The Top of the Table Reds remain, well, top of the table. Coming into a match against already-relegated Huddersfield needing a win to keep pace with Manchester City, the Reds provided a performance to remember for the Anfield faithful.
There were goals - braces each for Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane as the Golden Boot race has now entered the LFC locker room, and a goal for The Admiral Naby Keita - and assists and some genuinely terrific play from the Reds. There were cameos from old, if slightly past it favorites. And then there was, of course, the vaunted return of Alexander Oxlade-Chamberlain.
All told, it was a match whose narratives and storylines were myriad, but did not include any real intrigue within it as the match was comfortably put away before the first half was over.
Winners and Losers
There can really only be winners in this match. And while the entire team deserves credit for this comprehensive victory, I would like to throw a bit of shine on three particular players: Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and The Admiral.
Mo and Sadio belong in the same breath as their attacking play today was, in a word riveting. Many might look at the fact that both scored a brace and see that as the only thing linking the two. What looked clear, though, is that with Sadio’s brace momentarily taking him level with Mo in the Golden Boot race, there is a very healthy rivalry in the locker room between the two forwards. By the end of the goal, both players looked hungry - almost to the point of selfishness - to nab a third. It was the good kind of competition to see in a match that was well decided and certainly fun to watch as an observer.
Navy Keith looked to continue to move up the ranks and finally earn the nickname I’ve already given him with a scintillating performance as the most advanced midfielder. Comfortably knitting the attack and the midfield while also being the main ball progressor, The Admiral looked much closer to the attacker he’d been advertised to be prior to his transfer this summer. In fact, his goal seems to sum up all the things that make him special: winning the ball in a strong counter press, he played the ball out to Mo who played it back as Keita continued his run. A bit of a scuffed shot and a smidge of good fortune, sure, but the ball was in the back of the net. For the rest of the match, Keita made himself a nuisance to opposing players by either harassing them into turnovers or by moving the ball forward ably and with precision.
In a nice trivia tidbit, all three goalscorers in this match - The Admiral, Mo, and Sadio - are from Africa and practicing Muslims. Which, I guess, means that religious tolerance and immigration are also winners in this match, while hate and xenophobia continue to collect those L’s.
Dissecting the Narrative
The only real narrative of value coming out of this match was how Liverpool might set themselves up for the run-in. With Barcelona looming in the Champions League and, given how Manchester City have also maintained a Thanos-esque level against all comers in the league, Liverpool do not have the luxury of making any mistakes in these matches.
Liverpool’s squad size is certainly big enough and with enough depth to put in quality performances across all competitions, but the inclusion of Daniel Sturridge in the starting XI coupled with the exclusion of both Roberto Firmino and Fabinho as precautions indicates the need for a small amount of rotation. Barcelona wait to host Liverpool on Wednesday and then it’s a predictably cagey affair as Liverpool go to Tyneside to face old friend Rafa Benitez and his Newcastle.
This isn’t quite the same as the holiday fixture schedule but if there is one minor story line one might want to keep an eye on, its how Jurgen Klopp manages minutes for his top stars in this run-in. That being said, Klopp has already indicated that he intends to put out his strongest XI available to him every match from here to the end of the season. Guess it’ll be a hold on to your butts scenario as we hope that this Liverpool squad stays healthy enough to stay in both competitions during this tight window.
What Happens Next
Which leads us to what is perhaps the most fun and inspiring storyline to come out of the entire match: the return of fan favorite Alexander Oxlade-Chamberlain. The midfielder came on for Georginio Wijnaldum at the 73rd minute to a raucous reception from the Anfield faithful.
Almost immediately, Ox made his presence known as he controlled a pass in the area, cut it back, and just could not manage to aim it just outside of the keeper. It was a prime opportunity and likely gave fans a lot to be hopeful for.
Which means that even with the tiny margins for error and the fact that, at this point in the season, any late injuries might be seen as devastating, there is a bit of a reprieve with the return of Ox. Making him available means for a lot more room and flexibility in Liverpool’s tactical scheme. It also means one more body to absorb any potential losses, which makes this anxious scribe a lot more happy.
But, really, what this means is that Liverpool go into this final slew of matches with as complete and strong a team as they’ve fielded all season. The Admiral looking nearly fully arrived. Ox back in the fold. BJG ready to fill-in at right back or in the middle of defense. Klopp hasn’t had this kind of selection in front of him all year.
What’s next is a healthy Liverpool staring down the end of a season in which they are alive in the Champions League and remain in the hunt for their first Premier League trophy. What’s next is what all fans dream of. Bring on the end of the season. Come on you Reds.