Football is fun when you’re a Liverpool fan these days. Below, we take a look at some of the reasons that was particularly the case tonight.
Goal Matip: Since arriving at Anfield on a free transfer five and a half years ago, Joël Matip’s Liverpool career has been a bit of a mixed bag, with periods of incredibly impressive centra-half played interrupted by frequent and lengthy spells on the treatment table.
A constant of the Cameroonian’s tenure has been his adventurous, mazy runs into opposition territory — he is 7th overall in the league for progressive carries this season — but while he has contributed a number of goals with his lego head off set-pieces, his open-play forays had not yet been fruitful.
That all changed tonight, and the delightful string bean defender capped his 60-yard run with a Mohamed Salah one-two and an effortless chip over the onrushing Illan Meslier. You love to see it.
AfCoN Buddies: Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané have been the subjects of much conversation lately; speculation about whether the two get along off the pitch, discussions regarding their rivalry at the African Cup of Nations, and doubts about whether they would be able to contribute for the club any time soon after their considerable exertions in Cameroon.
Salah has widely been lauded as the best player on the planet this season, and after collecting only a single goal from his dominant outing against Norwich at the weekend, he notched two — remarkably composed-looking and well-placed, by the way — penalties and the assist for the Matip goal. He passes Didier Drogba as the African player with the most goals in the Premier league, and tops the chart for goals per game in Liverpool’s history.
Mané, on the other hand, has been criticised for being out of form since the start of last season, despite his underlying numbers suggesting he is playing exactly as he has been for years and is simply on a cold run of finishing. The brace tonight takes the newly-crowned African champion and MVP to 11 goals on the season, third in the top scorer chart — behind Salah and Diogo Jota — and makes it eight consecutive seasons with double digit goals.
They’re still pretty good, is the point.
The Race: When you’re competing with the sportswashing arm of a human rights-abusing petro-state pumping unlimited money into its squad every summer, you’ll never be the favourite to win the trophy. Even putting up an honest fight has appeared to be entirely beyond every other team in the past half decade or so.
With that said, on current form, it is difficult to doubt this Liverpool side, and as their rivals have accrued points despite underperforming in recent weeks, up until their loss at the weekend, there can be little doubt that the title race is well and truly back on.
The Reds are second, true, but only by three points, and with twelve games to go, a trip to the Etihad on the horizon, a superior goal difference banked, and this collection of players, who would bet against them going on a 12-game run from here?
The margins for error are nearly non-existent, but the Reds have done the work to make that true for two teams now. Time to find out who flinches first.
Man Marking: Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds were the darling of the Premier League after their promotion last year, largely due to the Chilean’s bold tactics built on principles of high intensity, direct running and man marking all over the pitch. They were involved in high-scoring, fun affairs on a weekly basis, and finished the season in 9th place, three points out of the European spots.
This year, things have not gone so smoothly for the peacocks, and following tonight’s mauling, they find themselves in 15th, three points from relegation, but with more games played than the chasing pack, and boasting the worst defensive record in the competition.
Tonight, Bielsa’s principles were exposed by the Reds, who dragged their markers all over the pitch with clever positional interchanges, opening up wide swathes of space for Liverpool’s attackers to run into. The hosts racked up 5.11 expected goals, the highest ever recorded in the Premier League since such records began, and had ten players take at least one shot.
The Reds are without a doubt one of the very best teams in the entire world right now, and there is a reason teams don’t ever try and beat them in the open field anymore. Live by the sword, die by the sword, and unless he can turn things around in the next few months, the writing on the wall suggests the latter may soon be the case for Bielsa.
What Happens Next
Oh, there’s a cup final on Sunday. Winning that would be a neat start to the season run-in.
Up the pain-in-the-ass sextuple fist-pumping Reds!