“Football is too scientific, too professional, too meticulously planned out for atmosphere to mean anything, or to make a dif ference. Grow up, everyone. It’s a myth. Until it isn’t, and it’s there.” — Rory Smith in The New York Times
Hours after Liverpool’s commanding 3-0 quarter-final first-leg victory over runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City, the talk is about the cauldron of noise, the atmosphere that made Wednesday’s game another memorable night in Anfield.
Writing in The Independent, Jonathan Liew said City’s decision to force Liverpool to play into the Kop in the first half was testimony to “Anfield’s power to stun and stir, to gird bodies and mess with heads”.
It was a remarkable night — an opportunity for Liverpool to revel in their experience of European success. A stark contrast to the scene of thousands of empty seats that have been a feature of Arsenal home games this season, which had Arsene Wenger insist this week that he was unconcerned and admitting “you earn from your performances what you have and what you get”.
City were well aware of the cauldron they were facing from the start as their team bus was battered by bottles and cans on their arrival at Anfield, prompting manager Pep Guardiola to question the organisation of his side’s entrance.
Liverpool were forced to apologise after windows were broken and two police officers injured by missiles thrown ahead of Liverpool’s 3-0 win.
Guardiola had been warned about the hostile reception his side would receive in his pre-match press conference on Tuesday, and queried why more protection wasn’t offered.
“Yesterday you [the media] explain about that, but I am new here for the Champions League. You explained about that is going to happen and it happened,” said the Catalan coach. “Normally when the police know that is going to happen it is to try and avoid it happening.”
Guardiola also suggested more protection should be given to team buses in general, because this latest attack comes a year after a bomb attack on Borussia Dortmund’s bus ahead of their Champions League quarter-final against Monaco.
“One year ago something happened in Dortmund. We come here to play football, it is sport, and I don’t understand this kind of situation,” added Guardiola. “The bus is destroyed. But I don’t expect this from Liverpool, such a prestigious club, to do this sort of thing. Of course [it] is not Liverpool, it is the people, but hopefully it doesn’t happen again.”
Liverpool supporters surrounded the roads around Anfield and let off flares in a frenzied atmosphere for the club’s first Champions League quarter-final in nine years. The bus was reportedly rendered unusable by the damage and City sent for another for the short 55km journey home.
Liverpool swiftly issued a statement pledging to identify the culprits.
“The club condemns in the strongest possible terms the scenes which preceded our Champions League quarter-final, which resulted in damage being inflicted on the Manchester City team bus during their arrival at Anfield,” the statement read.
“We apologise unreservedly to Pep Guardiola, his players, staff and officials caught up in the incident. The behaviour of a number of individuals was completely unacceptable and the club will co-operate fully with the authorities to identify those responsible. The priority now is to establish the facts and offer Manchester City whatever support is necessary.”
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp also apologised, saying: “I really don’t understand it. We tried everything to prevent a situation like that. For Liverpool FC I have to say sorry.”
Merseyside police said they would launch inquiries to find the culprits of what they described as “appalling” behaviour.
“Thankfully no one on the bus was injured but injuries were caused to two of our officers when projectiles were thrown towards the bus,” match commander superintendent Paul White said in a statement.
“This behaviour by a number of people who threw bottles, cans and pyrotechnics towards the bus is completely unacceptable and we will conduct inquiries to identify who was responsible and bring them to justice. We worked very closely with both clubs to ensure the safety of the public and the teams themselves, and it is disappointing to see that a number of people behaved in this appalling way.”
The atmosphere was equally electric, but without incident, inside the stadium for Liverpool’s first Champions League quarter-final in nine years. It was proof of the power of fans, an example of how much football is played beyond 22 athletes on a patch of grass.
But it was not just the unmistakable aura of Anfield that was City’s undoing. It was a fine display of football. In a short 20-minute burst, Liverpool scored three goals, shocking City and gaining a decisive advantage going into the second leg next week.
City could already be the English champions by the time the sides meet for the second leg in six days’ time, should they beat local rivals Manchester United on Saturday.
Guardiola’s side have been in stunning form for most of the season, but he lamented a poor 20-minute period in the first half that has probably cost them a shot at European glory.
“The result is tough but I don’t have [the] feeling we played to concede that result,” added Guardiola. “But in this competition [what happens] in the boxes makes all the difference and they were so good in those situations.”
Klopp warned that his side would still have to “work like hell” to reach the Champions League semifinals.
Liverpool are proving quite a challenge to City this season. Although City lead Liverpool by 18 points in the Premier League, their only league defeat this season came in a 4-3 thriller at Anfield in January — and they suffered an even worse fate on Wednesday that leaves their hopes of winning the European Cup, for the first time, hanging by a thread.
Just as in the January meeting between the sides, the prolific Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mané were on target for the hosts.
“We beat the best team in the world so that’s a really good performance,” said Klopp. “It was good tonight but I am not interested in being good. In this competition it is about going to the next round, and we are not in the next round. Let’s talk about it after the next game. We will really have to work there again like hell.”
Klopp’s caution is born out of the fact that City thrashed 10-man Liverpool 5-0 in their only previous meeting at the Etihad this season.
“We conceded there already five. How can I say it is not possible?”
Guardiola insisted he still believed in victory, despite his side’s most comprehensive defeat of the campaign. “I think in this room there is nobody except the guy talking to you who believes we are going to go through.
“Tomorrow we are going to try to convince ourselves that in six days it is 90 minutes more and we are going to try.”
Liverpool’s night was slightly marred when Salah limped off with an injury early in the second half.
Of Salah’s fitness, Klopp said that after the game the Egyptian star said: “I will be good, I will be fine” but, the coach added, “now we have to wait for the real diagnosis”.