There’s something about Liverpool and 2-1 victories. Something about Liverpool and stoppage time goals. Something about grinding along and winning games that they didn’t deserve to lose but maybe, just maybe, that they also didn’t entirely deserve to win.
At least not so often. Not every time out, week after week after week. Yet here we are again with a narrow victory, a victory by the margin of one stoppage time goal at the end of a game where Liverpool didn’t always play well and were sometimes sloppy and far from perfect but still, in the end, pulled it out. Here we are. Again. Same as it ever was.
At least this season with this team. Jürgen Klopp’s unshakable mentality monsters. His big red crushing machine that, at least so far, seems incapable of being rattled no matter the competition or the continent. Onwards, then.
Winners & Losers
Look, we know The Admiral can play. That he’s got the talent and skill to be a force in the game. We all looked at the numbers and read the reports and maybe even watched him a bit back with Leipzig, this player who combined the destructive properties of an N’Golo Kanke and the creative properties of an Andrés Iniesta as he danced around in the middle of the pitch. We celebrated when Liverpool shelled out the big bucks for him and made peace with waiting a year for him to arrive.
The only question, it became clear over his first year at the club, was whether he could manage to stay fit long enough for any of that to matter. Whisper it quietly, but just maybe, hopefully, possibly, pretty please hopefully he might be able to. So. Long may he remain ambulatory.
Virgil van Dijk sat out with illness, not a Big Beefy Boy or possession recycler in sight in midfield, and of the vaunted front three only Mo Salah started—and starred, for those keeping score at home. The result of all that chopping and changing wasn’t always pretty, and it’s easy to imagine games where Liverpool would be punished more harshly for it, but the continuing trend of heavy rotation can only mean stronger squads down the line.
Speaking of rotation and moving on to the less winner-y portion of the programme, we have to talk about Adam. Because it’s just not working out, this whole playing in the six thing. Especially when he’s there alongside Keïta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Too often the veteran Englishman was slow to react to pressure, unaware of where the Monterrey players were when he received the ball, prone to taking a touch too many and moment too long for a player in the position. And the less said about the defensive screen he provided for a makeshift backline the better.
There may yet be a role for him in this side, and given the injuries and absences elsewhere he may have been needed in the six tonight, but if there’s literally any other viable option there we’d like for this to be the last time he suits up as a holding midfielder please and thank you very much, Jürgen.
Credit to the Opposition
Of the two semi-finals, Liverpool got by the far tougher opponent when they pulled the CONCACAF champions, but even then expectations were for a fairly routine victory for the Reds. And while Liverpool did run out a much changed and weakened lineup, Monterrey too were looked a side stretched thin by what has been a gruelling domestic campaign.
In the end, then, the Liga MX side deserve a lot of credit. Not just for running Liverpool close for nearly 90 minutes physically but for being so well drilled and organised to give their opponents issues. They pressed well and weren’t fazed by Liverpool’s press, and when the lineups were released and it was clear the Reds would have a midfielder slotted at centre half and an attacking mid screening him, they targeted the space ruthlessly, looking to build between the lines and play balls down their centre-right channel—and doing it to good effect throughout the night.
What Happens Next?
Next we face Flamengo. On Saturday. With a chance to be officially dubbed Champions of Earth for the first time. Which has something of a ring to it and comes with a swank, shiny, gold badge even if the tournament itself has a bit of an air of the ol’ sportswash to it what with it being held in a human rights abusing petrostate in stadiums built by on the bodies of migrant labourers and that it’s only being held there because Qatar lined pockets at FIFA to get a World Cup then wanted a tournament to work out the kinks.
But back to the Flamengo bit and the chance to be named Champions of Earth. Which does have a ring to it. And which should be a tough game, with the South Americans fired up for it—they take this whole Club World Cup thing a lot more seriously than the Europeans in general and English in particular—and looking to pull a repeat of their 3-0 victory over the Reds in 1981’s Intercontinental Cup. So. It should be fun. At least if Liverpool win.