Liverpool 3-0 Man City: Match review

These are the nights upon which Liverpool has built its European heritage as a club. Manchester City arrived at Anfield with the most expensively assembled squad in the history of football, managed by a man who is widely regarded as the very best in the business. It’s important to place this context at the forefront of analyzing this tie.

Much of the pre-game talk suggested that City were simply too good a football team to be overawed by the occasion, intimidated by a vociferous, hostile Anfield crowd on a European night. History has shown countless great sides crumble under such atmospheres. As it turned out, City would be no exception to that tradition.

Just imagine being on that coach. The extra confidence boost it must give you to have 50,000 fans roaring you on like that before, during and after the game. And then the opposite effect for the City players.

The sea of red passion which lined the streets of Anfield transferred to within the stadium, a wall of ear-splitting noise orchestrated by 50,000 supporters hellbent on doing absolutely everything possible to influence the outcome of the game. Intimidate the visitors, inspire the players in Red. That’s the mantra of all this- and it worked.

City began relatively brightly, up until Mo Salah opened the scoring in front of the Kop after 12 minutes to send the crowd into raptures. Guardiola’s side disintegrated both mentally and physically in the 20 minutes that followed; a collection of world class footballers having the greatest season of their careers, transformed into a quivering wreck of nerves- regularly misplacing simple passes- by a unique chemistry of supporters and players performing in tandem to their very highest level.

That first goal only happens because of Firmino’s determination to never give up on a loose ball, stealing ahead of Kyle Walker to prod a pass toward’s the lurking Salah. The Brazilian’s pressing was almost superhuman in the opening 45 minutes, to the extent that City simply could not play out from the back in their usual, calm manner.

There’s something romantic, mystical even, about 11 footballers driven on to such heights by an atmosphere like that, elevating themselves to a level with which the opposition- regardless of their wealth of quality- simply could not live with.

When Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain rattles in the second from 25-yards, City are not just unnerved, but their confidence completely and utterly shattered by the red storm unfolding around them. It’s an absolute thunderbolt from a player who was widely mocked for his transfer fee when joining Liverpool, now stepping up to the plate with a magnificent all-round performance on the biggest stage against the highest caliber of opposition.

City’s midfield of Fernandino, Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva have been virtually unplayable for much of the season; two of the best the Premier League has arguably ever seen, supported by one of the best anchoring midfielders around. Vastly superior in individual ability to Liverpool’s trio, they were unable to deal with the sheer relentless pressure they were put under throughout the first half. They were overrun and outplayed.

When Sadio Mané headed in Liverpool’s third on the night from Salah’s sumptuous chipped pass, the annihilation was complete. From that moment on, Liverpool had the commanding lead they could only have dreamed of. It would be a test of game management, discipline, and concentration for the remaining hour of the contest- qualities which Liverpool have long been accused of lacking, particularly against opposition of the highest quality.

If the first half was a demonstration of Jürgen Klopp’s blueprint of sensational, ruthless attacking football, the second half was equally impressive in terms of the manner in which Liverpool were able to dig in and withstand constant pressure from a City side desperately looking for an away goal to salvage a disastrous start to the tie.

Every single Liverpool player stepped up to the plate and made their contribution. Trent Alexander-Arnold put in one of the greatest performances by a Liverpool right by in many a year. He came in for plenty of criticism after recent games against Manchester United and Crystal Palace, and City clearly targeted him here with constant diagonal balls to isolate him one-on-one against one of the most precociously gifted wingers in world football at the moment, in Leroy Sané.

Trent dominated that battle all game, gettering the better of Sané time and time again with perfectly timed tackles, headers and interceptions. It was a remarkable display of maturity and passion from a 19-year-old kid, representing his hometown club, in the biggest game of his career, up against some of the most expensive footballers of all time. It was a performance to be proud of, in the extreme.

On the other side, Andy Robertson was typically terrific, exploiting Guardiola’s decision not to start Raheem Sterling by marauding up the left-flank throughout the first half. City could not deal with his bullish, driving runs, while he remained resolute as ever in his defensive duties in the second-half, effectively rendering City’s right-hand side impotent.

In the centre of defence, Virgil van Dijk delivered the kind of imperious display you would expect from the world’s most expensive defender, winning 100% of his duels and providing the commanding, composed presence which helped Liverpool successfully preserve a crucial clean sheet under immense pressure.

Alongside him, the much-maligned Dejan Lovren delivered the finest performance of his Liverpool career with aggressive, front-foot defending, constantly in the right place at the right time to clear any danger that came his way. He proved that he is capable of delivering at the highest level and he must now sustain this level if Liverpool are to progress further in the competition.

In front of the back four, Jordan Henderson gave a superb captain’s performance, snapping into challenges and breaking up play to stifle the threat of De Bruyne and Silva alongside James Milner, whose performances in midfield throughout the second half of this season have continued to surpass all expectations.

