There could possibly be no greater justice this season than watching Xherdan Shaqiri provide the winning goals for a game in which Gary Neville- he of the “Shaqiri disappears in big games” comments over the summer -is doing the color commentary. And not just any win, but one over Neville’s old side, Manchester United. From the moment he hit that bicycle kick in Ann Arbor during the preseason (also, uh, over ManU), Liverpool fans have thought that we might have something special here. The Cube had faded some in trying to find a spot in a superstar lineup in Munich and in trying to drag his most recent club, the Potters, forward into something respectable. Fools like Neville laid the blame for those situations at the feet of Shaqiri but, as most of us know, football is a team game and no one player can change the direction of an entire club. (No. Not even Van Dijk.) But continued sterling performances for the Swiss national team also demonstrated that, given the opportunity, the Cube could be an extremely important player for a side that occasionally needed a spark of energy in the late game, after relentless pressure occasionally turned up little in the way of goals. Thankfully, Shaqiri has proven that to the hilt; never moreso than today, when he relieved the exhausted Naby Keita and allowed Liverpool to more freely shift back and forth between the 4-3-3 and the 4-2-3-1. Being in the right spot for two deflected goals was just a mark of his relentless pace and the final crumbling of a ManU defense that had been under siege all day.
Speaking of that whole “under siege” thing: the above is insane. I don’t remember, even in the past couple seasons with the world’s most overpaid bus driver doing his thing, a United side that played like a bottom half of the table side: willingly surrendering possession at every opportunity and doing nothing but soaking up pressure in the low block. He even played a 3-4-3, which you’d usually do to try to win possession by outnumbering the opponent in the midfield and have wingbacks ready to carry the ball forward. It just didn’t happen. Liverpool had 36(!) shots to ManU’s 6 over the course of the game. The only ManU player who has 36 shots this season is Paul Pogba, who never left the bench in this match. Liverpool had 13 corners to ManU’s 2. That stat is usually emblematic of one of those games that occasionally makes me fantasize about a rules change to make certain games more interesting: If the opposing side has more than quadrupled your total number of corners by the second half, they start getting penalty shots. Think how much more exciting the average game against Southampton or Stoke or non-Marco Silva Everton would’ve been with that rule? 65% possession. Against Mourinho’s United. Unreal, man. There’s a reason Klopp called the team’s performance in the first half hour of this game as perhaps the best he’s seen since he’s been at Liverpool, but some of that was handed to us, almost literally.
This is to take absolutely nothing away from Liverpool’s efforts. We dominated this game. Dominated it. I told my girlfriend at halftime that there should be only one winner of this game because there’s been only one real team on the pitch and that was the Reds. If we play like this for the rest of the season, there’s nothing this club can’t do.
OK. So not perfect. Fine. Alisson screwed up. OptaJoe even got in a jab, pointing out that direct errors from Alisson had contributed to as many EPL goals as Mignolet and Karius combined last season. Yeah. He also has as many clean sheets as the two of them combined last season and we’re not even halfway through. It wasn’t a failure of positioning. It wasn’t a failure of anticipation. He just tried to block the ball into his lap and lost it. I’m fine with that. It happens. And, uh, BTW, we won both of those games, so it’s not like we surrendered points because of a keeper error, which happened all too often before Alisson.
Our other Brazilians, OTOH, were spectacular. People have been talking about Fabinho’s growing presence in the midfield and at Melwood as he’s settled into the squad. This game was definitive proof of that arrival. Despite Cubic heroics, I think Fabinho was probably the best player on the pitch for LFC. His absolute command of the midfield and ability to both initiate an attack and assist on actual scoring plays (see: the first goal by Mané) is not only the commanding presence at the 6 that Liverpool fans want, but ALSO the creativity that said fans often complain about missing.
Similarly, Bob was Bob: all over the pitch, enabling movement, disrupting what vague efforts ManU put forward, and almost working magic in the box yet again. Just like last season, when his remarkable efforts were overshadowed by Salah and I was insisting that LFC’s most valuable player was the engine that made everything run, Roberto Firmino, he’s still doing those things and still not often noticed for them.
Jose being Jose. A lot of people are suggesting that Mourinho is being “gracious” with his compliments about Liverpool, but this is Jose doing his usual thing: diversion. In his opening monologue, he’s suggesting that Liverpool played well, but that if someone had asked him if United were going to lose, it would have been under the onslaught of the first 20 minutes and that, after that, LFC won on lucky bounces (what would have been “routine saves” for de Gea.) Sure. The most fascinating bit is right at the end, where he gets an impromptu question about whether he ever considered playing Paul Pogba: “No. Because I am happy with Matic, Lingard, and Herrera.” Um… what? To put aside the obvious points about Pogba, Herrera was the one doomed to have his lunch money stolen in that midfield and proceeded to do so multiple times against Gini and Keita. Now he’s just being spiteful (which, again, is typical Jose.) This is why “Don’t sack Mourinho” was the chant echoing around Anfield near the end of the game. Here’s hoping.
There’s a ton more to say about this game, but I’ll leave you with two things and get back to more tomorrow or Tuesday.