Man City 1-2 Liverpool: Match review

Liverpool. Champions League semi-finalists. The first time in a decade. Back among Europe’s elite. The only English club remaining in the competition. From 32 teams down to four, and Liverpool are there, dining at the high table once more.

You don’t have to step back very far in time to a point where Liverpool supporters wondered whether these days would ever arrive again. The memories of Rafa Benitez, Istanbul and Athens felt increasingly consigned to the past, as opposed to something Liverpool could realistically hope to achieve one more in the near future.

It’s difficult to overstate the scale of what Jürgen Klopp has achieved here. When the quarter-final draw came out, pitting Liverpool against the bookies’ favorites for the competition in Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, the odds were stacked heavily against Liverpool. It was in every way, the toughest possible scenario.

This City squad is the most expensively assembled squad in the history of the game. That point is worth emphasizing. They’ve strolled their way to the league title and already have one domestic trophy in the cabinet this season. For Sheikh Mansour, Guardiola and the players, Champions League glory is the essential objective in their quest to transform City into a genuine European powerhouse.

Liverpool, by contrast, steeped in European heritage, have walked this road before. In the first leg, Anfield showed how this identity endures, harnessing a unique, collective willpower beyond anything any other English club is capable of producing.

The first leg was beyond a Liverpool supporter’s wildest expectations. Yet the sense of anxiety heading into the return leg was fever-pitch. The possibility of throwing away a historic European night, surrendering such an unlikely 3-0 advantage, was a prospect too excruciating to contemplate.

When you think of the worst possible scenario, Gabriel Jesus follows that very script with the early goal every single Liverpool supporter was dreading. What followed was up there with the most nail-biting, stomach-churning halves of football you are ever likely to witness from a Liverpudlian perspective.

Wave after wave of City attack, Guardiola’s unorthodox, front-heavy formation suffocating Liverpool with an ever-tightening vice-like grip of immense pressure. Any time Liverpool did manage to get hold of possession, the ball was like a magnet, immediately sucked straight back into City’s control once more. There was no way out.

Bernardo Silva rattles the post from distance. There’s a couple of penalty claims from Raheem Sterling. Leroy Sané has a goal controversially chalked off for offside. Liverpool rode their luck to an extreme at times, but solace could be found in the fact City had not managed to build on their 1-0 lead when the referee blew for half-time.

That whistle came at the perfect time for Liverpool and whatever Klopp said, or tactically tweaked, a different side came out in the second half, playing with a renewed sense of bravery and determination to see this job through.

It was always the case that Liverpool needed to find the back of the net just once to put the tie more or less to bed. While the supporters were consumed by nerves, this mantra will have remained at the forefront of those on the pitch wearing red. No need to panic. Score once, and it’s over.

When the opportunity finally arrives, in the 56th minute, there is no other man on that pitch with the clarity of mind and technique to execute what will go down as an iconic Liverpool goal. It’s a sublime demonstration of skill and composure from Mo Salah, who stands still, drinking in the adoration of the rapturous away end, the coolest man in the stadium.

It was he who started off this two-legged victory, and he who finished it off. It’s what separates the great players from the very top bracket of world class. Stepping up in the most crucial moments, deciding the fate of contests of this magnitude. As soon as that ball nestles in the back of the net, City are down and out. There is no coming back.

Roberto Firmino adds the sheen to a stunning victory by sliding home the winner on the night, ensuring that Liverpool would not merely secure their passage to the semi-finals, but do so with a statement of intent that will have the continent stand up and take notice.

That’s three wins against Guardiola’s City in a matter of months. Twice in a week. The symbolic and psychological aspect of this is significant when it comes to challenging City next season. They are not the indomitable force many assumed only weeks ago.

There are so many individual performances to pull out, worthy of individual praise. Trent Alexander-Arnold, a 19-year-old academy graduate, repeatedly targeted throughout both legs, emerges as one of the standout players from the tie. It’s a quite incredible display of maturity which announces his arrival as a player capable of performing on the very biggest stage, whose future is without limits.

In Andy Robertson, Liverpool have a left-back who five years ago was playing in the Scottish third division, signed for £8.5 million from relegated Hull City. He too emerges as one of the outstanding players from this tie, a remarkable success story for Liverpool’s scouting department, embodying the tenacity and resilience which saw his side emerge triumphant.

