Were Liverpool’s last three results a reasonable pointer or yet another wicked tease for City fans used to minute crumbs from trips to this part of the world?
Were we to cautiously believe this would — at long last — be City’s turn in the sunshine after so many bitter drenchings at Anfield? Two failures against Chelsea and a last-minute cave-in at the San Paolo had seemed to douse the spirit in the stands. Maybe just maybe, the tide would turn this time around.
We all knew, however, once the mood gets bouncy, Liverpool are a uniquely think-positive phenomenon in English football.
Throw in City’s unprecedented ability to do anything bar put one foot tentatively in front of the other at Anfield for practically all of the last 70 years and you have what betting folk call a racing certainty.
So, what were we served?
A first half without chances; passes going astray, mutual respect levels bordering on international border negotiations; the waspish Bernardo Silva — one of City’s little creative magicians — stationed alongside Fernandinho in a number 8 role that helped cancel Liverpool’s usually slick passing through the channels but did little or nothing for City’s own forward thrusts.
Liverpool, too, looked short on ideas, bereft of all that vivacious attacking confidence that had set this place on fire twice last season, bringing with it a volcanic splurge of attacking football and seven goals against a fast-melting City defence.
This time City’s rearguard was made of sterner stuff. The fire-burst never really ignited properly, but the towering Stones and agile Laporte ensured it stayed that way with a resolute and stout defence of Ederson’s rarely troubled goal.
Add the delicious pulls and prods of Fernandinho, always a sly kick just where it’s needed, and the deep-sitting Bernardo Silva’s crisp short-passing out of trouble and Liverpool came up short.
With Bernardo’s namesake shackled by Henderson, City couldn’t find forward gear, but the little imp gradually worked himself free and City’s attacking flair began to take some recognisable form. Silva’s prodding and pressing culminated in a slide-rule pass through the inside left channel (how many times have we watched those passes creep through the eye of a needle?) to the onrushing Leroy Sane, who collapsed gracefully onto Virgil van Dijk’s slide tackle.
Two minutes to go and the Anfield jinx lying there on the carpet, naked and embarrassed. But this is City. Ace penalty taker Sergio Aguero, sitting comfortably in the stands after drawing yet another blank in this ground, looked sheepish. His replacement, Gabriel Jesus, looked up for the task, but in stepped Ryad Mahrez instead.
The spirits of Nicolas Anelka, Clive Wilson, and Kiki Musampa were recalled, the oddball collection of City scorers in triumphs against the red foe shimmered into the mind’s eye, cavorting wild-eyed in seasons long gone.
Mahrez will have known little of 2003 and probably nothing whatsoever of the 1981 fixture, where City’s only other win at Liverpool in nearly 40 years occurred. Kevin Bond had swatted a penalty at the same end on that day, as City sailed to an astonishing 3-1 win.
The rarity brings with it a special feeling. Perhaps respectful of this, Mahrez swatted his shot so high nobody could have any doubt. There were two minutes to go. There was no need for expletives, no need to curse at all really. Those ancient memories are safe for another year, unsullied by modern City’s surge into the limelight.
Battenburg cake, the sunset over Galway Bay, the smell of bacon. Some things are just meant to stay exactly how they have always been.