Liverpool booked a place in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League for next season, with an easy 4-0 win over Brighton at Anfield. Mo Salah and Dejan Lovren put the Reds in command at half-time, before Dominic Solanke and Andy Robertson scored their first goals for the club, to put the gloss on a commanding performance on the final day of the season.
Here are a few talking points from the game.Mo Salah breaks the record
The King of Egypt went into the last game of the season having not scored in three games. In the context of the season he’s had, that was a rather concerning goal drought.
But, not anymore. Salah scored his 32nd league goal of the season, his 44th overall, to break the Premier League record for the most goals in a single 38-game season. It settled the nerves after a frantic start at Anfield, which saw the Reds miss a few clear-cut opportunities.
It was a fitting end to a stunning return season in England for Salah. He scored against 17 of the 19 other teams in the division – only Swansea and Manchester United failed to be on the receiving end of a Salah goal this season. No other player in Premier League history has scored against as many teams as the Egyptian has done this season.
At this stage, he is just three goals off Ian Rush’s all-time season goalscoring record for the club. A hat-trick in Kyiv would do nicely, Mo!Wasteful Sadio Mané
If the pre-match rumours were to be believed, Sadio Mané was not going to start this game at all. But he was in the side and took his usual position on the left wing.
But it wasn’t the typical Mané performance. He was dribbling past defenders and getting into fabulous positions with ease, but his passing was visibly off throughout the game.
He only compounded the poor passing with some poor decision-making in the final third. When the game was still goalless, he went through on goal on the right side of the box, and with an easy square pass available, to give Firmino a tap-in, the Senegalese shot straight at Ryan in the Brighton goal.
Later in the half, Mané was through one-on-one with Ryan again. This time, he should’ve shot. Instead, he tried to play the square ball through to Salah and messed up the opportunity.
One would hope that Mané has had his gaffes in this game, and there is none left for Kyiv.Dominic Solanke has lift-off (finally)
Dominic Solanke hasn’t exactly had a season to remember at Liverpool. He hasn’t had a consistent run of games, and in the minutes that he has got, he hasn’t helped himself, by missing a few gilt-edged opportunities.
But in this game, Solanke provided the Reds with everything Jurgen Klopp would have asked of him. He was strong in his hold-up play, he provided intensity with his pressing, and his decision-making in the final third was largely very good.
He started the game off poorly though, slipping and letting go of an opportunity presented to him by Shane Duffy losing the ball. But he put that behind him, by playing an integral part from then. He assisted Salah’s opening goal, which gave the Reds breathing space, and Anfield a lift.
Soon after half-time, he got himself on the end of Salah’s through ball, and smashed the ball past Ryan, on to the underside of the bar and into the net, to finally score his first goal in Liverpool colours.Encouraging Sub Appearances
Adam Lallana has had a wretched season with all his injuries, and Danny Ings’s luck (or lack, thereof) is well-documented. But both came on to perform their roles very well today.
Lallana looked sharp for someone who has played as little football as he has over the course of the season. The Cruyff turns were on show (of course), and there was the general hustle that he brings in midfield. He also played a crucial part in the Reds’ fourth goal, by playing an intricate through ball for Ings, who put it into the box before Robertson scored.
For his part, Ings pressed really well, and always offered an outlet by running in behind the Brighton defence. Late in the game, he almost impeccably controlled a long ball coming over his shoulder, but Lewis Dunk was there to clean up in time.
With the squad being as bare thin as it is, both the Englishmen, Lallana in particular, could have a big role to play in a fortnight.Bring on Kyiv!
The big objective for the season has been achieved. The Reds will be playing Champions League football next season. But the best part of it is that this season isn’t over yet.
Liverpool have one big game left in Ukraine, and after an indifferent run of results in the league, they came up trumps when it mattered, with a superb clutch performance.
Klopp even made it clear post-match, that this was the sort of performance he expected from a well-rested, fully fit side.
So now, he and his players have two weeks to get themselves rested, fully fit and firing ahead of facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League final.
The Reds won’t fear anyone, but it really is high-time that Klopp’s wretched record in finals ends. Maybe, bringing good ol’ Big Ears back to Anfield won’t be a bad way to do so.