All across the pitch, there was quality and passion in abundance from Liverpool in order to manage the game so effectively after the first-half blitz.

This must go down as one of the all-time great Liverpool European performances; a display which will have made the rest of the continent stand up and notice. It’s a night of which the manager, the players and the supporters should be enormously proud. A collective spirit and unity that so few- if any- clubs are capable of harnessing to the same extent.

Importantly, the job is still only half done and the tie far, far from over. Liverpool, though, have put themselves in the best position they could possibly have conceived of at this stage. Something special is brewing.

Allez, allez, allez.

Crystal Palace 1-2 Liverpool: Match review

In many seasons of recent years gone by, Liverpool do not come back to win that game. Selhurst Park has felt like something of a cursed stadium for Liverpool ever since the infamous debacle at the end of the 2013-14 season, but since Jürgen Klopp has arrived he has now won three consecutive games there.

It’s a ground which is right up there among the most hostile atmospheres of any Premier League club and as an opposition player, it cannot be a pleasant place to play football for 90 minutes. To be able to rise above that and come out with three points despite a performance which was well below par, coming off the back of an international break, speaks volumes of the mental resolve this Liverpool side have.

There was the comeback against Leicester at Anfield in late December, when Mo Salah’s brace delivered a crucial three points after Jamie Vardy’s early opener. Again, away against Burnley, Liverpool found a way to grind out three points in difficult circumstances thanks to Ragnar Klavan’s stoppage time winner.

Here, it was Salah who delivered the killer blow to send Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace plummeting further towards the drop zone, while simultaneously ensuring what could prove a hugely significant victory in terms of securing Champions League football for the Reds again next season, opening up a 10-point gap on Chelsea before their encounter with Tottenham Hotspurs on Sunday.

There was a sense of deja vu when Palace took the lead after 13 minutes when Loris Karius collided with Wilfried Zaha who had reached the ball first. It was a tactic which Man United deployed effectively at Old Trafford, targeting Trent Alexander-Arnold with long, diagonal balls into the right channel, and one which Palace were able to exploit multiple times on this occasion.

Luka Milivojevic made no mistake from the spot, dispatching an excellent penalty into the bottom right corner. As is often the case against lower quality opposition, when they are given a lead to protect, they can prove very difficult to break down as there is little incentive to commit many numbers forward. In truth, Zaha carried Palace’s attack almost by himself, constantly tormenting Alexander-Arnold with a wicked combination of speed and trickery.

The first half’s major flashpoint came when Sadio Mané picked up a booking for simulation in what was the first of a number of controversial refereeing decisions in the game. Mané’s leg had clearly been tripped up inside the box, but it was his theatrical and delayed collapse to the floor which drew the yellow card, as opposed to a penalty.

As both Jamie Redknapp and Graeme Souness explained at half-time, it was both a clear foul as well as an exaggerated reaction by Mané, who delivered one of the strangest individual performances of the season in a number of ways.

Indeed, it was Mané who ghosted in ahead of Mamadou Sakho to stab home the equalizer early in the second-half after superb work by James Milner to lose his man and deliver the cross, as Liverpool came out of the blocks quickly with a point to prove.

Palace responded well, however, and began to crank up the pressure themselves with Christian Benteke missing a couple of glorious, gilt-edged opportunities to make his mark against his former club, displaying a lack of composure and confidence from a striker who has scored just twice in the league all season.

A further bizarre incident involving Mané came as he found himself hacked down on the edge of his own penalty area. It appeared an obvious foul, only for the referee not to award a free-kick. Mané then decided to pick the ball up- a clear, deliberate handball- for which the referee correctly awarded a subsequent free-kick, but astonishingly lacked the conviction to issue a second booking.

Klopp intervened soon after to remove Mané from the action before he got himself a red card in what was a very sensible change. Adam Lallana’s rotten luck continued as he was forced off with what looked like a serious injury only three minutes after entering the fray, but it was another midfield switch which significantly changed the complexion of Liverpool’s forward play.

The midfield had been lacking creativity and spark throughout, before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s introduction brought a much-needed injection of energy, drive and incision. Chamberlain had combined well with Milner to tee up Salah who was unable to get the final touch on the cross, but it was a warning sign of what was to come.

A draw would not have been a disastrous result for Liverpool here, but with the opportunity to make another significant leap towards securing a top-four finish up for grabs, there was never any chance of settling for a point.

Chamberlain delivered a precise, raking pass to Andy Roberston on the edge of the Palace penalty area, which the Scotsman cushioned perfectly into the path of Salah whose first touch and right-footed finish bore the hallmarks of a player who has the all-time Premier League record for goals in a season in his sights, bagging his 37th of the campaign in all competitions (29 in the league) to send the traveling Kop into raptures.

