Liverpool 1 Wijnaldum 8’
Manchester City 0
2016 ended for Liverpool Football Club the same way 2015 ended— with a surprisingly nervy 1-0 win. Last year it was the Eve of New Year’s Eve on an away trip to Sunderland, with the goal courtesy of Christian Benteke. The Reds’ 2016 started, of course, with a three-game winless streak in the league, broken only by that bonkers 5-4 at Norwich.
Of course, this side has changed a lot in a year. This time last year, Jürgen Klopp had barely unpacked and was trying to make the best of things with a squad that wasn’t his. He worked fast to start changing the team’s mindset and approach, but even so, this was still Brendan Rodgers’ rickety old car, and Klopp was holding it together with duct tape and prayer. Now, we’re seeing The Project in clear view. A year ago we were only getting rough snippets of what Klopp’s Liverpool was, janky mixtape recordings passed around on flashdrives outside that seedy DIY space on the wrong side of town. Now, Liverpool have dropped the hottest LP of the season, and it’s charting.
So Liverpool ended their calendar year with what James Milner called “[a]rguably... one of the worst performances for how we want to play” this season. And indeed, their attack didn’t exactly overwhelm Manchester City, and the last 20-25 minutes made for many chewed-off fingernails. But they won, and secured a clean sheet, against one of the strongest teams in Europe led by arguably the best manager in the game.
Considering the recent history between these two teams, it seems like everyone went into this game expecting some real fireworks. That it ended up being a nervy and, at times, very sloppy 1-0 win was perhaps the most surprising thing about the evening. City never really managed to get their engine started, even in the latter 20 minutes of the match when Liverpool gifted them some real opportunities. Meanwhile, the Reds had some clear communication problems as the game wore on, and City’s best opportunity came courtesy of yet another Simon Mignolet brainfart, when the Belgian decided to try out some cute juggling tricks while caught in no-man’s land with Sergio Agüero literally breathing down his neck.
Even so, keeping a clean sheet against City’s front four is no mean feat. While it wasn’t pretty, Liverpool managed it well enough. And thanks to Georginio Wijnaldum’s spectacular header early in the first half, it was good enough to nail down all three points and bin this crazy, awful year away.
The win keeps Liverpool on pace with Chelsea, who are still six points ahead in first thanks to their win over Stoke earlier in the day. City, meanwhile, could drop down to fifth depending on how tomorrow’s fixtures go. The Reds get a day and a half to rest up now before making the trip to Sunderland. (Big ups to the league officials who saw that and signed off on it.) But Liverpool are used to being underestimated at this point, and if this were easy it wouldn’t be worth doing. The Jürgen Klopp Project is in full swing and ahead of schedule, and the Reds are ready to, as the modern warrior-poet would say, “put the hinges in the f*ckboy’s hands.”