Let’s talk about Dejan Lovren, also. This is a player who has been written off time and time again, widely lambasted by supporters and the wider media, deemed not good enough to play for a club of Liverpool’s stature. On the night, he is Liverpool’s man of the match, delivering an immense performance of bravery and focus on the biggest night of his professional career. It’s a display worthy of tremendous credit, a demonstration that he is capable of performing at the very highest level.

Alongside him, Virgil van Dijk is involved in City’s early goal, but is an island of calm and assurance thereafter, commanding those around him and marshaling the defence with the authority of a player very much living up to his status as the world’s most expensive defender.

In midfield, Klopp was without arguably his two first-choice central midfielders in Jordan Henderson and Emre Can- the two figures you would probably most want to start when protecting a 3-0 lead. Instead, Gini Wijnaldum- signed as an attacking midfielder from Newcastle just two seasons ago- was tasked with shielding the back four, up against two of the finest playmakers the Premier League has ever seen in David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne.

On either side, there’s James Milner, having a midfield renaissance beyond all expectations as he enters the twilight of his career, covering more ground than any other player. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, widely ridiculed when he first arrived at Liverpool, playing his first season as a central midfielder, putting his body on the line for the cause.

The front three need no description of their own.

It’s nights like these that players and supporters live for. It’s why Liverpool are a European heavyweight. For all City’s superior financial resources and superstar individuals, they could not match it, despite throwing everything at it.

When every Liverpool player is standing their, in front of the away fans at the end, clapping along to ‘Allez, Allez, Allez’ and celebrating with the supporters, it’s a really rare and special moment. For many of them, it’s probably the best night of their professional careers and they’re choosing to share it with the fans, drinking it in.

When their players are walking off the bus to the sound of a megaphone blaring out pop music, into a shiny, spaceship-like stadium lined with plastic flags, it just isn’t the same. Atmospheres like that produced in the first leg at Anfield do make a difference. That kind of thing cannot be fabricated by corporate attempts to artificially generate something of the sort.

There is something strange about this City side, so supreme in their title triumph, but now with a prevailing sense of a season which promised so much, now somewhat underwhelming. It’s almost as if they are so used to winning comfortably, that whenever anything goes wrong- as has happened three times in the past week- it does not compute, and they malfunction.

As for Liverpool, there is nothing left to fear. Of course, Roma are now the favorable draw for the semi-finals, but having conquered the previous favorites for the competition, Liverpool have demonstrated that they are capable of beating anyone and they will continue to believe that is the case.

There was an excellent quote from Klopp after the game, as he said:

“The Champions League is not about perfection. It’s about the result.”

It’s a message worth reiterating. Liverpool will likely have to beat either Bayern Munich or Real Madrid if they are to make it Number Six in Kiev in May. Both of these sides are individually superior, but as both Liverpool and Roma have shown this week, that matters little in this competition.

Liverpool are just three games away from European glory now. There is every reason to believe they can go all the way. They have already surpassed all expectations.

Whatever the conclusion of this tale, it’s been one to savor.

 

Porto 0-5 Liverpool: Match review

It’s often difficult to judge Portuguese teams in the Champions League. Based on their domestic form- top of the league and unbeaten at home, having conceded just 10 goals in 21 matches, Porto appeared to be potentially tricky opponents on paper, albeit a favorable draw for Liverpool.

What unfolded on the soaking wet grass, however, was a complete and utter non-contest, in which Liverpool, in their fluorescent tangerine kit, delivered one of the finest all-round Champions League performances from an English side in years. Indeed, this was one of the most accomplished displays of Jürgen Klopp’s tenure as Liverpool systematically and ruthlessly dismantled the hosts in an almost nonchalant manner.

The opening stages were somewhat evenly contested, with Porto showing some delicate touches on the ball- particularly through Yacine Brahimi, by far the most likely threat down the left-wing. Yet Liverpool had a confidence and assurance about themselves in possession- disciplined, yet fully capable of unleashing their devastating attacking weapons at any moment.

When the opening goal arrived 25 minutes in after Jose Sa fumbled Sadio Mané’s shot over the line following a driving forward run by Gini Wijnaldum, it felt as though it had been coming as Liverpool increasingly asserted their superiority across all areas of the pitch.

Mo Salah doubled the scoring just four minutes later, following in James Milner’s superb curling effort which crashed off the post, the Egyptian demonstrating the class and composure of a player brimming with confidence, safe in the knowledge he is right up there with the very best footballers on the planet at this moment in time.

