Scoring is a funny comparison to make across sports. In basketball or cricket, it’s basically a given. The next time there’s a shutout in a major professional or college game of those sports will be the first time. But shutouts can happen frequently in many other sports. In American football, it’s typically identified as a sign of defensive dominance by one side over the other. In contrast, a huge score like, say, 49-0 is usually identified as offensive dominance and the result of the losing side eventually just giving up and letting the game go where it’s going to go. Given that Manchester United did create some decent chances in the first half, it would be problematic to suggest that Liverpool’s fifth-straight clean sheet was a sign of simply taking away any opportunity that United had at scoring. After all, they did have 8 shots, which is on the low side, but 4 of them were on target, which is still in the reasonable realm for a match between two of the so-called Top Six. That we had 18 shots in total, with 8 of them on target (and all but 3 of those from within their box), would tend to make most casual observers believe that we had won the match. The fact that we actually scored with 7 of those 8 shots is the part that most would have trouble believing. So, welcome to ManU’s worst-ever loss in the Premier League, which matches their worst ever loss in competitive play, set twice before but not since 1931 (Wolverhampton.)
Before the match, I doubt you could have found the most enthusiastic fan on either side that would have predicted this kind of outcome, going either way. Of course, no ManU fans would have predicted the 5-0 and 4-0 results we laid on them last season, either, in the same way that I don’t think anyone wearing Liverpool red would have predicted our 2-1 loss to them earlier this season or how this season has turned into what it’s become. Sports are like that and football is one of the most like that. One of the things that compels it in those random directions are goals. As with ice hockey, goals in football change games. It can change one side from sitting back and time-wasting (despite being the in-form side in third place in the table) to suddenly chasing the game. Cody Gakpo’s goal shortly before halftime made that change. At that point, ManU could no longer sit back and wait for opportunities. They had to create them. The problem is that LFC’s entire game since Jürgen Klopp arrived is about pressing the issue and creating opportunities. After doing so again (twice) within the first 10 minutes of the second half, to take a 3-0 lead, the question in front of ManU became not how they would chase the game, but whether they could even stay in it. Four goals later…
When I was walking around Magee’s before kickoff, I suggested to a couple people that, yes, United was playing better than we were right now and so we had to try to rely on who we were and hope for the home field advantage that Anfield almost always supplies. Before the match, Erik Ten Hag said that the Anfield crowd might be the most hostile he’s faced in his managerial career (he’d been here in the 2021-22 CL with Ajax.) I can’t speak to whether that was the case, but today was the heaviest defeat of his managerial career; that being 481 matches. So… check? It’s also the biggest margin of victory in the competition between LFC and ManU, so we were just setting down historical markers all over the place. One of those was Mohamed Salah becoming the all-time leading goalscorer for Liverpool in the PL, passing one Robbie Fowler with his second goal of the evening. When is the king greater than a god? It’s also the first time I can recall all of the starting front three scoring not just once, which was rare enough in itself when both Sadio Mané was here and Roberto Firmino was starting, but twice, since Mo, Cody, and Darwin Núñez all bagged braces. It is, in fact, the first time any trio has scored a brace in a PL match since 1999 (Cole, Yorke, Solskjaer for (ahem) ManU) and the first time three Reds have scored two or more against United since 1908. Appropriately, given his announcement of his summer departure after eight years with us, Bob added the extra point which made the touchdown to nil victory complete. Incidentally, another of those historical markers is that Mo has more yellow cards from celebrating goals against United than United have goals at Anfield since 2017-18.
But scoring changes the game, almost every time. Madrid put five on us from an xG less than a third of that. We scored twice what our xG should have been today. That first goal didn’t take United out of the game, but the second and third clearly did and after that it was just a wash; almost not a competitive match any longer because the mountain was too high for them to climb and they knew it. This is the squad we’ve been hoping to see all season. We’ve seen glimpses of it but this was easily the most machine-like performance since, well, Wednesday when we put Wolverhampton in their place with echoes of the Liverpool we’ve all been used to. Thankfully, this was a return to form in what the series has been recently with United, after the slip last fall, and it, uh, does quite a bit for our goal difference, too, if it comes down to that crucial tiebreaker for that fourth spot in the Champions League places. This is the score we might look back on as the revival of our hopes and expectations. And the extra point is good-!
