When Man City turned a 1-0 deficit around with two late-ish goals, to take the lead with 4 minutes left, as Liverpool still trailed 1-0 at Aston Villa – despite having a perfectly legal first-half equaliser ruled out because, with some dodgy vertical lines drawn by a blind man, Bobby Firmino’s “armpit” was offside (you try scoring a goal or passing with your fucking armpit) – it looked like City would be coming to Anfield next week knowing that a win would take them top on goal difference. What’s more, their 86th-minute winner was from an unlikely source: full-back Kyle Walker.
Days after Halloween, Liverpool looked so dead and buried that only a reenactment of the Thriller video would suffice.
Step forward Andy Robertson. The funk of forty-thousand years and the grisly ghouls from every tomb had nothing on the Scottish left-back who headed in an improbable equaliser, just when the phrase “at the death” was about to kick in.
And when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s delicious injury-time free-kick – with under 60 seconds’ of added time to play – deflected narrowly over it looked like the chance was gone; a draw against an incredibly spirited and organised Villa side was looking like an okay result, but possibly not enough. However, this Liverpool team have been as devastating in the 95th minute this week as probably any team in history, rescuing results with the last kicks of games – or in this case, a supreme Sadio Mané flicked header. Work the ball, find the cross, convert the chance – and the later in the game, the more the opposition will panic. (This, after a game in which Liverpool themselves had looked more panicky in the final third, up until Mané’s sublime cross found Robertson’s head.)
In Britain it’s the annual time for fireworks as we celebrate Guy Fawkes assembling a ton of gunpowder in parliament, and several went off inside my head as the ball flew into the far corner of the net from Mané’s beautifully deft flick. It just needed Michael Jackson to pop up at the final whistle, rising out of the centre-circle in a red leather jacket, to complete the surreal tableau.
Teams are setting out with a very specific plan to stop Liverpool, which I will get onto later in this piece, but while it disrupts the Reds’ fluency to some degree, it cannot kill their spirit. Not even a stake to the heart would stop Robbo and co..
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