Jurgen Klopp was adamant attentions must be solely placed on Brighton this week, waving away the English media who were fixated on a date with destiny in Kiev.
His players duly responded, signing off their Premier League campaign in perfect style as they dominated Brighton from start to finish. There were yet more individual records broken with Liverpool preserving their unbeaten record at home in the league this season; the only team to have managed such a feat in the entirety of the English Football League this year.
What Liverpool have achieved this season deserves some serious recognition. This is not a team blessed with an abundance of attacking options like the two Manchester clubs, nor the midfield depth to deal with domestic and European excursions.
Instead, it’s one with Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke operating as understudies to one of the most formidable attacks in the world right now, while injuries to Emre Can and Oxlade- Chamberlain have left James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum to bear the brunt of a gruelling fixture list.
Despite such a thin squad and a very telling drop off in quality between the starting eleven and the rest of the pack, Klopp has guided this team to a top-four finish for the second consecutive season while reaching a Champions League final. Sean Dyche and Pepe Guardiola may be the two standouts for manager of the season for their respective successes this season, but what Klopp has achieved deserves monumental credit.
This is a club with the lowest net spend of the top six clubs since 2014, conquering clubs across the globe to put themselves right up there with the very best in Europe and bag a final against Real Madrid.
You’ve got Mohamed Salah taking the Premier League by storm, winning virtually every individual accolade including PFA Player of the Year and Football Writers’ Player of the Season, making him only the third-ever player in the club’s history to snap up both awards alongside Suarez and Gerrard.
The Golden Boot joined an ever-growing list of achievements for the Egyptian, with a record 32nd goal in a 38 game season making him the all-time leading scorer in Premier League history. Surpassing Alan Shearer, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez, it’s truly remarkable what Salah has done this season.
Then there’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, who was a six-year-old when Liverpool won the Champions League back in 2005. Rewind to a year ago and he was an 18-year-old with 10 appearances to his name. This season he’s had a pivotal role in Liverpool’s successes, delivering on the biggest stage to stifle Leroy Sane and co.
So too has Andy Robertson, whose rise from unemployment in 2012 to stardom represents a remarkable story. A first goal for the club against Brighton was a fitting way to end what has been a brilliant campaign for the Scotsman, shoring up a previously problematic position for The Reds.
Dominic Solanke, largely disparaged by his own fans came into his own on what could well be his last appearance of the season, rounding off a brisk attacking move with an expert finish. It was the type of goal that earned him such rave reviews under Jose Mourinho back in his Chelsea days, with the 20-year-old grabbing his first goal for the club while delivering a statement that maybe, just maybe, there is still a role for him within this Liverpool squad.
It was definitely a day of firsts, with Dejan Lovren scoring his first Premier League goal at Anfield. Yet another assist for Andy Robertson, the Croatian rose well to powerfully head the ball into the back of the net as Liverpool ended their campaign in the best possible fashion.
Rafael Benitez even gained a mentioned from the Anfield faithful, pulling off another remarkable result against Chelsea to confirm a consecutive top-four finish for Klopp.
When Liverpool sold Philippe Coutinho without replacement in January, eyebrows were raised about the possible ramifications it would have on their season. Fast forward to the present and Klopp’s side have shown no ill-effects from losing the Brazilian. That’s very much to the credit of the front-three who have all had the best seasons of their careers to date.
Sadio Mané has 19 goals and 9 assists in 42 games, bettering all prior tallies:
2016/17: 13 goals and 8 assists in 29 games
2015/16: 15 goals and 9 assists in 43 games
2014/15: 13 goals and 9 assists in 40 games
Firmino has answered all of his critics, surpassing the 25 goal mark while contributing far more via a tremendous work ethic and creative eye. 27 goals and 17 assists in 52 appearances comfortably beats his previous two campaigns in the top-flight along with his best tally for Hoffenheim:
2016/17: 12 goals and 11 assists in 41 games
2015/16: 11 goals and 11 assists in 49 games
2014/15: 10 goals and 12 assists in 36 games
2013/14: 22 goals and 16 assists in 37 games
There are not enough superlatives in the world to describe Mohamed Salah’s form this year; 44 goals and 15 assists in 51 games says all you need to know about his contribution to the cause. He’s surpassed the goal-scoring records of some of the best strikers in the game; Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Robin van Persie, Fernando Torres, Didier Drogba and Luis Suarez.
