If there was ever an image to tell the story of a day, a season and indeed a rivalry, it was that beamed through the nation’s TV screens as Mo Salah celebrated a goal that he perhaps thought was about to deliver Liverpool a sensational Premier League title.
As Salah and his team-mates celebrated in front of the Kop, a spectator simply held out his hands. Three fingers showing on the right and just two on the left. Manchester City 3 Aston Villa 2. It was at that moment that Salah and his remarkable team-mates knew that this title was not to be theirs after all.
So there will be no quadruple for Jurgen Klopp and his team. There will no hallowed treble of league, FA Cup and Champions League, no matter what happens in Paris next Saturday.
But what a season this has been for Liverpool once again. 92 points and no title. That is the incredible standard set by Pep Guardiola and his players and there is no shame in finishing second to a team like that.
Here at Anfield, we witnessed something special once again only this time it didn’t end quite the way Liverpool would have liked. At the start of the afternoon, we expected both Liverpool and City to win. We just didn’t expect it to happen quite like this.
Liverpool saw the title slip away at Anfield on Sunday despite a 3-1 win as Man City stunned Aston Villa with a fine comeback
City were 2-0 down against Steven Gerrard’s side but midfielder Ilkay Gundogan (pictured) score a brace to help make it 3-2
Reds talisman Mo Salah (left) and captain Jordan Henderson (right) looked distraught at the final whistle as their dream died
Match Facts: Liverpool 3-1 Wolves, Anfield
Liverpool (4-3-3): Alisson 7; Alexander-Arnold 6, Matip 7, Konate 6, Robertson 6.5; Keita 6 (Firmino 70, 6), Henderson 6, Thiago 7 (Milner 45, 6); Jota 6 (Salah 58, 7), Mane 7, Diaz 6.5.
Substitutes not used: Kelleher; van Dijk, Tsimikas, Jones, Elliott, Minamino.
Goals: Mane 24, Salah 84, Robertson 89.
Yellow cards: Matip 46.
Manager: Jurgen Klopp 6.
Wolves (3-5-2): Sa 6 (Ruddy 45, 6.5); Boly 8, Coady 7, Gomes 6.5; Jonny 6, Dendoncker 6.5 (Trincao 90), Moutinho 6, Neves 6, Ait-Nouri 6; Neto 6.5 (Hwang 22, 6), Jimenez 7.
Substitutes not used: Hoever, Mosquera, Marcal, Podence, Chiquinho, Fabio Silva.
Goals: Neto 3.
Manager: Bruno Lage 7.
Referee: Anthony Taylor 6.5.
Liverpool were poor by their high standards here. They trailed after just two minutes or so after Pedro Neto broke to score for Wolves. But once Sadio Mane equalised midway through the first half, this was a game that became nothing more than a frantic search for another goal as news of City’s troubles at the Etihad filtered through.
With City two goals down for so long, it seemed for quite some time as though Liverpool were just one goal of their own away from a second title in three seasons. For far too long, it wouldn’t come. And when it finally did with six or seven minutes left, City’s comeback was not only well underway but almost complete.
There was, as always seems to be the case, news of a ‘ghost’ third goal for Villa at City. Briefly Anfield was alive again as phone connections were sought and website pages frantically refreshed.
But once reality dawned, Liverpool played out the final moments of this game in relative silence. There was a third goal for Andy Robertson with a minute or so left to play but by then thoughts had turned to the Champions League final.
The build up at Anfield had been akin to that of a big European night. Liverpool, though, began the game in a sleep walk. A little over two minutes had gone when they fell behind.
The way Klopp’s team defend can be puzzling at times. Their high defensive line is part of their make-up and can occasionally offer opportunities to opponents smart enough to find a way through or over it.
This goal, though, didn’t even have to be clever. This derived from a long-kick by goalkeeper Jose Sa that Liverpool central defender Ibrahima Konate simply misjudged.
As the ball sailed over Konate’s head, Liverpool were in immediate trouble. Raul Jimenez collected the ball in space down the left side and when he crossed low to Neto the ball was slid in to an open goal from about seven yards.
It was a numbing start for Liverpool on such a big day and by the time they recovered enough to equalise, they could have been two down.
This time the danger emanated down the left side but once again the Liverpool offside trap was left in pieces. This time the cross was delivered to the near post where Leander Dendoncker should have scored.