Liverpool 7 – 0 Manchester United
Just to reemphasize, as the diagram displays: all but three shots taken from inside United’s penalty box. That’s a demolition and a completely demoralized opponent that no longer had any idea about how to stop us. One of the key elements to that was the midfield arrangement. A lot of people winced when not seeing Stefan Bajčetić in the starting lineup and I was kind of frowning about that, too. After all, Stefan has been one of our best players since the World Cup break. However, I think it’s fair for Jürgen to have looked at not only Harvey’s performance in recent days, but also whom United was putting in the middle of their 4-2-3-1: Bruno Fernandez, Fred, and Casemiro. That’s a lot of craft (and, in the first and third cases, a fair amount of cheating) and size in Casemiro’s case that it’s fair to question whether Stefan would be ready for. I think he is, but Captain Jordan Henderson in his 400th appearance for the club also understands what he’s dealing with there and has years of experience in doing so. What was most important about his presence was Jürgen deciding to take advantage of Harvey’s ability when playing on the right, but asking the veteran to move to the left. That is, of course, the opposite of Hendo’s usual place and takes him away from the relationship that he’s built up with Mo and Trent Alexander-Arnold for years. But, as the veteran, he’s also the more adaptable of the two and he was crucial in winning second balls in the middle third again and again on that left side. It was, dare I say it, a very Thiago-like performance. The other argument in Harvey’s favor was that he apparently had the most successful counterpress actions against Wolves of anyone in the PL this season. That’s why he was free tonight to tear up and down the right side, making Marcus Rashford keep looking over his shoulder and keeping Fred and Luke Shaw under pressure, which freed up Mo to do Mo things.
Crush. Ing. Of course, the most amazing number there might be that he had six fouls called on him in one match. It usually takes about a month for him to reach that number. He’s still some distance behind the two Ians (Rush, St. John) as far as goals go, but he’s on contract for a couple more years, so there’s plenty of time. I’ve only seen clips and the odd game or two of the Saint but watched a ton of Rushie and I don’t easily recall him doing things like this:
Rushie was more about pure speed than footwork and Mo has both. You’d almost feel sorry for Lisandro Martinez there if he didn’t play for United. Mo is also the first player across Europe’s top five leagues with 20+ goals and 10+ assists this season. And he’s having a “quiet” year. After the match, Mo was as pragmatic as he ever is, saying that “we just have to stay humble and continue to pursue our goals.” One of those is finishing in the CL spots. At three points back with a game in hand, that’s looking like far more the possibility that it did a month ago.
But Mo wasn’t the only one soaking up the approbation. As Cody noted after the match, the prettiest goal he scored was the second one, but the most important was the first, because that’s what scoring does in this game. It put us ahead at the half and we haven’t lost a PL game that we’ve led at halftime since the Bournemouth debacle (4-3) in 2016. That’s how sure our control has been since then and part of that is having a center forward who digs in back in our defensive third, which is what Cody is now doing on the regular. And he’s right, this was pretty:
It’s an excellent finish to Mo undressing Martinez and also shows Cody’s awareness of how David de Gea likes to block with his feet. But the first goal was equally pretty:
That pass from Andy Robertson is killer after he points out right where Cody should go to receive it. But the finish is all the Dutchman, keeping his eye on the ball, knowing where the target is, and just putting it right where it needs to go. He took some ridiculous criticism for trying his best to adapt to a squad that’s been in turmoil this season and also trying to do so in the middle of the season as a January arrival. His perseverance is paying off right now. Speaking of unwarranted criticism:
That’s a solid season for a lot of forwards and we still have a long way to go in the league, plus at least one more match in the CL. Half of those goals have come against top 6 sides (ManU, Man City, Spurs, Arsenal), and Real Madrid and Napoli, too, so it’s not like he’s just been feasting on the small fry.
Bur, yeah, just to bring up that change in the midfield again… 19 years old and still killin’ it.
Of course, officiating against United is still a complete farce, as we watched Scott McTomimay go in with a studs-up tackle on Cody and somehow not see red, but Fabinho simply shadows Marcus Rashford (English player!) and gets carded without even making contact. It was also our fifth straight clean sheet in the league and, suddently, only two clubs have more of those that we do (10), being Arsenal with 11 and Newcastle with 12.
Next Saturday, we head south to the beach with Bournemouth. They’re probably still having nightmares of the 0-9 that we put on them here. (Remember that goal difference!) Meanwhile, I leave you with two examples of further humor from today:
It’d be really nice if the medical staff could prevent Liverpool from starting each season with a 12 point handicap due to all the injuries. Klopp mentioned in the post-game presser that he finally has a full complement of players available with suitable depth. It definitely showed.
It’s hard to tell whether that’s a systemic problem (something about training methods, something about the med staff’s approach) or just random luck. We have consistently been at or near the top of the injury tables in terms of number of games missed in the last few seasons, but some of those were freak accidents (Virg, Gomez), some of it could be explained by injury-prone players (Matip, Keita, Thiago) that have had those issues since long before they arrived at LFC, and some of it could be training methods. But, if it is methods, why do three or four of the guys who run more than anyone else (Salah, TAA, Robertson) never come off the field? Are they the exceptions to the system rule? That’s possible, too. It’s hard to tell. I think the turnover in the medical staff is a concern and Melissa Reddy’s article (the one that pissed off Klopp to no end) probably has some foundation in reality, given her reputation and the number of stories that she was referencing, but you’d think that there would be questions asked from higher up in the organization if that was really a concern, given the number of seasons that injury problems have impacted us. This season I think the problems were far more psychological and an issue of new players being introduced than anything physical.