Liverpool 7-0 Man Utd (Gakpo 43′, 50′, Nunez 47′, 76′, Salah 66′, 83′, Firmino 89′)
ANFIELD — By the end, neutrals were laughing in shock and Anfield was singing “Always look at the bright side of life” to the away end. The biggest surprise is that they could still manage to speak at all, given the magnitude of the experience. Every one of them will say it out loud and say it proud for months to come: our team just inflicted the joint worst defeat in Manchester United’s history. Any year, any competition, any game.
The second half was sent like manna from heaven onto half a city. We must watch it back in a few days just to take in the downright silliness of the experience. Liverpool scored six unanswered goals, Erik ten Hag’s team played like a group of hyperactive toddlers asked to herd cats and the Kop chanted for an eighth goal. Football is daft and unpredictable and unstoppable in its power to catch us off guard.
A request – we do not need to ask or answer whether Liverpool are back. The proof one way or the other will come in time and we can allow ourselves the wait. Manchester United are not bottlers or terrible based on this result. We do not have to extend everything into the panoramic shot; Liverpool’s entire season has taught us that. Some days are so special that they do not demand extrapolation. You simply stare at what you have witnessed in wonder, confident of only one thing: you won’t see the same again for years.
But we can say this, which we all knew but had forgotten too easily: there are elements of this Liverpool team that, when they click, make your tummy fizz and your eyes open wide to take in its majesty. And when you watch Mohamed Salah put Lisandro Martinez on his backside simply by feinting one way and this, a wide forward Jedi mind trick, you know that hope will never quite be extinguished by the dismay of defensive uncertainty.
Football is a pursuit governed by confidence; we knew this and still, it was hammered home at Anfield on Sunday afternoon during the winter’s last knockings. What’s more, it can turn on one pass or one tackle. Suddenly everyone has their faith in those in front, behind and around them reinvigorated. Andrew Robertson found Cody Gakpo, Gakpo found the net and apparently broke the football narrative mainframe.
Suddenly, Liverpool are alive. Jordan Henderson is tearing around making tackles like he is trying to make good on the last five games in one go. Salah, Gakpo and Darwin Nunez are playing one-twos like Bonjela has been slathered over their teething problems. All of them scored in the same game for the first time and then they had all scored twice. It’s amazing how a midfield can look less fragile when the defence and attack is functioning.
Confidence works both ways, of course. As Liverpool delighted during the second half, the Kop ole-ing with crowing gusto, Manchester United’s last few months faded away like sugar paper in a puddle. United actually had the better of the first half – Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford missed very good chances to dent Liverpool’s belief; we knew that it was fragile.
But Ten Hag will be deeply troubled by the way that his side collapsed so embarrassingly and there should be recriminations in the dressing room. This is not playground football, where you can play as a disorganised mess and get away with it. Every opponent in the league is good enough to make you look foolish if you lose your heads. Those in white may as well have waved their shirts like flags, such was the dimness of their emotion-driven response.
There are individuals who must be singled out for censure. Fernandes was United’s captain, and as such had a responsibility to keep a calm head. It is not hyperbolic to suggest that he should lose the armband based on this display, such was his petulance and embarrassing lack of maturity.
He spent the last 30 minutes rolling on the floor, screaming at officials, kicking opponents, failing to offer anything for the team and then shoved the assistant referee. If a team takes its lead from its on-pitch leader, Fernandes led by pitiful example.
Behind him, Lisandro Martinez and Luke Shaw also lost their heads. Both were left helpless by the lack of resolve in front of them, but there are ways to react. Martinez enjoys playing on the edge – and is a better defender for it – but he must control the extremes of his tendencies. Charging out to commit fouls might make him feel a little better, but this is a team sport.
But there we go again, tempted into making longer-reaching conclusions again. Some days set the tone for seasons to come; others simply provide astonishing entertainment in isolation. This, you feel, was the latter. This was silly, sensational Sunday, an afternoon on which Liverpool knocked the earth off its axis and then booted it into the back of Manchester United’s goal.