Last week was spent furiously worrying about a trip to the Hawthorns to face to West Bromwich Albion. Liverpool were to visit the land of the giants—the Premier League’s tallest side and kings of attacking set pieces. As Carly Simon reminded all of us, nobody does it better.
What happens when you pit the team that has scored the most set piece goals at home against the team that ranks second in conceding from set pieces away from home? An away win by virtue of a clever set piece was not expected, but that's what secured the spoils for Jürgen Klopp’s merry men. West Bromwich Albion 0, Liverpool 1 would have soothed the ears of many a Liverpool fan if it was read out by the late and heavyweight James Alexander Gordon. West Bromwich Albion 0, Liverpool 1. See you and your shiny white kicks next season, Tony.
A George Graham special without a shady Sam Allardyce restaruant meeting in sight. A third 1-0 win of the season after Sadio Mane’s late winner at Goodison Park and Georginio Wijnaldum’s header against Manchester City. It was Roberto Firmino’s turn on Sunday, the second winning goal in succession for the Brazilian who was arguably Liverpool’s best player on the pitch. The number 11 was everywhere akin to a wasp trapped indoors unencumbered by air conditioning, and there was nothing the towering opposition defenders could do to stop him. Jamie Vardy can have his parties; Firmino is a young man who knows how to tango.
Take-ons, tackles, ball recoveries, chances created, goals, white teeth, mugging defenders off, tattoos, and the uncanny skill of throwing his shirt in the air for it to land perfectly on the pitch. Who has been booked more than our talismanic attacker for “excessive celebrations” in the last five years in the top five leagues? Nobody. He would have earned his eighth at the Hawthorns, but as he is wont to do, after teasing to reveal his full array of bodywork to mark the occasion...he decided against it.
From Divock Origi battling away up front to Emre Can continuing to be a totem in midfield, Liverpool were “up for it” to use convention football parlance. Teams need to be organised and be prepared to compete away to a Tony Pulis side, but Liverpool were handicapped by absence of Joe Hart. Simon Mignolet, however, was on hand to protect precious points once again. Klopp will have to make do with the 29-year-old pear and kebab enthusiast before doing all he can to tempt Hart away from another Serie A adventure.
From the legacy of Pulis to his current acolytes, six points from six away to Stoke City and West Brom may have been ambitious targets for a Liverpool side susceptible to height, second balls, and set pieces. Klopp’s squad are one of the smallest in the league, but the presence of the towering Joël Matip and aerial duel fanatic Dejan Lovren greatly helped the visitors repel balls tossed into Simon Mignolet’s box. The pair are still yet to the taste defeat in the Premier League when paired together, and while twelve games may not be the biggest sample size, it's a statistic that should provide comfort to those still nervous about Liverpool’s place in the top four.
José Mourinho, a manager driven by spite as much as ambition, inspired his plucky Manchester United underdogs to beat Chelsea at Old Trafford. The unbeaten run continues to a 22nd game to lift the league’s richest club to the heady heights of fifth. Ander Herrera can now arise as Mourinho’s midfield minder. Arsenal, meanwhile, found a lacklustre way to end a horrid run of four consecutive away defeats against lofty Middlesbrough. The mercurial Mesut Özil scored the winning goal and matched his Premier League record of four tackles. Oomph. By the way, who else was on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scouting duty? Maybe he has a future as £35 million competition for Nathaniel Clyne at right wing back if Klopp wants to play a back three next season.
These results combined with Manchester City brushing aside Southampton at St Mary’s meant that besting Pulis away for the first time was not only significant in isolation but also necessary to keep Merseyside’s finest comfortably ahead of the chasing pack. They may have games in hand, but Liverpool have points on the board with a superior goal difference. Since losing to Leicester City at the end of February, five wins and two draws have confirmed that the Reds have turned a corner after a desperately disappointing start to 2017 that went far beyond the bounds of decency.
Big Sam, Christian Benteke, and Wilfried Zaha at Anfield next. Mamadou Sakho won't be joining them, and Scott Dann and James Tomkins are unlikely to line up in central defence either. Each game is a question. Each game is an examination. Each game is a step towards the land of milk and honey. Finding a way without Jordan Henderson, Sadio Mané, Adam Lallana, and Joe Hart is certainly not the easiest task given the qualities they've shown this season, but with one game a week, Liverpool might just be okay.