Reds Sign off the Year in Style
What a year 2018 has been! This side have started building something special, and a 5-1 victory over Arsenal at Anfield was the perfect way to bring the curtain down on a spectacular calendar year.
The dream day got off to a nightmare start when Ainsley Maitland-Niles tucked home a Liverpool-like goal that came against the run of play, but these Reds are different to the teams of the past, these lads relish clearing hurdles. Within minutes, we were not only back in the game but practically had it all wrapped up.
Firmino was gifted an equaliser before he scored a cracking goal by sitting down Arsenal’s defence and embarrassing the goalkeeper. Mane finished off a brilliant team move for the third and Salah smashed a penalty home before halftime to put the game to bed. Liverpool then went into cruise control before we were given another, albeit soft, penalty, and Bobby slotted it home for a hattrick in front of the Kop.
Alisson – 8.5
After the first goal went in, which he couldn’t have done anything about, Alisson had very little to do with his gloves. His only notable save was a brilliant one to deny Shkodran Mustafi, even though it ended up being called back for offside anyway.
The Brazilian took it upon himself to get involved though, even if Arsenal weren’t going to do it. He set up the fourth goal by releasing the ball quickly and precisely to Bobby out wide on the halfway line. Bobby then played Salah through who was fouled twice for the penalty.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – 7
Trent probably struggled more than any Liverpool player on the pitch at times, although even he wasn’t exactly poor, he just didn’t cope as well as he usually does with being targeted.
It has to be said that Alex Iwobi had a good game and was causing TAA some serious problems. A better winger with a bit of end product could’ve taken advantage of the situation. Perhaps Trent’s still shaking off some rust after his injury.
Dejan Lovren – 8
Lovren’s never going to win some people over, is he? Granted, he made a mistake by giving the ball away cheaply for Arsenal’s goal, but his teammates hardly covered themselves in glory while trying to snuff out that gifted chance, and moreover, from that moment onwards, Lovren was excellent.
I can’t explain what other people saw, but Aubameyang couldn’t get a sniff, Aaron Ramsay wasn’t allowed space in and around the box, and Alexandre Lacazette had nothing to feed off of once he came on. Lovren played a significant role in that, not to mention he won the second penalty, even though it was exceedingly soft.
Virgil van Dijk – 8.5
It’s hard to rate VVD sometimes because often his best performances come when he has very little to do. He makes those around him better, his organisational skills are impeccable, and instead of flying in with last-ditch tackles to deny a goal, he coolly shepherds the striker away before a chance has been created.
He was also the first man to turn to his players after the opening goal, and instead of scolding them, he appeared to encourage and urge them to focus. The team’s reaction was telling. What a leader.
Andy Robertson – 8
Some have attributed a portion of the blame for Arsenal’s goal to Robbo because he was out of position. He was only out of position because the ball was given away, had the ball been retained then he was in acres of space to launch an attack. Although to be fair, like TAA with Iwobi, Robbo was beaten a couple of times by Maitland-Niles.
Other than that though, Robbo was great and the highlight of his night was a sumptuous diagonal ball to Salah who then knocked it across the goal to Mane at the back post. Special mention has to go to Robbo for keeping his head screwed on after being booked very early into the match.
Fabinho – 7
After a run of good form, Fabinho struggled at times against Arsenal and gave the ball away extremely carelessly a couple of times. If that were Manchester City, he would’ve been punished and could’ve cost the team the game.
In fairness to the lad, he slowly recovered from these mistakes and his passing greatly improved. He also did a great job of driving the team forward from midfield. Hopefully he can develop his mental toughness further over the next few weeks and months so that when he inevitably makes a mistake, he can bounce back from it sooner.
Gini Wijnaldum – 9.5
What a game from Gini, he’s such a classy player. If Bobby hadn’t of gotten a hattrick, then Gini surely would’ve scooped the award. In any case, the Dutchman was brilliant again in the double pivot role alongside Fabinho.
He never put a foot wrong with or without the ball. He tackled and intercepted well, controlled the middle of the park, pinged passes around, and as ever, was virtually impossible to tackle. The fact that Klopp pulled him off early shows that the manager wants him to put in a similar performance against City next week.
Bobby Firmino – 10 (Man of the Match)
He’s back! Finally! Bobby’s first goal came from nowhere, but he scored it with another no-look finish. He can take full credit for his second though as he broke a few ankles with his twists, turns, and fake shots. Some have pointed out that Arsenal’s defence isn’t brilliant, but to do what Bobby did to any Premier League player, regardless of form, is truly special.
Let’s not forget his pass that put Salah through for the penalty just before halftime either. He later took his own penalty well for a deserved and overdue hattrick, we just have to hope now that this is a weight off of his shoulders and that he’ll be able to use this confidence to really kick on for the second half of the season.
Sadio Mane – 8.5
Like Bobby, Mane bounced back from some up and down form with an outstanding performance. Firmino has him to thank for winning the ball off of Lucas Torriera before his second. Mane’s efforts were rewarded in turn by Salah who gifted the winger only his second goal in the last 11 matches.
