Liverpool 3 Can 26’, Firmino 45+1’, Salah (pen) 78’
Without ever really moving out of second gear, the Reds cruised to a pleasant victory on Tuesday night, handing Jürgen Klopp’s best man his fourth consecutive defeat in the process.
The German manager rang the changes following the Reds’ FA Cup exit to West Bromwich on Saturday, swapping four out of five at the back, two out of three in midfield, while retaining the deadly frontline. Strategically, Liverpool looked to take advantage of the Terrier’s five-man backline and narrow midfield by deploying Emre Can in a pseudo-wide central midfield role, from which the German could use his passing range to switch play to the opposite flank or lift the ball over the Huddersfield defence.
On three minutes, the Reds produced their first shot on target, but only a poor first touch from Sadio Mané prevented it from being a much bigger chance, as he got the lobbed through ball from Roberto Firmino stuck in his feet, and could only lay it back to the Brazilian for a long range effort, rather than race through on goal.
It was slow going in the opening quarter, with the hosts content to sit deep and soak up pressure, but unable to muster much offense of their own. On twenty minutes, a lost header from Joe Gomez saw Florent Hadergjonaj released down the right, and his cutback found Laurent Depoitre 12 yards out. Luckily for the Reds, the Belgian’s effort was placed right at Loris Karius, and the visitors escaped.
Nearly going down against the run of play as they had done at Swansea last week seemed to wake the Reds up, and Can began testing his shooting boots. His first attempt, a left footed effort from 20 yards was pushed wide by Jonas Lössl in the Terriers goal, but the second was beyond the Austrian. After an Andrew Robertson cross was headed clear, the soon-to-be Juventus player hit a blockbuster of a volley into the bottom corner from 25 yards, taking a slight deflection on the way.
The floodgates didn’t open, though, and another slow ten minutes passed, before Mané miscontrolled a loose ball outside his own area, and in attempting to make up for his mistake, brought down Jonathan Hogg. It was a dangerous position, and a stationary Karius was a grateful as every other Red that Chris Löwe’s swerving effort slipped past his far post by a foot or so.
The first half seemed to be winding down with both teams settling in for the half-time team talk, when two consecutive moments of inspiration saw the Reds double their lead. Mané’s tricky through ball was perfectly weighted to Firmino’s run down the left channel, but not one to be outdone, the Brazilian produced a brilliant no-look finish inside Lössl’s near post, bamboozling the goalkeeper. It was Firmino’s 19th goal of the season, further enhancing his constantly improving reputation as a line leading number nine.
Despite losing by two at home and risking finding themselves in the relegation zone by Thursday morning, Huddersfield did little to improve their situation as the second half began. The Reds were allowed to stroke the ball about, dragging the opposition around the pitch while searching for the killer ball. They nearly found it twice, both times through an Emre Can deep cross and a Sadio Mané header, but the Senegalese attacker failed to convert on both occasions.
Twenty minutes from time, the hosts finally began venturing out of their half, and after Collin Quaner was correctly waved back to his feet following a borderline dive in the Reds box, a Christopher Schindler cross bounced off Joël Matip’s feet and into Karius’ grateful hands. Invariably, this meant that the game opened up, and a after a few close calls, Mohamed Salah finally raced through on goal. Terence Kongolo’s poor touch took the ball past Lössl, and from a narrow angle, Salah sliced his effort wide of the open goal.
The Egyptian would get another chance only minutes later, as Philip Billing bundled Can over inside the Huddersfield box. Finding it utterly unacceptable not to score in consecutive Premier League matches, the 25-year old convinced James Milner to hand over the penalty duties, and converted from the spot with his 26th goal of the campaign, sealing the victory.
The Reds produced less than they had at Swansea a week ago, but instead of failing to score, they converted three times. Up until Can’s long range stunner — a goal that is going to be difficult to replicate regularly — the game felt familiarly frustrating, yet every minute after the opener was as comfortable as can be. It only goes to show how a little rub of the green — Alfie Mawson’s mishit effort bundling into the corner while Depoitre’s much sweeter strike going straight at Karius, for instance — can make a world of difference.
The Reds will be hoping for more of that rub on Sunday, as they take on their immediate rivals Tottenham, in a game that — depending on the Spurs’ fortune against Manchester United tomorrow — could see Liverpool go eight points clear of fifth place, giving them a comfortable buffer as we head into the final third of the season.