Salah, juggling the ball over the keeper’s head, was always fully in control as he stabbed the ball over the line for his 30th goal of the season- a simply remarkable turn, all the more so by reaching the landmark by mid-February. He now needs just seven more goals to become Liverpool’s record goalscorer in a single season in the Premier League era, as he closes in on Robbie Fowler’s career-high tally of 36.

While Liverpool’s game management has left much to desire on several occasions when leading games this season, Klopp’s team never let up, working tirelessly off the ball, particularly through the pressing of the ever-industrious Roberto Firmino and the midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Wijnaldum and Milner who controlled the midfield to great effect throughout.

The third goal, arriving eight minutes into the second-half, was vintage Klopp football at its finest, with Firmino starting off a rapid counter-attack with a neat flick, before latching on to Salah’s perfectly weighted through ball, as an onrushing Mané anticipated the rebound from the Brazilian’s shot to tap in from close range.

Mané is a player who has been lacking in confidence for some time now, influencing games while not being anywhere near his peak level- his first touch and decision-making strangely lacking, in comparison to the virtually unplayable figure of last season. He needed a big statement performance, and this was the perfect way to do so, securing his hat-trick with a vicious drive from outside the penalty area for Liverpool’s fifth on the night, after Firmino had converted from close range after excellent work by Milner down the left.

It was a stunning demonstration of ruthless counter-attacking football, combined with total domination in every department. While scoring five goals away from home in a European knockout tie is an extraordinary feat in itself, the imperious defensive performances by Virgil van Dijk and Dejan Lovren were just as impressive, as the duo ensured Porto’s albeit limited threat was contained in order to preserve a valuable clean sheet.

The Dutchman, in particular, not only showed his aerial prowess on countless occasions, but also his ability to play an integral role in Liverpool’s build-up play from a deeper position, spraying several excellent long, diagonal balls out wide to switch play quickly and accurately, thus creating gap’s in Porto’s shape to be exploited.

Andy Robertson, too, deserves enormous credit for another masterful performance at left-back, with the Scot increasingly looking like one of the best bargains Liverpool have discovered in years, combining defensive nous with boundless energy and consistently dangerous delivery from out wide in advanced areas.

While there is never any room for complacency in this competition, Liverpool have put themselves into the best possible position heading into the second-leg at Anfield where they will be fully expected to seal their passage through to the quarter-finals with minimum fuss.

This latest resounding victory- following the two 7-0 drubbings of Maribor and Spartak Moscow in the group stages- is yet another statement to Europe’s elite that Liverpool, when they click, are a force to be reckoned with in this competition.

Tougher tests will come, of course, barring a miracle from Porto in the return leg, but as the highest scorers in the competition, overtaking PSG this evening, no team will relish coming up against Liverpool in this vein of form.

 

 

 

 

Liverpool 4-3 Man City: match review

It might take a while to appreciate just how phenomenal a game of football this was. For the neutral, it surely goes down immediately as an all-time Premier League classic- a hectic, scintillating demonstration of devastating attacking football from the two most thrilling sides in the country.

Man City’s hopes of an invincible season have been dashed, but Pep Guardiola’s side are still well on track to stroll their way to the title on a record-high points tally. No team has emerged victorious against them all season until now, with good reason. Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool have shown they are the only side capable of going toe-to-toe and playing them at their own game without getting torn to pieces. It took an immense showing of both quality and sheer effort to overcome what has, until now, proven an unstoppable force this season.

While City’s two late goals shifted the scoreline from a complete annihilation to a narrow victory, this was, in many ways, the finest performance from Liverpool during the Klopp era. Several momentary defensive lapses aside, this was a display of phenomenal verve and cohesion, such that City’s defenders had to cope with a degree of pressure they simply haven’t faced from any other side.

The midfield trio of Emre Can, Gini Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain functioned hugely effectively as a unit to help stem the tide of City’s attacks while also driving forward and setting Liverpool on the front foot. Chamberlain, in particular, was simply magnificent throughout, delivering the finest performance of a blossoming Liverpool career- a player re-energised, re-motivated and clearly loving his football as part of this team.

His goal was illustrative of his new-found confidence, picking the ball up from a deeper position before aggressively surging forward and lashing a low, pinpoint finish into the bottom corner past Ederson for his fourth in Liverpool colours. It’s the kind of goal he would never have scored several months back, but one can only assume that his work on the training ground under a manager who believes in his ability and consistently deploys him in his favoured role have been integral to his upward trajectory, establishing himself as a key cog in the Klopp machine in the role vacated by the recently departed Philippe Coutinho.

