Liverpool 1 Mané 73’
Before we get into the business of recapping this, I think it’s worth taking a moment to savor the occasion.
I don’t need to tell you how special the first home match of the season is. I don’t need to tell you how much of a relief it is to see Anfield again— like the relief of actually coming home after a long and difficult day. I don’t need to tell how much that first singing of You’ll Never Walk Alone stirs in the heart, no matter where you are in the world.
This is going to be a difficult season, I think. It’s going to be important that we take our moments of joy wherever we may find them and relish them.
The Reds made that a little easier today by securing a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace. The team that has taken a peculiar joy in ruining our lives since returning to the top flight in 2013 came to Anfield to try and turn our joy to ashes in our mouths, and they came up short. Our Liverpool did what they set out to do. That’s worth appreciating before things start to really get hairy.
The opening 15 minutes demonstrated how eager both sides were to make a statement today. Liverpool wanting a to wash the draw at Watford last weekend out of their mouths, Crystal Palace wanting to cement their role as Scouse Trolls and Royal Red Botherers. There was no warming up to the game, no easing into things. They went at each other from the whistle, each getting at least a couple solid looks at goal. James Milner almost slotted home the opener about ten minutes in, while Joël Matip nearly managed to head it in off a cross just moments later.
Even when things started to slow down a bit around 20’, the ambient pressure remained high. Palace kept their eyes peeled for the opening. Liverpool continued making threatening incursions. Andy Robertson’s gorgeous cross in the 35th minute that almost gave the opening goal to Sadio Mané at the far post might be one of those little moments that’ll stay with me through the end of the season.
It’s early in the season, yet. This team still isn’t clicking. For all their pressure and all their clever passing, none of it produced a goal. Both teams went into the break with nothing to show for all they’d done so far.
Liverpool came back all het up, as the kids say these days. Strong pressure and a flurry of chances and half-chances in the first five minutes of the second half left the Anfield faithful astonished that we hadn’t scored already. Jamez Thrillner had a great chance with a free kick right outside the box in the 52nd minute but it was just too high. Still— Liverpool were keeping possession and trying to do something with it.
And yet, the fear of complacency lingered on the pitch and in the stands. Right in the midst of all their sustained pressure, Liverpool nearly pissed it all away when Christian Benteke— hey! remember him!— managed to finagle himself into position to hit a side-footed shot from very close range. It went over, thankfully, but that should have been the opener for Palace.
All Liverpool all Liverpool all Liverpool all Liverpool all Liverpool all Liverpool all Liverpool all Liverpool all Liverpool OHSHITOHSHITOH— Liverpool Offside (@LFCOffside) August 19, 2017
Right around the hour mark Mohamed Salah came on for his Anfield debut and... I don’t know, it’s like the sun shone a little brighter in the sky. I can’t really explain it.
It wasn’t Salah who got the breakthrough for Liverpool, however. That prestigious honor went to Sadio Mané, who capitalized on a defensive mistake to slide into the box and poke the ball past Wayne Hennessey.
From there it was open season on Palace. Salah nearly headed home a second. Mané almost won a foot race with Hennessey for a ball in No Man’s Land. Firmino found an opening and almost caught the keeper out. How they didn’t make it 2-0 immediately is mind-boggling.
Liverpool managed to keep up the pressure well through the end of regulation, only occasionally having to scramble to keep an opportunistic Palace player from slipping through. Everyone was feeling it. Even Andy Robertson took a shot at goal. (Almost got one too!)
The Reds only really went into Game Management Mode right on 90’, when Bobby Firm checked out of the game in favor of Dejan Lovren. Only then was the decision made to try and lock down the 1-0 and call it a day.
(Then again, Joël Matip getting forward in stoppage time while only a goal up was... not conducive to heart health, let’s just say.)
For all that this team gets called out (rightfully, for the most part) for defensive frailty, Liverpool were in a position to defend a one-goal lead late in the game and they did it. No real fuss. Our collective anxiety might have been at full-throttle, but if we’re watching those last few minutes and being honest with ourselves, Palace had given up. They weren’t really going to trouble us. Not then.
Kevin Friend blew his whistle and Liverpool got their first win of 2017-18. At home. All as Fowler intended.
There’s plenty of time and opportunity to chew our fingernails off. Hoffenheim is coming over for dinner on Wednesday with Champions League football on the line. Arsenal roll up next weekend. The transfer window is still open. The reality of our present situation is not lost on us.
But for now, relish this moment. It was a beautiful day at Anfield and we all got to see our Mighty Mighty Reds play some football. And they won, to boot. Gather ye rosebuds, etc.