It certainly wasn’t the prettiest thing Jürgen Klopp has presided over in his time at Anfield, but at the second time of asking, Liverpool collect their first trophy of the season nonetheless, defeating a tenacious Chelsea side in a penalty shootout, having come back from a goal down in regulation time, before reversing roles in extra time.
With a title on the line, 120 minutes played, 41 shots, a dubious penalty, and sundry other narratives scattered throughout, there were plenty of talking points, and we try to dig just a little bit deeper into some of them here.
Winners and Losers
Bobby Dazzler: It was stark how immediate Roberto Firmino’s impact on the game was when he entered the pitch at half-time, replacing an ineffective Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and shunting his frontline comrades back to their regular positions. Within four minutes, he had set up two chances, one of which Sadio Mané converted into an equaliser, and the entire Liverpool team functioned at a higher level.
The Brazilian’s individual contribution is important, but just as his presence allows teammates to play in their best positions, his ability to read play, to find and use space in between the lines, defines the shape of the entire team, both with and without the ball, and the Reds are simply a much better, more functional side when their number nine is on the pitch.
Adrián San Miguel del Castillo, Esq: Ten days ago, the former West Ham man was unemployed in Seville, and just 90 minutes ago he made the decisive save to collect the first trophy of his decade-long career. It’s been a hell of a couple of weeks for the Spaniard, and while his participation in the Super Cup final depended on the misfortune of another, the 32-year old will be delighted with his contribution on the night, making several crucial stops over the course of the 120 minutes, with the final penalty save the cherry on top of a strong performance.
Gender equality: We go with three winners tonight — to mirror captain Jordan Henderson’s third trophy with the Reds — and pay homage to the three women that refereed tonight’s match. Naturally, there was a hubbub about the matter beforehand, and punters and announcers across the world undoubtedly made themselves look foolish over the course of the match with off-hand comments that belong in a different century, but Stéphanie Frappart, Manuela Nicolosi and Michelle O’Neill cared not about any of that.
In a long, high-intensity, high-stakes match with a number of close calls, the trio allowed the game to flow and got just about every call absolutely spot on — a soft penalty that Video Assistant Referee Cüneyt Çakır should have spotted and reversed notwithstanding — in a manner that today’s Premier League referees hardly dare dream of. Hopefully, this display helps establish a new norm, and women officials’ involvement in the men’s game becomes the standard sooner rather than later.
The transfer committee: Generally, we here at TLO have a fondness for the Reds’ owners, and the success of the current set-up surrounding the first team speaks for itself, but ahead of the transfer window closing, many in the offices — where we all live, together, naturally — were worried about the lack of depth in the squad.
During the pre-season round-table, clamours for a backup fullback and depth across the frontline were repeatedly heard, and while Liverpool played Manchester City dead even in the Community Shield, ran out relatively comfortable winners in their season opener, and have won their first trophy of the year just 12 days into the season, none of the performances have convinced us that the team — and its fortunes — won’t be severely hampered by as little as one or two injuries.
The Reds may come out of the woods unscathed on this matter, but if they do, it will be down to lucky breaks to a greater degree than should be necessary in their position, and by the same token, if the season falls apart due to a missing Firmino or Mané or Robertson, the fingers of blame will have a very easy time correctly identifying the culprit.
Credit To The Visitors
Despite suffering a thunderous — if not particularly well-deserved — loss at the hands of Manchester United at the weekend, and despite losing their most important players at either end of the pitch this summer, the Blues did not look at all out of place against a Reds side that is considered one of the very best in Europe tonight.
Frank Lampard’s men were relentless in their work, more precise in their maneuvers, and appeared more invested in the final outcome than their opponents, denying Liverpool any time at all on the ball, forcing transition after transition, and generating a total of six clear cut chances over the course of the 120 minutes. They may not have been favoured to retain their top six position this season, but if the club legend can get this sort of performance out of them on a weekly basis, it’d be foolish to bet against them.
What Happens Next
It’s a quick turnaround for the Reds, as a trip to St Mary’s awaits on Saturday, where they will again be forced to deal with a high-intensity pressing side in the form of Ralph Hassenhüttl’s Southampton. Those 120 minutes of grueling cup final footy followed by a long flight is less than ideal as lead-up to an aggressive opponent coming off a week’s rest, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles when you’re competing on seven fronts.
Up the trophy-winning Reds!