Jon Flanagan set the tone for an incredible Liverpool performance within only 28 seconds.
When the ball broke free on the right flank in between Flanagan and Raheem Sterling, it was clear that there was only going to be one winner. Restored to the team and making his first start since May 2014, Flanagan won the ball with a crunching, no nonsense challenge that sent his ex-team-mate crashing to the ground.
It brought an eruption of noise from around Anfield. Not only had Sterling, who was returning to Anfield for the first time since his controversial move to Manchester City last summer, been clattered but it signalled the much needed return of Scouse grit and determination.
Since the departure of Steven Gerrard last summer, and with Flanagan on the treatment table recovering from a series of knee injuries, Liverpool have lacked local influence, potentially for the first time in their illustrious history.
After a disappointing performance and result in the League Cup final against Manchester City only days before, this was a chance for Liverpool to get revenge and for some players to prove their worth amid increasing speculation of a summer overhaul.
Beginning with Flanagan’s tackle on Sterling, Liverpool produced a performance that had everything that Sunday’s final did not; energy, determination and, according to Jurgen Klopp, anger.
Goals from Adam Lallana, James Milner and Roberto Firmino secured a 3-0 win for the Reds as they brushed City aside, resulting in, so far, Liverpool’s best home performance of the season.
“I think Flanagan definitely set the tempo of the game,” Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson said. “The fans lifted that extra little bit, and from that point the whole team lifted, so that was a big moment in the game.
“The manager said he wanted to see a response,” goal scorer Lallana added. “He wanted it to be intense, and I thought it was a great atmosphere out there, the crowd responded.”
“It was very important we showed the reaction,” said Klopp. We showed we are not disappointed as it could have had a negative influence on the performance tonight. The boys did brilliant. They were very angry in a positive way.
“Flanagan played so sharp and so clever in his first game for 22 months. In his first challenge he showed his opponent [Raheem Sterling] that maybe we were friends but not tonight.
“It was something I had to do to get the crowd up,” Flanagan said. “The crowd have been fantastic, always right behind me even in the dark days.
The cloud of an expiring contract hangs over Flanagan, however. The full-back signed an extension in May 2015 but his deal is set to expire this summer.
For Liverpool it is vital that the 23 year old is given a new contract. Flanagan’s impact on Wednesday night was obvious. He may not be the most naturally talented player in Liverpool’s squad but he has worked harder than anyone to get to where he is today. His determination, desire and passion to play for Liverpool is clear for all to see and is invaluable.
It is crucial that Liverpool fans have a Scouser representing them on the pitch. Flanagan knows the Liverpool fans, he knew that an early challenge on Sterling would whip up the crowd and inspire his team mates. And so it proved.
Jurgen Klopp has hinted at wanting to find a ‘positive solution’ for both player and club, but an official offer is yet to be made.
Flanagan concluded: “I am just leaving the contract talks to my agent to see what happens but it was great to hear those words from the manager in the press conference.”