There are moments when you watch Liverpool and you realize that absolutely everything is totally under control. Typically, those moments involve us having a lead and trying to kill the game off by just circulating the ball while the opponent desperately chases it. It’s the polar opposite of what Jürgen Klopp was famous for when he arrived at Anfield, which was “heavy metal” football; an example of controlled chaos and relentless assault. The point was made in passing by a few commentators after last week’s draw with Man City, in that the Reds now play a version of the game that is closer to Pep Guardiola’s obsession with possession, while City actually borrowed from our playbook in trying long passes to the wide areas, rather than the usual pattern of shorter circuits through the middle. But tonight’s match showed the power of that control in the first half, when we achieved 78% possession and four times the number of passes against Manchester United. There was barely a foot set wrong in that period, leading to the immaculate team goal that was Liverpool’s second, in which every outfield player except Virgil Van Dijk touched the ball in the sequence leading to Sadio Mané’s sublime chipped pass to Mo Salah for an easy strike past David De Gea.
The most impressive thing about that whole play was just how easy it looked. Everyone was in the right spot and made the right pass and turned it into the equivalent of a training exercise, with a spectacular assist and an excellent goal. Certainly, ManU coming in with a 5-4-1 and still somehow starting Harry Maguire and being their usual disorganized selves contributed to the ease with which that play and the game entire was conducted. As Bruno Fernandes noted after the match: “They’re playing to win four competitions. We’re playing for nothing.” And ManU looked it. But one player who stood out above all of our Reds’ masterful play was, again, Thiago Alcãntara. If all of LFC was a perfectly tuned orchestra, then Thiago was the maestro that made it all work. He’s peaking at just the right time this season, when every single match is a final for all three remaining trophies that we hope to win.
That is, of course, exactly the effort we’ll need to pull off that unprecedented historical feat and, at the moment, he and the rest of the squad are living up to it, even down to meme level, as I had two moments of being able to shout: “TRENT CAN’T DEFEND!” during this match, not least when Lee Dixon suggested that Trent Alexander-Arnold got “lucky” when shutting down another attempt by Jadon Sancho in the second half. Ah, yes. He’s “lucky.” Somehow, he’s “lucky” in every match, every week. It’s uncanny. He’s just as lucky as we are with our risky high line (Alisson has the most clean sheets in the league (18)) and our slow periods of play and the fact that so many describe us as never having to get out of second gear, but still winning almost all of our matches. At some point, you’d think that people might stop and acknowledge that, even if we don’t win anything else, this is one of the great sides in Premier League history. Most people can’t tell you what a conductor actually does, but he/she/they still makes a collection of musicians work in perfect harmony. This is where Liverpool is right now. A few more wins and we’ll be the tune that no one can get out of their heads. It’s one that Man United will be hearing all summer. I think it’s called “You’ll Never Walk Alone”?
Liverpool 4 – 0 Manchester United
I mean, I get why Ralf Rangnick would choose to play a 5-4-1 against us. He knew that neither United’s midfield nor their defense could expect to keep pace with our attack or in some way slow the progress of the ball through the middle third. It’s still just kind of absurd to see Man United playing in the equivalent of a low block against anyone, to say nothing of their greatest historical rival. But that’s the difference between the two clubs at this point in time. Rangnick said after the game that the had to admit that “[Liverpool] are six years ahead of us.”, citing the time that Jürgen has been here and the total transformation of both squad and attitude that he’s effected at the club. I’m not sure that Erik Ten Hag is the answer to that particular problem, but that problem is, indeed, theirs and not ours. We can talk about things that are more positive, like the maestro.
Total. Control. Just like in the semifinal over the weekend. There was a moment of trepidation when Arlo and Co. suggested that he might have pulled a hamstring or something similar, but Jürgen mentioned later that he’d just torn his shorts and was probably trying to continue playing without losing them entirely. Thankfully, the boss thought he was wearing out and replaced him with Naby Keita. Among those 105(!) completed passes were 6/6 long balls and he also won 7/9 duels he was involved in. I’m running out of superlatives. Similarly
what else can you say except “Mo was a constant threat on the right side, keeping the defenders running in terror every time he approached the ball”? I mean, I guess you could say something else less hyperbolic, but that’s basically the truth. Only a desperate lunge by Aaron Wan-Bissaka kept Mo from being 1v1 with De Gea and likely picking up the hat trick. On that same level
was our latest recruiting masterstroke. This tweet jokes that he’s “settling in nicely”, but he’s really long since settled. Luis Díaz puts fear into every squad he faces, at this point, and Porto fans are gnashing their teeth about how cheaply they let him get away. His field awareness and vision are remarkable and he has the speed to exploit both of them. It was his ability to see Sadio stopped at the top of the box and deliver the perfect pass back to him, which the latter then swiped into the net just like Saturday.
I wasn’t able to find any fancystat tweets for Sadio at time of writing, but I’d possibly argue that he was MotM even above Thiago. The incredible smoothness with which Sadio has been able to assume the Bob Job has created some really incredible sequences (like Mo’s first goal, above) and he’s still been able to keep scoring. It also meant that he and Mo extended their record of both scoring in the same league match (32) and meant that all three of the starting front line ended up with both goals and assists (Mo to Luís; Sadio to Mo; Luís to Sadio) and Diogo Jota was able to get into the act by delivering a perfect pass to Mo late in the game for his second. And the fifth Beatle was on the bench, waiting to come on. One assumes that with the rest he’s had, he’ll get serious time against The Ev this weekend. Oh, and Alisson Becker made two more 1v1 saves against Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga. The flag went up afterwards, but replays showed that they were, in fact, onside and so our keeper’s sterling play did, indeed, preserve the clean sheet. Best in the world, on top of making multiple killer passes, one of which Gary Lineker said he wouldn’t have been able to make as an outfield player.
So, that’s what it looks like when one side can’t even begin to compete with another. The last couple years have been a nice dose of payback for the frustration that was the 90s and 00s, but even when we were the less competitive side, we weren’t this miserable. Still, I’ll take about a dozen more wins just like this one before I’d be satisfied. As noted, the Bitters will be at Anfield this weekend, followed by the visit of the Yellow Submarine for the Champions League. Everything’s coming up Liverpool and I feel fine…