A crucial late interception from Virgil van Dijk and a last-minute tackle by Roberto Firmino, tracking back to his own corner flag, helped haul Liverpool over the line and withstand a barrage of long balls by a desperate Palace side to preserve the hard-fought victory.

It was one of those wins which feels very much like more than just three points, as Liverpool showed once again that they are capable of grinding out results on the rare occasions when their scintillating attacking play doesn’t quite click into gear.

It’s one more vital step towards that top four finish, helping maintain the positive winning momentum heading into the first leg of the Champions League tie against Manchester City. This was the first hurdle of a pivotal period for Liverpool, successfully passed, in the sweetest- if not most comfortable- of manners.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Burnley 1-2 Liverpool: A slice of Estonian magic kicks off the new year in style

Of all the ways to win a football match, this just about tops it. Having conceded a hugely disappointing late equaliser, facing the prospect of two painfully dropped points, to then go back up the other end and bag the winner in the 94th minute via a combination of the much-maligned Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan from an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain free-kick right at the death, is pretty much the perfect start to the new year. Such glorious scenes.

This time a year ago, Liverpool dropped two points as Sunderland equalised with a late penalty to draw 2-2, which set about a malaise which proved hugely damaging throughout January and February. It was a real momentum killer, crushing morale and sapping belief. This feels like the very opposite.

Aside from the precious three points gained, the psychological benefit of winning the game in such a manner is something which this squad will now carry going forwards from here. Twice in a matter of days, Liverpool have responded to setbacks against two tough, gnarly opponents, by digging in and showing a collective spirit and drive to eventually win the battle.

This was a battle in every sense of the word. It’s what Burnley do. They compete, they scrap, they make the game horrible. They’re better than any side in this league at doing it. Liverpool, though, stood up to the challenge and weren’t afraid to put themselves about and engage in the physicality of the contest.

A first half which was devoid of any creativity or fluidity from either side was merely the jostling match before the real fight in the second half. It was far from a classic Liverpool performance and the attack struggled to click in the absence of Phil Coutinho, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino. It was a performance of graft, rather than guile, for the most part.

Such is extent of individual quality within this squad, however, that a moment of brilliance was always likely to occur at some point. Sure enough, it came from Sadio Mané- a player enduring the first real rough patch of form in his Liverpool career. Collecting a superb, whipped cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mané swivelled and unleashed a rocket into the roof of the net to get the goal he so clearly wanted and needed. A stunning strike on his weaker foot to give his side the breakthrough- and what should also serve as a welcome confidence booster for a player who clearly has so much ability to influence a game, even when off the boil.

As has proven the case throughout this season- and much of Jürgen Klopp’s tenure- a 1-0 scoreline is rarely ever enough for Liverpool and despite defending resolutely for the majority of the game, it was no huge surprise when Burnley eventually found a way through themselves. A momentary lapse in concentration from Klavan and Joe Gomez was all it took for Johann Gudmunsson to pounce on a flick-on at the back post for the equaliser in the 87th minute.

Gomez was largely excellent- as he has been throughout the campaign thus far- but moments like this are a notable weakness of his and an obvious area for him to improve. Eradicating these kinds of lapses is all part of his development and will surely come with time as he gains experience.

It felt like another sucker punch, coming so late on, after so much effort had been put into maintaining the slender margin. Memories of Watford, Chelsea and Sevilla this season are still fresh and to suffer yet another draw having been so close to the victory line would have dealt a real blow to the general morale around the club, as well as the points tally.

And then it happened. A trademark, driving run by Emre Can won the free-kick, which Oxlade-Chamberlain- magnificent in his performance once again- curled it dangerously into the box for Lovren to nod across goal for Klavan to bundle in the winner. For a few seconds, there was a feeling of dread that Liverpool might be denied once more by an offside flag, but sure enough, it counted this time. Absolute euphoria ensued.

Wins like these don’t come around very often. Liverpool have produced two of them in the past few days and it is a huge credit both to the players and the manager- whose rotation throughout the Christmas period has paid dividends- that they’ve been able to haul themselves over the line when it would have been so easy to buckle and drop points.

It’s a moment of sheer and utter elation which ought to be properly cherished. Liverpool haven’t scored many late winners at all this season. To do so away, against Burnley, where very few sides will take maximum points this season, having made seven changes to the side who beat Leicester, is a real demonstration of the character of this squad- as well as the depth which allows the likes of Adam Lallana to come in and make such a positive impact on his return to the side.

Another win which feels very much more than just three points and one which builds on the momentum which has come with a 16-match unbeaten run and the feel-good factor brought by the arrival of Virgil van Dijk. This was the most perfect of ways to kick start 2018, a year which holds enormous promise for Liverpool as they continue their upward trajectory under Klopp.