Mohamed Salah is the joint-eleventh top scoring Golden Boot winner since 1959/60. pic.twitter.com/ES9vhfF7yO
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) May 13, 2018
An average age of 24.5 makes Klopp’s achievements all the more impressive; Liverpool were 26.1 in 2005 and 26 in 2007, while Manchester were 26.7 in 2008 and 27.1 in 2009. Chelsea too, were significantly higher than Liverpool’s current squad, with an average age of 27 in 2008.*
No English team have reached the Champions League final and finished inside the top-four in the last seven seasons, emphasising the magnitude of what Klopp has achieved. To do so with a squad whose average age is a year and a half younger than any prior finalist is phenomenal.
There have been so many highs; Oxlade-Chamberlain’s belter against Manchester City in the league, Mo Salah’s dazzling dancing feet against Watford, a 5-0 aggregate win against Porto, a 5-1 aggregate win over the Premier League Champions while making light of Roma’s impressive record of not conceding a single goal at home in Europe this season. This is a team whose scored three or more goals in a game 25 times this season. It’s absolutely staggering.
Add to that the ever-improving defence marshalled by the authoritative figure of Virgil van Dijk. In a matter of months, the Dutchman has helped steady a previously rocky defence, with Liverpool finishing the season with their joint-sixth best goal difference of 1.21 per game. The fact that so few people refer to his record price tag these days is telling in itself; Van Dijk has been the spearhead to the club’s defensive refinement, taking this team a significant step closer to Premier League title challengers.
What a special season from a special Liverpool team. One more win in Kiev and they’ll become legends.
*Stats via Tomkins Times. LINK: https://tomkinstimes.com/2018/05/klopp-performing-miracles-that-some-liverpool-fans-dont-deserve/
It is the last game of the season, and Liverpool have their Top 4 destiny in their own hands. However, it is something that the Reds should have signed off and sealed a few weeks ago.
In the middle of the exertions in continental competition, Jurgen Klopp’s men have only picked up 6 points in the last 5 Premier League games – a record which needs setting right at Anfield on Sunday afternoon.
David Wagner’s Huddersfield did Liverpool a huge favour on Wednesday night by holding Chelsea to a draw, securing their own Premier League status for one more season, and ensuring that Liverpool only need a draw on Sunday to ensure a finish in the top 4.
For the Reds, this game is as much about the points as it is about building more confidence ahead of the Champions League final against Real Madrid. A flat performance at Stamford Bridge last weekend, in a 1-0 loss to Chelsea, was as infuriating as it was understandable, given the condition of the squad and the run of games that had been played.
On Sunday, there are no such excuses, as the Reds will have had a good week’s break between two games, for the first time in a few weeks.
Here are the key individual battles that could decide the outcome of the game.MOHAMED SALAH v GAETAN BONG
Although Brighton have been strong defensively, they aren’t exactly the fastest at the back, and that could be a disadvantage for them against Salah. Bong generally tries to get forward and support Jose Izquierdo or Solly March in front of him, but in this game, he might well have to shelve that aspect of his game.
Salah should start on the right flank, and ideally a little wider than he did at Stamford Bridge last week. The narrower Salah goes, the more difficult he finds it to make room to do what he does best.
Salah doesn’t have a goal in the Reds’ last three games, which considering his lofty standards this season, can be classified as a goal drought.
There has been a pinch of selfishness to his game in recent weeks though – maybe it is that urge to get the Premier League record, and maybe even break Ian Rush’s long-standing season goalscoring record at Liverpool.
But for the Reds to be at their best, it is important that no single player outweighs the needs of the collective. Liverpool are at their best when they are firing as a unit, and not because of moments of individual brilliance.
Even with all of Salah’s goal this season, what has shone through has been the team-work in getting those goals. Whether by coincidence or just sheer habit, Salah has happened to be in the right areas of the pitch and doing the right things.
It has got to be a return to the basics for the King of Egypt on Sunday – we aren’t used to these goal droughts, you know, Mo?ROBERTO FIRMINO v LEWIS DUNK
When Firmino plays well, he makes this Liverpool side tick. Dunk has been one of the revelations this season, and his ability to play out of the back is something that has gone under the radar.
