Every now and then there comes a match which not only has the potential to define a season but also possesses the power to force a seismic change in the football tide; and Liverpool’s visit to the Etihad tonight is one such game.
Whatever the managers say beforehand — and however animated they are in describing the match as ‘just another opportunity to win three points’ — history tells you that some results really are bigger than others.
There are results which win a title, for instance — think about Arsenal’s 2-0 victory on the last day at Anfield in 1989 or City’s legendary 3-2 win against QPR in 2012 — matches whose scoreline, commentary and images are so iconic they have their own page in the story of football.
But there are also games, often far earlier in the campaign, which put down a marker and provide an unerring and defiant signpost to the future.
Tonight’s fixture, depending on the result and the level of performance, fits into the latter category for Liverpool. It is their opportunity to do what City did long before they lifted the trophy in that first new-era title-winning season six and a half years ago.
Sergio Aguero’s late, late goal won the trophy of course but a 6-1 victory at Old Trafford in October 2011 was the signpost. Two goals from a rampant Edin Dzeko and one from David Silva in the final few minutes, the sight of City fans totally losing it in the stands, the pictures of United supporters aghast and desperate as they suddenly realised what it all meant. That was the real moment when one era ended and another began, when the football world realised things were about to change.
Nobody is suggesting Liverpool will hit six at the Etihad, of course, nevertheless this is their moment, this is their opportunity to signpost the future and show us all they intend to start something special.
The noisy neighbours may have successfully drowned out United’s previously dominant rhetoric over the last few years but if the heavy metal football of Klopp can turn up the decibels even higher then we are in for a very interesting title race indeed — not just this season but in years to come, too.
That’s why, at the very least, you can expect to see a thunderous, high-energy performance from Liverpool at the Etihad as they bid to grasp the opportunity in front of them; and it will be fascinating to see how City respond.
The champions know, for certain, that if Liverpool can achieve their goal and build up a 10-point cushion, then the implications are ominous.
Only Newcastle (who had an 12-point lead over Man United in 1995-6) and United themselves (who led Arsenal by 11 points in 1997-8) have thrown away a double-figure advantage in Premier League history, and it would be a major surprise if Mo Salah and co should add their names to that sorry list.
So, although the title is unlikely to be won until May, that doesn’t mean we won’t look back in future and agree that the new Liverpool era got underway far earlier.
Leicester City defy all the odds with a fairytail title win, providing a huge moment of reflection and introspection for the big boys, who have since spent massively in a bid to regain control.
A 3-1 victory at Man City in February, days after beating Liverpool 2-0. The Foxes were three up, through Riyad Mahrez and Robert Huth (two), before City even replied. The equivalent of a Premier League earthquake.
Manchester City’s first title for 44 years started a new dynasty for the noisy neighbours — a season later Alex Ferguson retired at rivals United after stemming the blue tide.
The title was won on the last day but the era-ending moment came in October with a stunning 6-1 victory at Old Trafford.
Chelsea’s first title since 1955, Jose Mourinho’s first in England. This was the year that Roman Abramovich’s money and the Special One’s management changed English football.
A 2-0 Frank Lampard-inspired victory at Bolton which won the title.
Arsenal’s Invincibles take it to a new level as they go the entire campaign unbeaten. Though it proved to be the end of an era rather than the start.
A stunning victory over Liverpool on Good Friday when Arsenal twice came from behind to win, inspired by hat-trick hero Thierry Henry.
Manchester United’s treble season, the very peak of the Alex Ferguson era.
The FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal was pivotal for both clubs. Peter Schmeichel’s late penalty save from Dennis Bergkamp and, of course, Ryan Giggs’ legendary winning goal kept the treble alive for United — but it took the wind out of Arsenal’s title defence too.
Arsenal bossArsene Wenger’s first league title (and the double to boot) in his first season ushered in a new way of playing — and modern methods of preparation.
Marc Overmars’ winner at Old Trafford in March blew the title race open and changed history. Arsenal were nine points behind when they arrived in Manchester — but they produced a storming finish to the season to be crowned champions.
Blackburn Rovers and owner Jack Walker gave us the first glimpse of how big investment was going to change the game. It ended an 81-year wait for the title.
A 3-0 victory over in-form Nottingham Forest in January.
The first ever Premier League title — won of course by Manchester United. A landmark for Alex Ferguson, it was United’s first in 26 years. They went on to win six more in the 90s and seven in the 2000s.
The legendary 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday in April which came courtesy of two late goals from Steve Bruce.
Arsenal’s second title under George Graham came despite a points deduction for a brawl at Old Trafford.
But more importantly it ended Liverpool’s decades of dominance. The Kop hasn’t seen a title win since.
A 3-0 win over Liverpool in December when Arsenal were six points behind the leaders.
The year whenArsenal won the title on the last day at Anfield — a sign of things to come.
It has to be Michael Thomas’ last-minute goal to seal a 2-0 win for Arsenal and snatch the title from Liverpool.
Brian Clough disrupts the Liverpool era (the Reds won 11 titles in 18 years) by finishing top with Nottingham Forest.
A 4-0 victory at Old Trafford made everyone sit up and take notice.
Bill Shankly’s first title at Liverpool started a new era at Anfield after more than a decade without a championship win.
Two years later they won it again, using only 14 players all season. Shankly’s third title came in 1973.
A 2-1 home victory over reigning champions Everton in the Merseyside derby made a big statement.