Liverpool are a finely honed, ruthless winning machine locked in a battle of perfection with Manchester City for the Premier League title.
When a team is operating at this level, nothing is left to chance – everything is planned and executed to yield maximum results, and the last thing anyone involved needs is a random or rogue element.
And then, at 7pm on Tuesday evening at Anfield, there he was: Phil Jones on the Manchester United team-sheet. The much-maligned and injury-ravaged former England defender was making his fourth Premier League appearance in the past three seasons.
As it happened, it was just about the only unpredictable occurrence as Liverpool feasted upon the sorry shambles that United have become, nudging above their neighbours at the top of the table.
Jones joined United from Blackburn Rovers in 2011, after the Red Devils won their 19th league title and finished 22 points ahead of Liverpool in 6th. By the time title No.20 rolled around in 2012/13, the Merseyside club were back in 8th – 28 behind United.
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The gap this season after Liverpool’s exhibition-style 4-0 triumph is 22 points, with the league leaders having played one game fewer. It is impossible to see that yawning chasm not getting much bigger before the end of the campaign.
You expect a Liverpool, with this sense of purpose and the scent of history in their nostrils, to win every game; you struggle to see where on earth this rabble of a United assortment might next find a victory.
Liverpool have recorded 3️⃣ #PL wins in a row over #MUFC for the first time since 2009! 🔥#LIVMUN | #LFC pic.twitter.com/tinl0682pO
— 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐒𝐩𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐍𝐞𝐰𝐬 UK 🇬🇧 (@sportingnewsuk) April 19, 2022
In that same 2011 window when Jones signed for United, Charlie Adam was hailed as Liverpool’s transfer masterstroke.
As if to emphasise the galaxies of difference between then and now, the playmaker with Anfield in the palm of his hand nowadays is Thiago Alcantara.
On the back of his majestic Wembley showing in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final win over a much-changed City, the former Barcelona man was again utterly sublime. One exchange with Andy Robertson that featured a cheeky Luis Diaz dummy drew “ooohs” and probable drool from the masses.
Thiago is a master of his craft, a delight to watch. So United decided to watch him.
Thiago Alcantara. Phenomenal 😮💨 pic.twitter.com/UFm5CtBz14
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) April 19, 2022
Liverpool’s passing on both of their first-half goals was a lesson in slick precision. The second was a 25-pass move involving 10 players, which wrapped up with a glorious chip around the corner from Sadio Mane for Mohamed Salah to gleefully get back on the goal trail.
But it all occurred around a collection of training mannequins, and came after Ralf Rangnick’s decision to deploy an unfamiliar back-five resulted in Liverpool surging forward with a three-on-two in their favour for Luis Diaz to score inside five minutes.
David De Gea, the other remaining relic of the Alex Ferguson era, responded to that indignity by attempting to start some sort of scuffle with Trent Alexander-Arnold – perhaps just to feel something other than the dutiful sadness that dripped from his forlorn attempt to prevent Salah from scoring.
Jones was spared from the second half, making way for Jadon Sancho. The Ferguson era might have ended almost a decade ago, but it’s nine months this week since United announced Sancho’s arrival, a signing that was supposed to herald a title charge in a team reborn under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Imagine.
United did at least manage to have some shots on goal after the break, their possum act having introduced some complacency into Liverpool’s work. They didn’t manage a single attempt during the first half – the first time that had happened in one of their games since April 2018.
On that occasion, they remarkably came back from 2-0 down to beat City 3-2 and delay Pep Guardiola’s team being crowned champions. Paul Pogba was the hero with two goals. He’d been another of those mega-money buys to bring back the good times, just like Sancho.
At Anfield, Pogba limped off injured after 10 minutes. In the reverse fixture earlier this season, he was sent off 15 minutes after coming on. As a demonstration of the ocean between expectation and reality at the modern Manchester United, Pogba’s second coming at the club feels a little bit on the nose at this stage.
MORE: Paul Pogba is the symbol of Manchester United’s decline but their biggest hope of stunning Liverpool
Just when the tide looked to be going out on their performance, Liverpool once again demonstrated the ocean between these two sides as Mane brilliantly added a third.
Jurgen Klopp’s men swaggered to full-time, Thiago earning a richly-deserved standing ovation before Salah added his second and Liverpool’s fourth in front of a buoyant Kop.
It finished 9-0 on aggregate for the season. By the end, even Roy Keane was too sad to be angry.
Klopp’s team are inspired and chasing history. Rangnick, the man who once inspired his compatriot, and a United team he should be glad to be rid of a few weeks from now, just look like they are history.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism