Swerving free kicks, perfect clipped through balls, net-busting belters, and devastating counter attacks. Following the anemic derby at Goodison on Sunday, tonight’s mauling of Crystal Palace — that old bogey team of yore — was about as impressive a response as one could have possible wished for. The Reds were outrageously dominant in an empty Anfield, holding their opponents to just three shots, none from within 20 yards, while controlling the ball and creating a plethora of chances for themselves.
Here, we take a closer at look at who were the winners and losers on the night, and what comes next for this fantastic group of lads (Spoilers: it’s gold.)
Fabinho: After suffering a career-first injury absence back in November, the Brazilian has looked off the pace since his return. While his lanky build and telescopic legs come in handy when making seemingly impossible plays on the ball, they also ensure that the former Monaco man is poorly equipped to make sudden adjustments in his body position, and he is thus more reliant on match sharpness and correctly reading the game.
Tonight, Fabinho looked back to his dominant best. With 6/6 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 93/95 passes to go with his perfectly weighted assist and thunderbastard goal, the 26-year old put on an impeccable and utterly complete performance from the defensive midfield position, putting paid to any notion that the injury has had any permanent impact on his abilities.
The Baby Army: With the league title all but wrapped up, and the realisation that Liverpool probably won’t be spending much, if any, money on new players in the summer, many fans are hoping the run-in will be spent blooding some of the club’s more impressive youngsters, hopefully preparing them for larger roles with the first team next year.
The Baby Reds have already proven that they could be part of a special generation, almost single-handedly ensuring Liverpool’s progression through four rounds of domestic cup competition, including a spectacular 5-5 with Arsenal, and a derby win over Everton on the way. Curtis Jones, Neco Williams and Harvey Elliott are the main prospects looking to break through, and the latter two got ten minutes and change tonight, with Elliott looking lively and Williams looking sensational, nearly bagging both a goal and an assist.
The transition from youth player to Champions League level professional is impossibly difficult to manage, and very, very few youngsters from all the academies in all the world will be good enough to feature for this Liverpool side. The Reds might just have three of them in place already.
Martin Atkinson: He’s just really bad at his job, guys. It will be glossed over by the win and impressive scoreline, but the Premier League’s worst referee, a dubious honour for which there is plenty of competition, missed two blatant penalties — a handball and a perfectly executed rugby tackle, both by Tim Cahill — before the 20-minute mark.
Once Trent had bent that beautiful free kick into the top corner and the fight left Palace as they realised they weren’t going to get anything from the game, contentious decisions also dried up, but while they existed, Atkinson did his utmost to make sure none of them went Liverpool’s way.
Anxiety: Listen, we’re not here to tell anybody how they should enjoy their football, but we absolutely do encourage you to actually enjoy it. With Manchester City starting hot and the Reds limping to a dour draw at the weekend, more than a few fans — hearts no doubt petrified from past experiences with late-season slips — were quick to dismiss any claims that the league was wrapped up, and that the five points Liverpool needed from their remaining eight games would indeed have to be collected before they could relax.
It’s two now. Two. In the Premier League era, Liverpool have never taken less than two points in seven matches. Not once. This is the best Liverpool side in at least four decades, possibly ever. It’s done. It has been done for a while, but it really, truly is done. Bask in it.
What Happens Next
We sit down and watch Chelsea take a point off City tomorrow so the lads can have a guard of honour at the Etihad next week, I guess? Or we go there and finish the job ourselves on Thursday. Or, worst case, in one of the games after that.
Whatever path they might take from here, there’s a trophy at the end of it. That is what is going to happen next.