If you grew up watching football during Liverpool’s glory days in the 70’s and 80’s, like I have, you will remember that back then, professional fouls were de-rigueur, yellow cards were especially shiny due to lack of use, and red cards were often forgotten in the dressing room, because nobody needed them.
Looks like Messrs Paul Tierney on the pitch and Michael Oliver in the VAR room were feeling nostalgic today.
Not to take anything from Bournemouth, but their goal (lovely as it was) should not have stood, and that shove, which had quite literally nothing to do with the ball and everything to do with shoving, should have earned one of those lollipop cards. Instead, players from both sides decided that what was good for the goose (being the other side) was good for the gander (their side), and similarly friendly gestures of mutual respect and affirmation became the order of the day. Almost ironically, the one yellow that was finally pulled, in the last minute of the game, was for a fairly routine encounter, as if to say “welcome back to modern times, boys!”, and was greeted with proper amusement by everyone involved.
Other memory triggers were present. Most obvious was Anfield’s anxious silence throughout a game in which Liverpool by all rights should have romped (and didn’t). James Milner did a brilliant impression of last season’s John Stones to deny Bournemouth a fairly late goal, to further underscore the PTSD that the fans were feeling; right back in the good ol’ days a few years ago when everything would look wonderful and then suddenly melt in the end. The sense of shared trauma was prevalent until the very end, when the spell was broken around the time that yellow card was presented, and a couple of minutes into extra time you could finally hear the stadium rocking with “we’re gonna win the league!”, otherwise a common refrain since early February.
As a Liverpool fan, it’s probably worth remembering that to win the league one only needs a cushion of 1 point, or even just a goal differential; there is no difference between that and 5, 15, or 25.
A memory of a much more pleasant sort arrived early in the game, after the shock opener. Liverpool clicked in for about 20 minutes, reminding us of the determined team that could not be beaten. Sadio Mane’s trap of young Jack Simpson showed his incredible anticipation skills, and in some ways was eerily similar to what he did to a much more experienced Jordi Alba less than a year ago in front of the same goal. His subsequent pass to Salah was horrendous, and for him to earn an assist out of it is almost a travesty, but the Egyptian coolly slotted it in anyway in somewhat trademark nutmeggy fashion. Mane himself doubled the Reds’ tally. After that, everyone went back to the shoving business, except for one moment in which Mane came extremely close to scoring a goal-of-the-season contender. Alas, the unusually quiet Kop failed to suck the ball in this time. As for man-of-the-match Salah, he worked his butt off the entire game, and created more opportunities up front than anyone, but concentration was otherwise lacking for the reds.
In the end, Liverpool did what it needed to do, the title is closer by three points, and it is beginning to look like the Cherries will not be with us next season, unfortunately for them. Atletico is coming in next. Hopefully Anfield will be back to its roaring mood. Otherwise, that game may not turn out so well.