• The Premier League title race has been over for weeks, no matter how many words of caution came out of Liverpool or how many messages of defiance came from the direction of Manchester City and Leicester City.
• There may even be a sliver of solace in the fact United are still the only club to take points off Liverpool this season — but not much.
Liverpool have been deliberately keeping the lid on the growing inevitability that the pain of 30 years without a league title would be relieved within a matter of weeks — but the explosion of joy around Anfield in the closing seconds of victory over Manchester United sounded like the moment of release.
The Premier League title race has been over for weeks, no matter how many words of caution came out of Liverpool or how many messages of defiance came from the direction of Manchester City and Leicester City.
As Mo Salah raced on to goalkeeper Alisson’s injury-time clearance, held off the chasing Daniel James and rolled his finish beyond United keeper David de Gea, there was almost a symbolism about the celebrations.
“We’re going to win the league” rang around Anfield at greater volume and with greater conviction than it has for years, certainly since Liverpool faltered at the finish under Brendan Rodgers in 2014. This felt like realisation setting in.
Liverpool fans who have been holding back on the belief the long wait is over sounded like they no longer needed convincing. They finally knew they would be back on the perch former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson took such pleasure in removing them from.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, understandably, was not having it as he said: “They can sing that. They’ve sung that a couple of times in the past I think. Everyone should celebrate — apart from us.”
There was extra relish in the celebrations as the latest victory, making it 21 out of 22 in the league, came at the expense of such an ordinary United, Liverpool’s fans determined to remind those at the other end of Anfield that power has shifted seismically and, on this evidence, for a very long time.
Liverpool hold a 16-point advantage at the top of the Premier League with a game in hand — but the painful sub-plot for United after this victory is that it opened up a 30-point gap between the two old foes.
And such is Liverpool’s current superiority that neither margin flatters them unduly. United, mediocre and barely visible in Liverpool’s rear-view mirror, were left clutching at the flimsiest of straws, talking up missed chances, effort and the fact they were not beaten out of sight.
This is where Liverpool are. This is where Manchester United are. The gap is huge. Liverpool have an inspirational manager in Klopp while Solskjaer looks like he is learning on one of the toughest jobs of all.
Liverpool’s recruitment under Klopp has been almost faultless, signing proven quality in all areas with each individual then being moved on to a different level.
United’s recruitment, and for all the questions about whether Solskjaer is up to the job this cannot be laid at his door, has been desperately poor in recent years. Liverpool are now on the victory lap.
Sir Alex Ferguson revelled in the knowledge that he helped ‘knock Liverpool off their perch’, as his Manchester United side surpassed their mark of 18 league titles
They have taken a remarkable 91 points from their last 93 in the Premier League, playing 31, winning 30 and drawing one. They have become the first team since Arsenal in 2001/02 to score in their first 22 league games and to paint the picture of the complete team, they have now kept seven clean sheets in the league for the first time since December 2006.
It is now 675 minutes since they last conceded a goal in the Premier League, back on 4 December when Richarlison headed home at The Kop end in the 5-2 Merseyside derby win against Everton.
Liverpool’s threat is all-consuming, with even Alisson making his contribution for Salah’s goal. Since the start of last season, full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold has more Premier League assists than any other player. The corner he provided for Virgil van Dijk’s headed opener was his 21st.
Liverpool have been unstoppable this season and United’s last two visits have carried significance. Liverpool’s win in December 2018 saw the end of Jose Mourinho and the start of the Solskjaer era. This victory looked, sounded and was celebrated like one where those who have suffered over the last 30 years were finally able to let themselves go and realise nothing is stopping Klopp’s side now.
Whether they will become “Invincibles” is another matter. For all the loose talk, it takes some doing and Liverpool’s players would not be human if there was not an element of switch-off in the closing weeks once the formalities are completed and when it could be that retaining the Champions League comes into sharper focus.
Liverpool’s elation was United’s pain. And United fans will know how it feels because once power shifted in the early 1990s they were able to pay back some of the taunts they were subjected to in the 1970s and 1980s as the games major and domestic prizes arrived at Anfield with monotonous regularity.
They will also know that once the juggernaut starts to gather momentum it takes some stopping - and if allowed to roll unchecked can take a football generation to halt. Liverpool are now gathering that momentum, as United did under Ferguson when dominance switched to the other end of the East Lancs Road. As Anfield emptied on to streets after the final whistle, Liverpool supporters were basking in the glory soon to come while United’s fans were contemplating a long and tortuous route to get anywhere close to the club they dominated for so long.