 

 

 

Liverpool 1-1 Everton: Derby daylight robbery

Liverpool have not faced a side with as little attacking ambition as Everton showed up with at Anfield today for a long, long time. They are unlikely to face another team quite as toothless again all season- and yet Liverpool once again managed to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory despite their vast superiority and sheer dominance throughout the 90 minutes.

This was an Everton side who’s game plan appeared to be putting ten men behind the ball and whenever they had possession, hoofing it as far forward in to touch as possible. They had absolutely no interest in trying to construct any kind of attacking move.

It’s a game defined by two key moments, both of which fall in Everton’s favour. Sadio Mané decides to shoot, dragging his shot horribly wide, rather than passing to any one of three teammates with an open goal. It would’ve have been 2-0 and game over before half-time, a wasted opportunity which ultimately proved hugely costly.

The penalty which gifts Everton the equaliser is virtually their only chance of the entire game, having hardly touched the ball inside Liverpool’s penalty area at all. It came not from a sustained period of pressure or intricate build-up play, but a simple lump forward. Much has been said about the referee’s decision, but the replays show quite clearly how Dominic Calvert-Lewin threw his body into Dejan Lovren before going to ground.

Of course, one might argue that Lovren shouldn’t even be giving the referee a decision to make, as Calvert-Lewin is going away from goal and poses no threat whatsoever, but the Croatian does not initiate the contact and is very unfortunate to be penalised for the kind of challenge which happens multiple times every game and goes unpunished (the exact same thing happened for Man City against Man United but they weren’t awarded a penalty).

Such is the Croatian’s reputation that he is an easy target for blame, but this was the second incredibly soft penalty awarded against Liverpool in consecutive league games. Other than that, Everton offered absolutely nothing and Liverpool were entirely in control of the game, defending very competently when they needed to (which wasn’t much, in truth).

Nonetheless, it was the fifth time this season where Liverpool have drawn after having been winning in the 70th minute, while they have not scored a winning goal in the final 20 minutes of any game- a worrying habit. Dropping points to a side with three shots on goal and 21% possession is a bitter pill to swallow, especially given the opportunity to kill the game in the first-half.

Much of the talk has focused on Jürgen Klopp’s decision to rotate heavily once again, leaving the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Emre Can and Gini Wijnaldum all on the bench. While there is certainly a case to argue that Liverpool’s strongest XI might have obliterated this Everton side, the manager clearly felt he put out a side capable of getting three points and in truth, he was very nearly vindicated. Had he started Firmino and Coutinho, who both played in mid-week (while the latter hasn’t trained since) and either one picked up a knock, it’s easy to imagine what the reaction might have been.

His rotation policy is with the bigger picture in mind, to keep legs fresh and avoid burnout during the January-February period which saw Liverpool run out of steam last season. Had Mané done the right thing- or the referee made the correct decision for the penalty incident- the team selection would have been justified, yet neither of those game-deciding instances were down to the manager.

This was far from a vintage performance, but one where Liverpool did more than enough to get the three points and despite the enormous frustration about the final result, Liverpool have still gained points on both Man United and Chelsea this weekend- even if they weren’t able to fully capitalise.

Mo Salah’s opener was a moment of sheer individual brilliance more than worthy of winning any match, taking him to 19 goals for the season and thus matching his tally from the whole of last season at Roma already. Bustling past two opponents before curling a delicious strike into the top corner, it was the kind of goal Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez would have been proud of. His star continues to rise.

Elsewhere, Joe Gomez was imperious both in defence and in possession of the ball, playing like a Derby veteran- despite it only being his first appearance in the fixture. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain delivered a promising performance in midfield, bringing drive and aggression in central areas while also displaying an impressive range of passing.

Klopp’s decision to substitute Salah mid-way through the second-half was a strange one, as Dominic Solanke would have seemed the obvious choice to switch for Firmino or Coutinho, while one of Can or Wijnaldum would have made sense to bring more guile and impetus in midfield, as the workman-like James Milner-Jordan Henderson partnership lacks balance and variety. For all Klopp’s many strengths, his subs are still perhaps his biggest Achilles heel.

Nonetheless, an infuriating result still maintains Liverpool’s current unbeaten streak and leaves them just five points off second place, and still clear of both Arsenal and Spurs in fourth. It could and should have been more, but the manner in which Liverpool respond to this minor setback is now what matters most- which means beating West Brom in midweek.

Liverpool are still in excellent form and were ultimately punished by a dodgy refereeing decision (and perhaps a lack of nous on Lovren’s part, although he was unlucky) and one moment of bad decision-making in the first-half by Mané. It’s very easy to blame the manager in hindsight, but there was not a whole lot wrong with the overall performance. Draws don’t come more “smash and grab” than this by the visitors. This time, the fine margins fell their way.