While the Brazilian possessed certain qualities unmatched by any other player in the Liverpool squad, his defensive contribution while playing in midfield could often be called into question and left the side somewhat unbalanced at times. Here, Liverpool’s work rate to win back possession by closing City down relentlessly was evident from the first minute. They were hardly given a second to breathe.

Throughout the duration of the first-half, Liverpool were largely diligent in their defensive work, only to be undone by a momentary lapse in concentration with Joe Gomez caught out by a raking crossfield pass to Leroy Sané on the left flank. The German burst into the penalty area and fired the equaliser past his compatriot, Loris Karius, who ought to have done better at his near post despite the ferocious power of the strike.

For Liverpool to have expended so much energy and to play so well during the first half, only to go in level at the break, could easily have damaged morale. To keep up that intensity in the second-half against a City side with a knack of scoring multiple late winners this season would be an enormous task- but one Liverpool showed they were more than capable of stepping up to.

That spirit, grit and determination was embodied by the performance of Andy Robertson, who turned in one of the finest left-back displays from a Liverpool player in years. The Scot dealt superbly with Raheem Sterling- a player in the form of his life, constantly terrorising defences this season- with his tough tackling, well-timed headers and interceptions, as well as his lively foraging runs up the wing.

City, however, were starting to crank up the pressure, until Chamberlain set Roberto Firmino through on goal with a sumptuous through ball. The Brazilian still had plenty to do, however, proceeding to shrug off the attentions of John Stones, before lofting a sublime, curling chipped finish in off the post to regain the lead- a stunning piece of individual quality, heavily reminiscent of the kind of goal Luis Suarez used to score in his prime.

It takes Firmino’s tally for the season up to 17, and along with his colossal all-round contribution in terms of pressing, movement, link-up play and chance creation, the Brazilian is quietly establishing himself as one of the very finest players in the league this season. There’s not a single forward in Europe who executes the complex role Firmino takes up in Klopp’s system and this was just the latest evidence of why he is the perfect player to operate as the attacking fulcrum of this Liverpool side- full of quality himself, while also elevating the performances of those around him.

He’s simultaneously a creator, a defender and now an increasingly prolific goalscorer- with Firmino in the side, it almost feels as if you’re playing with more than 11 men. Just imagine having to defend against that.

In a remarkable nine-minute frenzy, Liverpool put City to the sword twice more, with Sadio Mané lashing an unstoppable left-footed drive into the top corner after excellent work by Mo Salah, before the Egyptian bagged his 24th goal of the season with a sensational 45-yard lob after intercepting Ederson’s under-hit clearance, to put Liverpool firmly in the driving seat.

Despite holding such a commanding lead, however, the game never felt quite over with City still pouring forward in numbers with so much attacking quality in their ranks. Liverpool are not a side built to shut games down by sticking ten men behind the ball, and sure enough Bernardo Silva- on as a substitute for Sterling- swept the ball home from close range with eight minutes of normal time to go.

Liverpool appeared to have successfully ridden out a late storm, only for Ilkay Gundogan to put hearts in mouths as he prodded in City’s third in stoppage time to make it 4-3. It would have been beyond devastating for Liverpool to throw away three points after such a gargantuan display of endeavour and that very nearly became the reality as Sergio Aguero flashed a header into the side netting in the dying seconds from a Kevin De Bruyne free-kick.

Rather than elation, the immediate sense at the final whistle was one of enormous relief, having managed to hold on for what is by far and away the biggest win of the season, taking Liverpool on to an 18-match unbeaten run and now up to 3rd in the table, pulling ahead of Chelsea on goal difference.

To step up and deliver such a performance in light of the blow of losing Coutinho and without the presence of Virgil van Dijk speaks volumes about the character and depth of this Liverpool side, inflicting City’s first league defeat of the season in spectacular style. While the frenetic finale somewhat took the edge off what would have been an emphatic thrashing, there should be no underestimating just how big a win this is in terms of morale for the remaining months of the season.

The target for Liverpool should be to establish themselves as the most likely challengers to City for the title next season and on this evidence, they are more than capable of doing so. City will be well aware of that themselves, too, having faced their most uncomfortable ninety minutes of the season, by some distance.

Although there still remains plenty of room for improvement and upgrades in individual personnel, this is arguably the biggest statement victory under Klopp, overcoming what is unequivocally one of- if not the most- formidable teams in Premier League history.

It ought to be celebrated as such.

