Liverpool ultimately do what matters the most, despite the lingering sense they could have made this mean even more.
The champions elect beat Manchester United to make it 21 wins out of 22, but this remarkable campaign that is becoming so defined by numbers – not least 19 and 30 – didn’t quite reach the figures it could have. It was a late 2-0 that should have been a 6-0, and still somehow could have been a 1-1.
That lent a curious second-half tension to what was often an embarrassingly one-sided match, but that in itself just made the eventual victory all the more satisfying.
United were just another piece of roadkill en route to this long-awaited 19th title, the opportunity to remind them of that taken with that bit more relish after the away fans had spent a fair portion of the game singing chants that related to the Hillsborough tragedy.
Liverpool responded by reminding that their team is the future, and one late Mohamed Salah goal to hint at the true gap between these teams. It is chasmic.
It could have been so much worse for United, but then this has been one of the few curiosities to Liverpool’s season. Their utter superiority over the course of the campaign has only rarely been reflected in the individual scorelines, that have often been won by much narrower margins than they should have been.
That made this someway reminiscent of last week’s win over Tottenham Hotspur, and also reminded of United’s capacity to at least dig in when it looks like a total destruction is at hand. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deserves at least some credit for that, even this match really just exposed the immense gap between his idea of football and Liverpool’s.
He should have been thrashed. As it was, the first goal was enough to settle the game and tell the story of it.
It at once displayed the force of Liverpool and disarray within United, not least because it was an eighth goal conceded from a set-piece this season.
This wasn’t even a case of lessons not being learned, though. It was instead the blindingly obvious not being picked up. United had all 11 players in the box and somehow had a situation where one of their shortest, Brandon Williams, was on the game’s biggest. Virgil van Dijk just brushed him and the rest of United’s backline away to power the ball into the top corner.
You could say Williams and Harry Maguire were victims of their system of zonal marking, except it barely translated into any marking at all.
This was the story of the game. United couldn’t get close to Liverpool in almost any sense.
When one of them was close enough for a “challenge”, as when David De Gea leapt for the ball only to be levelled by Van Dijk, a foul was given.
The debate around that proved one of the elements of Liverpool’s win that was open to any kind of questioning, although it did spare United immediately going 2-0 behind. Whether it was a foul or not, it did raise more doubts about a recurring lack of physicality in the goalkeeper’s game that opposition sides are starting to get at.
Liverpool were getting at United in almost every way. The next time they had the ball in net would have been one of the moves of the season, except Georginio Wijnaldum had strayed offside before his neat finish.
There was little so fractional about the rest of the play. There was just a chasm, often reflected in the very nature of play.
While there were so many moments when one of the Liverpool forwards – usually Sadio Mane or Roberto Firmino – were able to instantly turn this way and then in the United box to leave a marker on the ground, Solskjaer’s side were doing that to themselves in their own attacks.
One particularly embarrassing moment in the first half saw Andreas Pereira try to just run at the Liverpool defence, only to have to turn, before falling into Dan James.
It was Keystone Cops against a crack SWAT team, Liverpool so often threatening to just swoop in and sweep United away.
De Gea – in one of his admittedly top-class moments – was forced into a save one minute, before Jordan Henderson was snapping the post with the next.
Except, once again, it didn’t quite translate into the emphatic triumph it should have.
This was another game that became much closer than they should have been.
The failure to get a second goal here – when it really should have been about 6-0 – inevitably led to some nerves that were similar to the win over Tottenham Hotspur, and a bit of swing. Fred was the player to grasp the initiative more than anyone, and for about 10 minutes was the most influential player on the pitch as United began to make some chances.
That made Anfield nervous – but couldn’t break its team.
Despite the late pressure, it was them that got the late goal, Salah taking advantage of all that space to re-emphasise the huge space between these teams. In the table, and on the pitch.
It is bigger than it has ever been, at almost any point in the modern history of these teams. It meant Liverpool did what matters most to everyone involved in all of this: got another win on the way to the title, and beat their great rivals.