You didn’t think Jurgen Klopp would forget, did you?
The Liverpool boss had almost reached the tunnel. He was heading for the locker room, smiling and waving. Happy as Larry.
But then, with a swing of the hips and a turn of pace that Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah would have been proud of, he was gone.
The cameras struggled to follow him as he charged towards the fans behind the goal. They loved it.
The first pumps are out. One two three. A beat of the Liver Bird on his chest, one, two, three.
That’s what this victory meant. The FA Cup may not be what it used to be, but it can still get the blood pumping and the heart racing. It’s still a competition to cherish and enjoy, no matter what.
Liverpool’s treble dream lives on as Manchester City‘s quest for the treble is over. It is the Reds who will return for next month’s final against Chelsea or Crystal Palace, after a 3-2 win that was as deserved and welcomed as it was nerve-wracking in the dying minutes.
You couldn’t have gotten a cigarette paper between the sides at the Etihad Stadium last week, or at Anfield in October for that matter, but the third installment went Liverpool’s way, courtesy of a first-half blitz on Klopp’s side.
Ibrahima Konate headed them off early, the centre-back’s third goal in as many games, before Mane whisked them away to dreamland before half-time.
The Senegal star struck twice, and although City inevitably and impressively rallied after the break, rattling Liverpudlian’s nerves through goals from Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva, it was they who were left behind. on the floor at the final whistle.
How significant this result will turn out in the context of the rest of the season, only time will tell, but it looks like a big blow from the red corner.
City may have regained some pride in the second half, but suddenly it’s their side that look the weaker of the two heading into the final weeks of the campaign.
Liverpool had the star men of the game. Konate justified his selection alongside Virgil van Dijk at full-back, Thiago Alcantara steered things in midfield and Luis Diaz was a constant threat against Joao Cancelo.
It was Mane, however, who proved decisive, and it was no surprise when, shortly before Bernardo made it 3-2 in the first minute of added time, he was the star Senegalese who was named by the stadium announcer as the player of the match.
Starting in the middle of Liverpool’s front three, the 30-year-old, who scored the most important leveler in last weekend’s Premier League draw, was a threat from the start.
Supported ably by Diaz and Salah, and a much better functioning midfield with far more goalscoring than six days ago, Mane pressed City early and pressed them hard.
And for once Guardiola’s side couldn’t cope.
Liverpool were already leading through Konate’s header in the ninth minute when a ball was returned to Zack Steffen, City’s substitute goalkeeper. The USA international had time, but he wanted too much. Mane, smelling of blood, locked up.
As Steffen was about to clear, Mane slipped in and made his tackle, the ball ricocheting into the net and leaving City fans and their players in shock.
Two in under 19 minutes, Liverpool were purring and before half-time they were celebrating, Mane adding another with a beautifully controlled and perfectly placed volley from Thiago’s trick pass.
Some finish, some players.
His threat continued after the break, although City had an instant lifeline when Grealish tackled Gabriel Jesus’ pass.
Guardiola’s side had chances but twice Alisson denied Jesus. At the other end, Liverpool were wasted with good positions and appeared to go into conservation mode after the hour mark.
Not Mane, watch out. He was everywhere, a ball of energy. He tangled with Cancelo, took a kick from Fernandinho and returned one in return. One reservation each, said referee Michael Oliver. No turning back from the Liverpool man.
Time and time again, his control and strength got his team on the pitch. Time and again, City have struggled to deal with it. When he gave way to Roberto Firmino, five minutes from the hour, he received a standing ovation. He deserved it.
City still had time for a tense end to the routine, with Bernardo crushing substitute Riyad Mahrez’s cross. Fernandinho, Mahrez and Raheem Sterling all had their sights set on an equalizer in stoppage time, as did Salah and Firmino, but in the end it was 3-2 up.
The noise at the final whistle would certainly have been heard all the way to Anfield. Klopp and Guardiola embraced again, their mutual respect intact. They could well meet again in May’s Champions League final in Paris, of course.
That’s for another day, though. It can wait. Today belonged to Liverpool, and to Mane.