He looked really disappointed to be hooked off by Klopp so soon, but he’ll understand the importance of staying fresh and carrying the form of this game into the next against City.
Xherdan Shaqiri – 8
Shaq was bright all game and can consider himself unlucky after not registering an assist or two despite playing his teammates in with a few inch-perfect passes.
He wasn’t as involved in the attack as some of his other colleagues, but this can be partially attributed to him taking on more responsibilities in defence, and when he was involved, you certainly noticed his contributions.
Mo Salah – 9
One aspect of Salah’s game that’s flown under the radar is how much his pressing has improved this season. He was utterly relentless, particularly during the first half, and his pressure absolutely factored into the comedy of errors that led to our first goal.
His assist for Mane was unbelievable, what a touch! If KDB or Messi had done that then you’d never see or hear the end of it, to give the ball so cleanly and accurately to Mane off the volley is phenomenal, make no mistake about it.
Jordan Henderson – (on for Mane – 62′) 7.5
Hendo came on to help control the game as Arsenal were threatening to show a bit of fight, and he did just that. I’d be surprised if Klopp doesn’t start him against City as Hendo, Gini, and Milner appear to be his most trusted midfielders, hence why they started against Napoli.
Adam Lallana – (on for Wijnaldum – 77′) – N/A
Lallana technically had enough time to make an impact, but Liverpool had dropped back to first gear ages before he came on, so aside from the odd counter-attack, it was virtually a 13 minute light training session for him.
Nathaniel Clyne – (on for Robertson – 83′) N/A
Not enough time to make an impact, however, Clyne did nearly give a penalty away. He didn’t do terribly in his short spell, but he’s clearly not comfortable on the left with or without the ball, and understandably so.
Simon Mignolet, Naby Keita, Divock Origi, and Daniel Sturridge.
Jurgen Klopp – 10
I have to give Klopp a perfect score for this game as he got every decision right, was spot on with his substitutions, and more importantly, he appears to have not only instilled a winning mentality into the side, but also a certain sense of calmness.
I was surprised to see Robbo last as long as he did given that he was sitting on a yellow for quite some time and losing him to suspension against City would’ve been a disaster. However, Klopp showed trust in his player to do his job carefully, and the Scotsman justified that.
Much was made of Unai Emery supposedly ‘outsmarting’ Klopp after the final against Sevilla and the game at the Emirates this season, so the German will probably be pleased to have shut that conversation right up. It’s been talked about to death, but Klopp appears to have found the perfect balance between attack and defence with this Liverpool side, yet many of the players are still not at their absolute best.
When Arsenal went 1-0 up, of course I was feeling nervous, I always do. Although there was never a sense of ‘here we go again’ as in previous years, it was just that I thought we had a fight on our hands. We didn’t. 5 minutes later we were in the lead, and before the halftime whistle had even blown the game was over.
This is not just a side of flat track bullies who can only do it when it’s easy, this Liverpool team is strong in their ability, but more importantly, their mentality, and it’s that which will hopefully get us over the line by the end of the season.
Virgil van Dijk summed this up after the match when he said, “It was unlucky we conceded, but we reacted how we should have reacted, and deserved it today. We still need to improve a lot of things, but we’re very happy with the situation at the moment. We’re in a good way, we feel good, it’s tough these days but now it’s a great time to be a Liverpool player.”
Showdown at the Etihad
Our next match will be our greatest test so far. Manchester City away. If City win, then Liverpool’s lead will look a whole lot less impressive, but if the Reds can get a draw or a win though, then the belief will really start to take hold of the players and fans.
In that sense, there’s a lot of pressure on Liverpool going into the game despite having a healthy lead over the defending champions on the table. However, City themselves are now dealing with a different kind of pressure, a pressure they’ve never dealt with before. Last season they walked the League, and might’ve done the same in the Champions League if they didn’t run into Liverpool, but now, they’re up against it.
They’ve lost three of their last four, their stars are dealing with poor form and injury concerns, and most worryingly for them, they find themselves chasing the title instead of running away with it. It’s easy to always be the hammer, but sometimes you don’t know who a team truly are until they’ve been the nail. City’s response will be telling in terms of how the title race goes.
2018 Behind Us
How long’s it been since we fans can look back on a whole year of football and almost exclusively feel immense pride, satisfaction, and hope for our team?
The only real disappointment aside from the odd game towards the end of last season was the devastating loss in Kyiv. Most fans took great memories from that run though and the pain of losing was quickly replaced with pride in the lads and manager, as well as high hopes for the next season, and what a season it’s been so far!
Having said that, we can keep all of these moments as happy memories once the season’s done and finished the way we want it to. For now though, it’s time to let them go and focus on what happens between now and May. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still so far to go.
You’ll Never Walk Alone
Red Or Dead Liverpool FC Football Blog and Fields of Anfield Road – 30/12/2018