There are a thousand things about the ins and outs of this game, and I’ll try to get to all the critical ones. But in the end, a team that has developed an amazing habit of success over the past three years got the winning goal four minutes from the end over a team still attempting to reach a similar level.
They are champions. We are not. Of course, we could have won it. But they could also have scored one or two more in the first half, and they had a raft of chances before Firmino finally got unmarked for the winning header. And maybe it’s as simple as Kane had a free header and drove it into the turf and Firmino had one and didn’t miss.
Tactics. We were not as passive as against City, but then again this game was level for most of the proceedings and Jose, to his credit, felt we could nick the three points and, as it played out, he was dead bang correct on that one. There was some mention that Lo Celso was occupying space generally held by Sissoko in the first half, which may have allowed more running room for Curtis Jones, but a) Gio got us the goal and b) he didn’t stick around long enough for the stretch that cost us. I though our clearances from danger were very poor, and particularly in that final 10-12 minutes.
Dier has become simply horrendous in terms of distribution—if he doesn’t pass wildly short and surrender possession in a dangerous way, he skies the ball over everyone or out of play and loses us possession that way. Son got bullied off the ball some in the first half, but I thought grew into the game afterwards. His finish was typical and for once VAR saved us with an inch decision our way (and may have saved us twice when there wasn’t a check earlier on Dier for handball) Aurier made a couple of poor passes/decisions in the second half. And the Hojbjerg Sissoko Lo Celso/Lucas triangle is just not capable enough at times to retain possession against the type of press Liverpool offers. And to be honest, along with the failure to mark Firmino on the winner, which may or may not have been his fault, I didn’t think Kane had his best game—a couple of poor touches and passes as well as the failed header.
Steven Bergwijn will remember this game for a long time, I suspect. An unusually sloppy pair of decisions by Alisson and his defence sent the Dutchman in twice—on the first it is possible that the Brasilian had cut off almost the entire angle for the goal, but we’ll never know as the shot went two feet wide. On the second, it was lights out and somehow the ball found the bar, not the net, and after Kane’s fluffed header a couple of minutes later, you knew the chance for the win had gone a glimmering, and perhaps the title as well. Remember that it was a game fairly early in 2018-19 where John Stones kept a Liverpool goal out by a millimetre that cost the Reds the title. But seriously—ours were not the only squandered opportunities. Mane hit the bar. While their first goal was lucky, they forced Lloris to make at least three high-quality saves and were generally much more dangerous than City ever were at our place a month ago. Our best stretch of play was the first fifteen minutes of the second half, but after the second of the near-misses, you could sense from that point forward we were simply hanging on for the draw. I can’t fault Aurier for that corner—I thought he was borderline terrific playing Mane all night—he has become our best defender.
This league is crazy. Teams at or near the top are tossing points away like they are yesterday’s newspaper—I can’t honestly say if we are second best, or City, or Leicester, or Chelsea, or even Man United. But I do know who is still best—and we should not forget Omar’s warning. We missed last night, there might never be another chance this good.
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