Steven Gerrard--the stoic, serious, often silent Liverpool captain--began crying after the final whistle. He tried to hide it with the crook of his right arm, but the emotion overcame him prior to his first post-match coming together with Simon Mignolet, Mamadou Sakho, and Jon Flanagan, and couldn't be yet again hidden before joining a team-wide huddle. What was said when the team came together? None of your business, Geoff Shreeves. Besides, we got the point. On the heels of one of their most important and emotional wins in the Premier League era, Liverpool are four wins away from being crowned champions.
Liverpool 3: Sterling 6', Skrtel 26', Coutinho 78'
Manchester City 2: Silva 57', Johnson (og) 63'
It started in such a familiar manner; the personnel was as predicted, with both Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho, albeit structured in a diamond with the former at the point as opposed to the devastating 4-3-3 we witnessed in wins over Everton, Arsenal, and Spurs. The visitors mostly lined up as expected, with Vincent Kompany at the heart of the defense and Sergio Aguero on the bench to start. The league's top two sides, nearly at full strength, set to go blow for blow on a day that saw Anfield in full bloom as they commemorated the 25th anniversary of that fateful day at Hillsborough and the subsequent fight for justice.
As is so often the case at Anfield, it was all about the hosts from the outset, and within the first six minutes they'd scored again. Luis Suarez got himself into some early trouble with a foolish foul on Martin Demichelis, but the Uruguayan rebounded quickly to play Sterling in behind the City defense. The 19 year old paused and feinted left before coolly dipping back outside to curl around both Kompany and Joe Hart, and Liverpool were 1-0 up in front of a raucous home crowd.
It very nearly became two after Yaya Toure limped off injured, as Sterling curled an inch-perfect cross for Daniel Sturridge, who could only push an awkward effort wide of the far post. The pressure mounted, first with an umarked Steven Gerrard effort saved well by Hart, and shortly after with another header that would give Liverpool a 2-0 lead. Coutinho had taken the corner that led to Gerrard's chance, but the captain took the next one and made no mistake in finding the head of the Slovakian at the near post.
Liverpool were cruising from there, but the comfort led to a spell of City dominance just before the half, and after the break the visitors wasted little time in picking up where they left off. David Silva finally clawed one back after a neat interplay down Liverpool's left, and six minutes later he forced a Glen Johnson own-goal on the opposite side. Brendan Rodgers' side were shell-shocked and barely hanging on, and they almost conceded a third after Sergio Aguero--who'd come on in place of Edin Dzeko--slid a low cross to Silva, who missed by a matter of inches.
Back and forth they went, with Liverpool threatening in bursts and City largely looking the better side. In the 78th minute, however, an error from Kompany gifted Coutinho a chance to get the winner, and the diminutive Brazilian--he of the cringe-inducing shots from distance--gave Liverpool the win with an impressive curling shot across his body and past Joe Hart.
It wasn't easy from there, but it was settled, even with Liverpool reduced to ten men after Jordan Henderson's deserved red card. Ten on the bounce, and Liverpool control their own destiny.
It's hard to recall a match that delivered on so many fronts, even in spite of the areas in which Liverpool weren't at their best. The build-up alone was an occasion worth watching, but the match itself was a wonderful spectacle as well, and Liverpool coming out on top only sweetened the pot. The post-match scenes were the cherry on top of an incredible day, and once again leave us waiting for more.
In some cases that waiting isn't roundly positive; Daniel Sturridge's hamstring injury doesn't yet have a recovery timeline, and Rodgers will surely have to plan to replace Henderson for the next three matches after the midfielder was sent off for a late challenge on Samir Nasri. And yet again, neither of Sturridge nor Suarez scored, leaving questions as to whether or not there's time left in the season for them to get back amongst the goals when it matters most.
More importantly, however, Liverpool still won. They won when it looked like they should, they won when they looked like they shouldn't, and they won with the match hanging in the balance. It wasn't Suarez or Sturridge (though Suarez was integral in Sterling's opener), sure, but it was the rest of the team, once again putting in a shift and refusing to bow to the occasion or the opposition. Even as Arlo White and Tim Howard explained away their standing by noting the struggles of the other sides near the top of the table, Liverpool persevered.
And if the last few weeks are any indication, that's exactly what they'll continue to do. One of their twenty-goal strikers might be missing, their midfield engine will be banned, but there's no question that they'll continue to fight. Four matches left. Four cup finals. Four more reasons to dream.