Instead the first time shot delivered from his instep flew the wrong side of the near post.
That chance came in the 18th minute. Prior to that Liverpool had been pressing with familiar intensity and energy. Twice Luis Diaz had been given sight of goal while Naby Keita saw a low shot blocked. At times Wolves’ defensive work looked a little desperate but that said more about Liverpool than it did against them.
When the equaliser did arrive midway through the first half, it had been looking increasingly likely. Thiago’s influence was as profound as ever and his flick to send Mane clear was beautiful. The Liverpool front man still had much to do as he ran through but his left foot finish round the side of Sa and inside the near post was perfect.
Before the game police officers on horses patrolled the streets around Anfield as red smoke from flares coloured the air
Reds boss Jurgen Klopp looked on intently as his players warmed up on the pitch prior to kick-off on Saturday mid-afternoon
A rousing rendition of club anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ before kick-off packed the famous old stadium with huge noise
But Wolves forward Pedro Neto (centre) obviously had not read the script, stunning the home crowd with a third-minute goal
The 22-year-old winger scored his first league goal of the season after just three minutes, turning home Raul Jimenez’ pass
The sense of relief around Anfield was tangible but was nothing compared to the thunderous outpouring of excitement when news filtered through that City were behind to Villa. The noise was so intense and unremitting that Liverpool’s left-back Andy Robertson felt compelled to signal to his team-mates to stay calm.
That was easier said than done amid the racket and it was Robertson himself who had the next chance, volleying over at the far post.
Wolves, for their part, were remaining stubbornly in the game. Another break down the right saw substitute Hwang Hee-chan released. On in place of the injured Neto, Hee-chan advanced until he could see the whites of Alisson’s eyes but then blinked, allowing the Liverpool goalkeeper to deny him at his near post.
Wolves’ approach to the game was admirable. Anything Liverpool took here was going to be hard-earned and they suffered a hammer blow seconds before the interval as Thiago limped off with what looked like a muscle strain.
Wolves also lost goalkeeper Sa at half-time and he was replaced by John Ruddy, which only served to add to the sense of chaos and uncertainty that was engulfing this game.
Liverpool pushed forwards constantly early in the second period. They thought they had scored when Mane lifted Diogo Jota’s through pass over Ruddy only to be denied by an offside call that seemed to arrive a good five seconds in to his goal celebration. Minutes later Mane seemed to be through again only for a Wolves tackle to arrive. Jota was first to the loose ball but his shot was deflected over.
But the Reds’ Senegalese forward Sadio Mane (centre) levelled the game up midway through the first half with a fine finish
A delighted Klopp erupted with emotion on the touchline, fist-pumping to the home fans to celebrate the equaliser joyously
Wolves’ reserve goalkeeper John Ruddy (pictured) replaced No 1 Sa at half-time after the Portuguese stopper was injured
In the second half Mane lifted the ball over Ruddy and the stadium erupted – but the goal was correctly disallowed for offside
Egyptian star Mohamed Salah (centre) came off the bench and made it 2-1, turning home Joel Matip’s header at the back post
Former Liverpool player and Wolves captain Conor Coady (second left) commiserated with Klopp after the final whistle blew
With a little over half an hour to go, Liverpool still hadn’t the goal they required and that was enough for Klopp to send on Mo Salah with Jota the player to make way.
By now the flow and the pattern of the game was set. Liverpool’s possession was almost constant but the clear cut chances were not coming. The noise levels went up another notch when news of Villa’s second goal arrived with twenty minutes left but it did not give the home team the goal of their own they needed.
Roberto Firmino soon followed Salah on to the field but both players mistimed runs and passes when released in to good positions. Trent Alexander-Arnold did release another shot from inside the penalty area but this one was blocked by a gold shirt almost on the goal line. Liverpool appealed for a handball but it was an appeal made more in hope than expectation.
Eventually Liverpool did find a way through. Joel Matip’s header from a corner was blocked on the line and when the ball dropped from the same player’s follow-up, Salah stabbed it in from a couple of yards.
By then, though, the home crowd’s ardour had been damped by news of City’s comeback. Briefly, news of a ghost Villa swept through the crowd. Was it really back to 3-3 at the Etihad?
The answer was no and by the time Robertson scored with a couple of minutes of normal time to go, there was a realisation here that there was to be no miracle.