With Dunk being comfortable with the ball at his feet, it is important that he doesn’t get carried away and dwell on the ball for too long because one can be assured that Firmino will pounce on any loose touch or lapse in concentration.
Only Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta has won more tackles than Firmino in the Premier League’s top six this season.
Firmino is a striker, but he is also a defensive midfielder, a creative midfielder, a centre-back and a full-back at the same time.
Firmino had a mixed game against Chelsea, with some of his touches and link-up play with Sadio Mane showing that touch of class that he has. But the Reds didn’t manage to get the ball to him nearly enough for him to have a consistent impact on the game.
Dunk has been the leader for Brighton, in every which way they’d have wanted him to be, particularly with Chris Hughton’s style demanding the team to primarily be strong at the back and then build from there.
It is going to be an interesting battle, for Firmino will know what is at stake and will have to set that intensity from the front, for the others in the team to follow.JORDAN HENDERSON v PASCAL GROSS
The skipper has had a mixed last month. He has been absolutely outstanding in the knockouts of the UEFA Champions League, but nowhere near that level in the Premier League.
In the Champions League, he’s been shutting down the detractors by proving that he is well and truly the leader of this group, but he has been timid in the league games in between.
Even last week, after coming on at Stamford Bridge, Henderson’s passing was a little rough, to say the least. He either rushed things, and played a forward pass too early, or didn’t look to move forward with it at all. Playing as the no.6, it will be important that he sets the tempo with the passing.
Any early mistakes will only add to the nervousness around Anfield on such a big day.
Gross has clearly been one of the steals of the season. Coming in for 3 million pounds from Ingolstadt, he has been the creative lynchpin for Brighton.
His eye for a pass means that he cannot be left in too much space at any point of time, and it will be up to Henderson to ensure that the German is not allowed to dictate proceedings from the centre of the park.
Venue – Anfield, Liverpool
Referee – Kevin Friend
Date & Time – Sunday, May 13th @ 15:00
Current Odds – Liverpool 1/7, Draw 13/2, Brighton 16/1Form Liverpool Form
Probably the only disappointing aspect about Liverpool FC at the moment is their form. But, as we all know, there is a reason for this drop-off. This isn’t a team of robots, it’s a team of men, of top athletes. They can only give so much on a consistent basis. We have seen the flip-side to their fantastic European journey in recent weeks. Draws at Everton and West Brom as well as at home to Stoke have left Liverpool just about clinging on to fourth place in the Premier League as we enter the final weekend of the season. Think back to August. If you had been offered the opportunity to draw your last home game of the season to guarantee a top-four finish PLUS have a Champions League final to look forward to against Real Madrid at the end of the month, I’m pretty sure every one of us would have been delighted with that. That’s the situation we are in. Lap it up.
Last season, Liverpool had to win at home to the already-relegated Middlesbrough to secure a Champions League place for this season. The Reds responded well to the pressure and got their three points in the end. Liverpool will have a week’s “rest” under their belts come Sunday and with a strong starting eleven should be able to see the job through.
Brighton secured their safety last Friday night with a great victory over United at the Falmer Stadium. Chris Hughton has done a great job with Brighton and, as a football fan, you have to be happy for him as he comes across as a complete gentleman – even when he was at Newcastle and Norwich he carried himself with admirable composure. The job he has done at Brighton simply cannot be underestimated or overstated.
Wednesday night at the Etihad Stadium, Brighton put up a good fight but eventually succumbed to the Mighty City in a 3-1 defeat.
Team News Liverpool Team News
We all know the injury-headache Klopp is dealing with these days. Joe Gomez has undergone surgery and is out for a few months, at least. There are rumours that Emre Can could be available for selection for the Champions League final but that will be without any match fitness as he won’t be fit for this weekend’s game. Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Joel Matip are also out until the summer at the earliest. Nathaniel Clyne racked up some more game time at Chelsea last Sunday so he can be considered a somewhat-rusty option at right back for this game.
I expect Klopp to actually go with the same starting eleven that should take to the field in Kiev on May 26th. As much as there is the concern about players picking up injuries, there is also the need for your best team to keep ticking over and not go too long without some game time.
