this season, maybe even in record time.

The fans had not dared to sing it until now because, since the last title success in 1990, the club has had so many false dawns and near misses that even mentioning impending glory had been regarded as tempting fate and the surest sign that something will go wrong, as a result of premature confidence.

“I have no problem with that,” Klopp said after the game. “Everyone should celebrate the situation, apart from us. Nothing has changed; we have the same situation plus three points. I will tell you immediately the moment if it feels different; at the moment, it doesn’t.”

There is no need to worry, though. It is still only January and Liverpool are 16 points clear of the pack, having played one match fewer than their rivals. If results go their way, Klopp’s side could be 22 ahead clear by Wednesday, when they play their game in hand against West Ham at the London Stadium.

The mathematics are now so heavily in Liverpool’s favour that even the most pessimistic supporter can start preparing for a title party in the spring. Indeed, the only question is when the trophy will have red and white ribbons added, ready for Jordan Henderson to hoist it aloft.

But while the numbers point firmly to glory, the reason this day was the cue for songs about being top of the tree was because of who they were beating, as well as who was there to watch it. United have always been the yardstick by which Liverpool measure themselves and it works the other way.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who was in attendance on Sunday with former United chief executive David Gill, famously claimed that his biggest challenge upon taking over at Old Trafford in 1986 was to “knock Liverpool off their f—— perch.” And when he left Old Trafford 27 years later, he had done just that.

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have dropped just two points in the Premier League this season.

Under Ferguson, United eclipsed Liverpool’s record haul of 18 league titles by taking their tally to 20, although he could not get close to the Anfield club’s record of European Cups; Liverpool have won that competition six times, compared to United’s three.

Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City have emerged as rivals to English football’s Big Two during the Premier League era, but when it comes to point scoring, Liverpool must beat United and vice-versa.

Which is why Salah’s goal felt like such a moment in time, not only for this title race but also in terms of Liverpool exorcising the ghost of United’s dominance under their former manager. Until Liverpool win the Premier League, they will not be able to claim to have returned to the perch from which Ferguson so comprehensively toppled them.

Painful as it might have been for Ferguson to witness the pendulum swing, he will have braced himself for the moment. He tipped Liverpool for success soon after Klopp arrived in English football, and, while United have treaded water, the German has worked his magic at home and in Europe.

Whereas Liverpool are the best team in the world and play exciting, attacking football, with star players in every position of the pitch, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United are hopeless and timid.

With their best two players, Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, sidelined due to injury and first-choice midfielder Scott McTominay also out, United arrived with their prospects already diminished, but they ended up with a 2-0 defeat that could easily have been 8-3.

Their colours were listed on the team sheet as cream, but whipped cream would have been more appropriate. Virgil van Dijk’s 14th-minute opening goal came when he was left unmarked, six yards out, to head home Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s corner and was typical of the poor defending that has blighted United’s campaign.

VAR ruled out one Liverpool goal, an offside flag denied them another, and Henderson hit the post as David de Gea‘s goal was peppered, but it meant United somehow stayed in the game until the final seconds; indeed, Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire missed chances to equalise before Salah made the points safe after racing onto Alisson Becker’s long clearance.

It was the moment Anfield knew the title is bound for Liverpool and signified to Ferguson that his work had been undone. Liverpool are back on their perch and it looks set to be years before United are capable of knocking them off again.

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