A match that was so predictable, and yet the reality of it was utterly astounding.
So much for a tense title run-in game. So much for a challenge for a Champions League place. So much for any sense of Manchester United pride at stopping Liverpool from matching their 20 titles or incredibly improving on their treble.
The fact that these are the two most successful sides in English football was reduced to mere historical quirk, as if United were a bygone force from the past, as Liverpool instead inflicted them to their worst aggregate score of the entire Premier League era.
Even worse, this 4-0, which followed on from October’s 5-0 to make it 9-0, only got so high because Liverpool just decided to get back into the mood. The truth was a contest between these two sides again looked as good as over by the fifth minute.
It was just left to Liverpool to try things, to see what they could do, to add to the goals.
Mohamed Salah may justifiably end up the player of the season again, but it was not a coincidence he finally ended his poor goalscoring run – and then added another – against this Manchester United.
Some of it beggared belief for a game between two supposedly elite clubs. There were so many questions, and that from a game where the outcome was always beyond doubt.
How could United’s immense expenditure leave them with a starting XI like this? How could a notionally “defensive” five-man backline offer up as much space as this? What are they doing in training? Has the gap ever been so big between these two clubs?
It was laughable.
Within four minutes, any semblance of an idea that United might at least turn it into a bit of a battle – or even dig in – was just vaporised by a single Liverpool attack. They were all over the place. Harry Maguire stepped up, although nobody followed, leaving Sadio Mane with so much space to put a pass. He could seemingly have picked any number of options, too, as it wasn’t just one player that outstripped Diogo Dalot but two. Salah and Alexander-Arnold almost got in each other’s way except, unlike United, Liverpool players generally have a very clear idea of where they need to be. Alexander-Arnold went inside, Salah took the ball outside, and Luis Diaz was left with the easiest of finishes.
It was like the game at Old Trafford in October, but difficult to figure out if it was actually worse for that. It already looked so easy for Liverpool. Paul Pogba’s only contribution was to go off injured at that point. It spared him being overly associated with this.
Alisson’s turn past Bruno Fernandes already indicated a mood where Klopp’s side were willing to try things just because they could, culminating in that audacious screwed assist from Mane. It already perfectly suited Thiago, who wasn’t so much controlling a game again as expressing himself on a canvas. The move for that magnificent second was started with a superb ball out to Alexander-Arnold, which led to some luscious one-touch football. By the time it got to Mane, and as with so much with what happened in this match, you could see what he was going to do but it was still incredible when it came. Even Salah seemed surprised, although naturally checked back to finish.
This is what United had become. They’re the perfect opposition if you’re in a bad run.
It got so bad for them that, for the third time this season against one of Liverpool or City, there was a sense of the opposition declaring. They’d done enough. They’d scored enough – against United, the Premier League’s most successful club.
That did allow the briefest danger, as Rangnick’s team did rally a little in the second half with Jadon Sancho on and the side restored to their usual formation. There was just that increasing anxiety that, if United managed to get one, it could become a very different game.
And what happened? Within mere minutes, Liverpool just stepped it up, one move seeing Mane just ease the ball into the bottom corner.
It was probably more difficult a finish than he made it look, but that summed up the game. It looked facile, like there was barely any challenge.
Then again, there wasn’t. That was the case throughout the game.
From the opening moments, Liverpool had the freedom of the pitch to play with. There was barely any kind of pressing. There was just space everywhere. It ensured the game ended as it began, with one Liverpool passing just opening up the entire United box.
Salah was left to claim a second, and bring the aggregate score to a remarkable 9-0.
That means Liverpool go ahead of City with a game more played, although the champions can rectify that against Brighton on Wednesday evening.
Statements like that usually give the sense that these run-ins are some kind of super-intense race where the teams have to match each other stride for stride, especially when you face fixtures as theoretically awkward as Manchester United.
That’s all United are now, though: a theory; an idea; a brand.
They’re not a football challenge for a team like Liverpool. They were shown the reality of the level. That made it as incredible as it was predictable.