Kevin De Bruyne was the oustandingly talented pr*ck in a League Cup treat we actively didn’t want, but lapped up like the hungry football addicts we are.
What does no-one need on a hangover after a binge at a five-star Indian restaurant? Korma from a can. Four days after the greatest final ever of the biggest football tournament in the world, here were two teams facing off in a domestic competition few pretend to care about at the best of times. Manchester City v Liverpool in the Carabao Cup was the Tesco value curry on the dry heaves to the perfectly proportioned lamb rogan josh of the World Cup final. We absolutely didn’t need it; in fact we actively didn’t want it.
But sometimes, forcing some beige down your throat early doors can sort that hangover right out. And having questioned why this game was even happening at kick-off, thoughts quickly turned to how lucky we all are to be able to watch such brilliant football all the bloody time. Bring on the 32-team Club World Cup. Forget a World Cup every three years, let’s make it annual. Bring back the Intertoto.
The World Cup final confirmed Lionel Messi’s GOAT status ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo for all but the deluded beyond help, but was also seen by many as a passing-of-the-torch moment from him to Kylian Mbappe, as Erling Haaland bristled from his cryogenic chamber at home.
Suggestions that the only man seemingly able to challenge Mbappe as the current world’s best may be ring rusty after a five-week break gained credence as he ran through on goal after 20 seconds and ballooned the ball high and wide with Caoimhin Kelleher in no man’s land. But those thoughts were dismissed nine minutes later as he got in front of Joe Gomez – who hasn’t rediscovered how to defend during the break – to poke the first of many superb Kevin De Bruyne crosses into the corner.
De Bruyne was finding all sorts of space, and Belgian fans must have been rubbing their cheeks at the consistent slaps in the face the playmaker was doling out at the Etihad. It’s unfortunate for De Bruyne that the better he now plays for Manchester City, the less we think of him as a person after he threw his international teammates under a bus he then refused to conductat the World Cup. He picked out Ilkay Gundogan for one shot blocked by Kelleher, produced one of the great crosses for Nathan Ake to fluff and another one less brilliant, but brilliant nonetheless, for the same man to score the eventual winner. De Bruyne – an oustandingly talented pr*ck.
Fabio Carvalho had made it 1-1 with a cooly slotted finish after Haaland’s opener. Riyad Mahrez beautifully curled the ball into the corner after an absurdly perfect touch to make it 2-1 to City, before Mohamed Salah again drew the Reds level after Darwin Nunez powered on to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain through ball and laid it on a plate for him.
It’s lucky Nunez passed on that occasion, because Liverpool would have lost 3-1 had he taken a shot. Liverpool could have won 5-3 had the Uruguayan converted any of three three near-identical chances he had with just the goalkeeper to beat from the an angle outside the right post, all of which he dragged horribly wide of the far post.
The game did have a slight mid-season friendly feel in that both managers – who appeared to join us in wiping their eyes in disbelief at what they were watching – turned to their benches to make four substitutions each. But that did little to dampen the intensity.
What was particularly apparent, beyond the stunning skill on show, was the desire from everyone on the pitch – and from those sitting watching in the stadium, which was as raucous as we can remember it – to win in a competition we’ve been conditioned to think they don’t really care about. Perhaps this was more about Manchester City v Liverpool than progression in the Carabao Cup, but we don’t care why it was this good, just loved that it was.
After the best World Cup final ever we may just have seen the best League Cup game ever. It’s constant, dizzying, 24-hour, year long, endless football, and we f***ing love it.