 

 

Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool: Match analysis

Following a couple of immensely frustrating draws, this was the perfect tonic which suggested that despite dropping points against Everton and West Brom at Anfield, Liverpool’s momentum has not been halted by these recent setbacks. This was just about as emphatic a victory and all-round performance as you’ll see away from home in this league, as Liverpool became the first side to win four consecutive away games by a three-goal margin in Premier League history.

From the very first whistle, the difference in intensity compared to the recent home draws was stark, with Liverpool looking like a side with a point to prove, eager to return to winning ways. There was a steely determination to get the job done and even when Philippe Coutinho’s early free-kick inexplicably stayed out having hit the inside of the post, the opening goal felt more like a matter of time, rather than a question of whether it would come.

Indeed, it arrived courtesy of Coutinho in sensational fashion, picking up Andy Robertson’s pass mid-way inside Bournemouth’s half before dribbling past a helpless chasing pack, weaving his way into the box before slotting the ball coolly past Asmir Begovic. Robertson’s overlapping run was pivotal in opening up the space for Coutinho to drive into, but this was all about the Brazilian’s individual genius- the kind of goal only a tiny handful of players in the league are capable of scoring. He has a sumptuous collection of long-range strikes to his name, but this was right up there with his very finest in a Liverpool shirt.

Having made the breakthrough, Liverpool kept their foot on the pedal as Bournemouth found themselves suffocated by the intensity of the press and unable to work their way up the pitch. The lead was doubled just six minutes later, with Roberto Firmino displaying a touch of class to hook the ball back into the six-yard box from a corner, as Dejan Lovren showed bravery to stick his head in a melée of boots to nod the ball into the net for his first goal of the season.

At 2-0, Liverpool found themselves in a position of authority but not a scoreline which put the game beyond all doubt, as Jermain Defoe provided a reminder that Liverpool cannot afford to switch off in situations such as these. The striker found himself one-on-one with Simon Mignolet after Gini Wijnaldum carelessly surrendered possession in midfield, only to hit the post with his effort which ricocheted away to safety- a major let-off at a crucial point in the game.

Scoring just before half-time is always crucial for momentum in games, especially when it comes after the opposition had squandered a golden chance of their own. Liverpool managed to do exactly that, as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain fed Mohamed Salah down the right, the Egyptian bursting past Charlie Daniels before cutting back on to his lethal left foot to curl the ball home through a body of players. It took Salah’s tally to 20 goals for the season, making him the joint second fastest Liverpool player to reach that landmark, alongside Daniel Sturridge- in just 26 games.

Although Salah’s left-foot is a well-known weapon by now, defenders are simply unable to cope with his sheer speed and technique even when they know exactly what’s coming next. It’s the kind of signature move Arjen Robben has built a career on, as Salah confirms his status as the most prolific wideman in Europe.

There was to be no repeat of last season’s capitulation against Eddie Howe’s side, even despite the half-time introduction of Ryan Fraser who had turned the contest on its head around this time last year. Liverpool controlled the second-half well, as Jordan Henderson put in arguably his best performance of the season in midfield after much recent criticism, aided by playing alongside a partner in Wijnaldum.

To put the three points beyond all doubt, Firmino nodded in Coutinho’s cross for the fourth, capping of just the latest outstanding display from Liverpool’s no.9 who has now surpassed his best ever goal tally for the club in mid-December.

In truth, it ought to have been more as Oxlade-Chamberlain was unfortunate to see his shot cannon back off the post after a superb tackle and driving run forward which would have put an extra gloss on his man of the match performance. His pace, energy, technique and work-rate were evident throughout- the clearest evidence yet as to how he fits Klopp’s system so well.

It leaves the manager with a welcome dilemma for his team selection against Arsenal and with Oxlade-Chamberlain having made such a positive impression, Sadio Mané may well have to sit tight and bide his time to earn his place back as the games come quick and fast. To have such a wealth of attacking options, with Adam Lallana having made his return too, is a very healthy situation to be in at this busy stage in the season.

He continued his excellent display in the post-match interview, stepping in for Coutinho having been pressed about his future, as Oxlade-Chamberlain emphasised his team mate’s quality and professionalism, labelling the reporter’s question as unfair. It was his finest day as a Liverpool player so far, with many more yet to come.

Jürgen Klopp could take great satisfaction not only in the emphatic attacking display, but also in his side’s 5th clean sheet in the past 9 league games as the back four remained organised and focused throughout, with Joe Gomez and Robertson among the team’s standout performers at fullback.

Given the context of Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United having all won this weekend, while Spurs dropped points in their defeat to Man City, it was an especially crucial three points for Liverpool ahead of Friday’s visit to the Emirates. Klopp’s side now have the opportunity to cement themselves in the top four and start to put some light between themselves, Arsenal and Spurs.

 

 

 

 

 

Brighton 1-5 Liverpool: Match analysis

For a manager often accused of being somewhat “one-dimensional” and tactically stubborn, Jürgen Klopp threw an absolute curveball at Brighton with his starting lineup, which featured two midfielders- Gini Wijnaldum and Emre Can- as part of a three-man defence, with Dejan Lovren in the middle. On the one hand, it exposed just how thin on the ground Liverpool are in terms of defensive options, but also how innovative Klopp can be, demonstrating enormous faith in his players to operate in such an unorthodox system- especially away from home.

While Klopp’s default 4-3-3 system was magnificent when everything clicked last season, it was far less effective when any one of the key components were missing. Liverpool became predictable and struggled to break low-block opposition down- but he has clearly adapted and that is now the fifth consecutive win against “lesser opposition” by at least a three-goal margin in recent weeks, with Huddersfield, West Ham, Southampton, Stoke and Brighton all put to the sword.

This Brighton side have been anything but cannon fodder since their promotion, however, with Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Manchester City the only side to have won at the Amex all season. As recently as mid-week, Manchester United scraped a 1-0 win at Old Trafford courtesy of a freak deflected cross. This had all the potential to be a really tricky encounter.

Yet Liverpool made a complete mockery of those slating the lineup before a ball had been kicked in what was, under the circumstances, one of the finest performances of the season so far. With far greater strength in depth than Klopp has had at any point in his tenure until now, Liverpool were able to make six changes- including a rarest of starts for Andy Robertson, while not experiencing any kind of drop-off in quality.

Five goals were plundered without the league’s top scorer, Mo Salah, even getting on the scoresheet, while Sadio Mané was afforded an afternoon off as he rested his legs on the sidelines. In almost every respect- other than the absurdity of the referee’s decision to award Brighton a penalty for nothing at all- this was near enough the ideal afternoon for Klopp and his team.

The unusual shape clearly dumbfounded the hosts- as happened with Klopp’s surprise 4-2-2-2 used against West Ham several weeks ago. It allowed the wing backs to bomb forward, while the front line had the freedom to cause havoc with Jordan Henderson and James Milner controlling proceedings in the middle. While the need to buy at least another centre-back remains crystal clear, on this occasion the ball-playing abilities of Can and Wijnaldum enabled Liverpool to build attacks from the back, while there was little in the way of ‘typical’ defending to do as Liverpool dominated possession high up the pitch for large periods.

Importantly, there appears to be no sense of panic or rush if the score is still 0-0 after half an hour or even 45 minutes. Liverpool are rarely starting games lightning fast this season, but ease their way in and gradually move through the gears in a calm and professional manner.

Continuing the new-found habit of goal-scoring prowess from corners, Can head-butted Liverpool in front with a typical centre-half’s bullet on the half-hour mark from Coutinho’s out-swinging delivery. The kind of goal Sami Hyypia, Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel delivered with some regularity, but that Lovren and Joel Matip are seldom able to produce despite frequent opportunities to do so.

The cheapest of ways to gain a lead, Liverpool doubled it in just over a minute with a passage of play which neatly encapsulated everything Klopp’s style of football is about. A crisp pass from Lovren to Roberto Firmino, who nips in front of his marker to flick the ball on to Salah, whose first touch and burst of pace takes out the entire Brighton midfield. Salah judges the pass out wide to Philippe Coutinho perfectly and the Brazilian’s low, left-footed cross is laser-guided to Firmino who arrives at the back post to dispatch it with aplomb for his 10th of the season. A lethal, sumptuous counter-attack which highlighted the sheer gulf in class between the two sides.

The third goal, coming straight from a superb Simon Mignolet save from point-blank range, was yet another demonstration of the devastating potency of this Liverpool attack- even without Mané on the pitch. Coutinho this time flicking the ball into Salah’s path, the Egyptian struck terror into the heart of Brighton’s back line, surging forward with menace before sliding a delightful ball into Firmino who again finished with the assurance of a bonafide number nine into the top corner, first time.

Despite the referee’s best efforts to create a proper contest, awarding the daftest penalties you are ever likely to see, Liverpool were this time able to ride a brief wave of Brighton pressure and continue to assert their superiority, despite the hosts having been given a glimmer of hope.

Coutinho added the fourth in audacious style, rolling a 25-yard free kick under the wall past a helpless Matt Ryan for his 6th goal of the season- the kind of strike very few players in the world would even consider, let alone execute. It was a special performance from the Brazilian who had Brighton chasing shadows for 90 minutes, playing with all the guile and quality of a genuine world-class midfielder. His dribbling, touch and vision were on another level to anyone else on the pitch- other than his compatriot, Firmino, who continues to go under the radar despite enjoying a quietly terrific season so far.

An own-goal was awarded for the fifth, although it was all down to Coutinho’s brilliance once again, this time with a driving run from deep and a clipped cross, deflected into the back of the net to cap off a virtuoso display- just the latest reminder of why Liverpool were absolutely right to dig their heels in to keep hold of Coutinho in the summer (and why they must do so once again in January).

The goals are now flowing freely for Liverpool, regardless of the personnel and tactical shape. Yet what is perhaps just as pleasing is the fact that Liverpool aren’t conceding many goals- that’s just the third Liverpool have conceded in the past six league games, and it should never have been given as a penalty anyway. It’s all the more impressive given the absence of Matip and Joe Gomez, too. Wijnaldum looked uncomfortable at times, but coped admirably with a completely unfamiliar role- remember this is a player who was signed from Newcastle having played predominantly as a number ten. To step in at left-sided centre-back like this deserves great credit and shows the extent to which Klopp trusts his ability.

Elsewhere, Robertson looked slightly rusty at times- which was to be expected given his lack of game time- but grew into the game and did his reputation no harm at all with an unspectacular but solid performance at left wing-back. On the other side, Trent Alexander-Arnold had a few hairy moments at the back, but made a sublime block to deny José Izquierdo a certain goal at a key moment in the second-half. He appears to be going from strength to strength- his trajectory only upwards.

That makes it 16 points from a possible 18 since losing to Spurs at Wembley, with Liverpool having now broken into the top four ahead of both Spurs and Arsenal for the time being. There are plenty more favourable fixtures soon to come and Liverpool must continue to rack up the points as they have been doing so efficiently as of late.

A season which appeared to be rapidly approaching crisis point is now one full of opportunity, with Liverpool having built up some serious momentum at a very useful time. While the winter period was ultimately what saw Liverpool fall away last season, Klopp has meticulously planned and juggled his squad to ensure this time, Liverpool surge into the New Year as a force to be reckoned with.

 

 

 

Liverpool 3-0 Huddersfield: Analysis

As far as “must-win” games go, Liverpool’s Saturday encounter with Huddersfield was just about as “must-win” as they come. The wider context around Liverpool’s season and prolonged rut in form dictated as much; three points as absolutely essential for Jürgen Klopp and his side. Zero margin for error.

With David Wagner’s side bouncing into Anfield full of confidence after having beaten Man United last weekend, the visit of Huddersfield was not the kind of attractive proposition it might have seemed when the fixture list first came out. There are no easy games in this league and with Klopp’s best mate in the opposite dugout, one would think he’d have a fairly good idea how to go about setting up for a result against Liverpool.

There has become a fairly established template for bottom-half sides against Liverpool now; that is, to stay compact, sit deep and invite Liverpool on while waiting for an individual error or a set piece opportunity at the other end. Huddersfield tried to do exactly that, although their sheer lack of attacking ambition was at the upper end of the scale of “parked buses” which have come to Anfield in recent times.

Klopp’s team selection erred on the side of caution, opting to go with predominantly the same players who had let him down so profoundly against Spurs last weekend. Few could have argued had he made wholesale changes, but faith was put in his regulars to get the job done. A bold but perhaps unsurprising approach from a manager who has continually stuck to his guns throughout his time at the club, rarely ever making drastic changes unless absolutely necessary.

For the first half, it looked as if playing safe with the plodding and lethargic midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum had backfired. Huddersfield were comfortable, able to sit in and keep their shape without being pulled around by any kind of intelligent movement or creative spark by Liverpool. The lack of confidence and the fear of making a mistake was obvious to see, as countless sideways passes made for tedious viewing.

The penalty decision came out of nowhere with a foul at a set piece, but the breakthrough never felt like an inevitability. The deliberation around who should take the spot-kick was symptomatic of a side unsure of themselves and lacking in self-belief. The two most likely candidates- Milner and Roberto Firmino- both seemed like they didn’t fancy it having missed their most recent penalties and the duty was instead passed to Mohamed Salah, presumably given his recent winning strike to send Egypt to the World Cup.

In keeping with Liverpool’s lack of ruthlessness of late, Salah’s penalty was struck straight down the middle and Henderson hit the post from the rebound in what was a passage of play which neatly summed up Liverpool’s predicament of late. Ever so close, but not quite able to make it count. Coming on the brink of half-time, it felt like a moment which might be looked back upon as another hugely costly missed opportunity should Liverpool have gone on to drop points.

For much of this season, there has either been a plateau or more often a drop-off in Liverpool’s performance level after the break. Yet whatever the manager said at half-time, it clearly worked as Liverpool came sprinting out of the blocks in the second-half with a much greater tempo and intensity to their play, both in and out of possession.

As tends to happen when an opposition side is under so much constant pressure to defend, eventually an error will occur and all it took was one misplaced defensive header into the path of Daniel Sturridge for Liverpool to get the lucky break they needed. While he made it look simple, this wasn’t an easy finish for Sturridge but he did exactly what he was on the pitch to do, keeping his composure to calmly loft the ball over the keeper for the opening goal. Wriggly arms commence- his 100th senior club career goal.

The response to going 1-0 up in somewhat fortuitous circumstances was even more impressive as Liverpool kept their foot on the gas and refused to ease off despite their advantage. A superb lofted pass from Henderson found Firmino inside the box, cutting the ball back to Sturridge only for a last-ditch interception to deny a certain goal.

From the resulting corner, Firmino made it count with a clinical close-range header after escaping Aaron Mooy’s loose marking to double Liverpool’s lead. The kind of goal Liverpool don’t score nearly enough of, but exactly the kind you want to see your number nine scoring on a more regular basis.

It knocked the stuffing out of Huddersfield, as Liverpool went on to control the game in a mature manner to ensure three points were never in doubt thereafter. Joe Gomez’ dominant and assured performance as a quasi-right-sided-centre-back despite Liverpool nominally playing a back four was key to the stability of the defensive display, as he rarely ever ventured beyond the halfway line and was always in the right place to mop up loose balls and win his battles when necessary.

With this tactical tweak, Liverpool never looked like conceding and ensured Huddersfield managed no shots on target and no shots from inside the box for the entire game. A home record of four clean sheets and just one goal conceded from five league games is very impressive, yet simultaneously confusing given the disastrous defensive record on the road- although it suggests that Liverpool are capable of getting it right at the back. Developing the consistency to apply that solidity away from home is the crucial next step.

A fine individual strike from Wijnaldum, rifling a bullet into the roof of the net after working the space well from Salah’s pass wrapped up the victory in style to secure a comprehensive three points in front of the Kop. It was the Dutchman’s first goal of a campaign in which is he has so far struggled to kick on following his promising first season at the club, but this strike should hopefully give him a much-needed confidence boost to recapture the form he is capable of on a more regular basis.

Indeed, it was important for Firmino and Sturridge to both find themselves on the scoresheet given their recent struggles in front of goal. Firmino now sits on seven for the season in all competitions (having now reached 30 goals in total for Liverpool) and is well on track to record a career-high tally should he remain fit for the majority of the campaign.

Further positives were there to be taken in Henderson’s energetic second-half display in which he was instrumental in setting a higher tempo and carving out several excellent situations with his long-range passing. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain delivered another bright cameo off the bench, linking up well with Dominic Solanke and should be pressing for a start in midweek against Maribor. He now seems to be regaining some confidence which can only be a good thing heading into the congested winter period.

While it’s very easy to scoff at a home win against a promoted side, recent seasons have shown the difficulty these fixtures can pose if mistakes and complacency creep in. Of course, Liverpool should be expected to take three points against Huddersfield but actually doing so in a professional manner is not a given. Liverpool didn’t create bucketloads of clear-cut chances here, but they scored two “cheap” goals and were clinical when they needed to be.

A regulation 3-0 home victory is a much rarer occurrence than it ought to be and on this occasion Liverpool should take encouragement from achieving that feat, especially given the absence of arguably the two finest players at the club in Sadio Mané and Philippe Coutinho- as well as Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne.

This must now be the first in a series of three big results in a week which could prove a crossroads in Liverpool’s season. Maribor and West Ham must be treated in exactly the same vein- games which, on paper, should be victories, but which require a steely determination and assurance to ensure that clear superiority is converted into a result.