Liverpool’s Top 3 Rated Players this season – (WhoScored.com – at least 10 appearances)
- M. Salah —- 7.66
- R. Firmino —- 7.4
- V. van Dijk —- 7.29
Brighton will want to finish the season on a high and I’m sure no player will want to miss the opportunity to take to the field at Anfield. Hughton normally sets his team up in a 4411 shape, and I expect it to be the same on Sunday.
Isaiah Brown and Steve Sidwell are Brighton’s only injury concerns at present.
Brighton’s Top 3 Rated Players – (WhoScored.com – at least 10 appearances)
- S. Duffy —- 7.21
- L. Dunk —- 7.05
- P. Gross —- 6.87
Liverpool XI (4-3-3) – Karius; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson(c), Milner, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mané
Brighton XI (4-4-1-1) – Ryan; Bruno(c), Duffy, Dunk, Bong; Knockaert, Stephens, Propper, Izquierdo; Gross; Murray
When they last met
Liverpool’s 5-1 win at Brighton back in early December was the first meeting between the two sides since a 6-1 FA Cup victory at Anfield for The Reds back in February 2012. The 5-1 win in December saw Liverpool goals from Emre Can, Coutinho, Firmino x2, and a Lewis Dunk own-goal. Glenn Murray scored Brighton’s consolation.Prediction
Liverpool 2 – 0 Brighton
Liverpool should have enough in the tank to get past Brighton. The fact that The Seagulls have nothing but pride to play for is a good thing for The Reds, too. Thanks to Huddersfield’s heroics at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night, Liverpool just need a draw for Champions League qualification. With that extra pressure off, I expect The Reds to go on and win on Sunday.
** Please note – “xGA” in the Form Stats tables symbolises “expected goals against” **
Liverpool are on the march to Kiev.
Amidst the blitzkrieg of goals, celebrations and stunning attacking tsunamis, however, is quite the stark realisation. Liverpool got to the Champions League final off the back of a scintillating, devastating, and unparalleled front three, with a lion tamer of a manager orchestrating their rise to potential infamy.
But there needs to be a fourth.
Phil Coutinho once rounded out the quartet, and the signing of Mohamed Salah was an excellent one solely for the added “fire” it brought: nobody knew that the Egyptian would rival Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the fashion he has. Now, sans-Coutinho, as a lack of depth means Liverpool’s top four hopes are once again dependent on the last day of the Premier League season, Liverpool require that “fire” again.
Enter Nabil Fekir.
The Frenchman, of Algerian descent, was vehemently linked to Liverpool by French outlets Canal+ and RMC – the latter of which is widely respected for its reliability – on Sunday. The reports garnered the regular “no comment” from Jürgen Klopp and even more regular denial from Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas, who would deny a transfer was happening even if the player was posing in his new kit.
So, why would Nabil Fekir be so ideal?Style
Having played as a winger on both sides, number nine and number ten in his career, Fekir is pretty much an all-around attacker, capable of tantalising penetrating runs and electric left-foot finishes all while being the central figure on counter-attacks.
Since returning from a six-week injury layoff, Fekir has been played at the tip of a midfield diamond, ahead of an assortment of Mariano Diaz, Memphis Depay, Bertrand Traore and Maxwel Cornet. Before his injury, however, Bruno Genesio often played him as the #10 ahead of a two-man contingent, meaning he would track back and engage with the midfield.
With Maxime Gonalons’ departure to Roma back in August, he took up the mantle of Lyon’s captaincy; relishing in leading the side he was once rejected from as a twelve-year-old. It’s hard to think young Fekir would’ve known he’d return to the club four years later, and at age 24 lead them to a 5-0 demolition of rivals St. Etienne, nearly sparking a riot in the process.Strengths
What Liverpool desperately need is someone who can create for Salah and Mané from all areas to compensate for the lack of spark in midfield, and back up those two players when they’re in need of a rest. It’s the role Phillipe Coutinho played, and the role Thomas Lemar was touted to fill upon the Brazilian’s departure. Now, however, the role has shifted from less of a creative spark and someone who can bring the pace, fluidity, and swiftness that the current front three already display. It’s why, on top of their contrasting fortunes this season, Fekir has become the ideal candidate ahead of Lemar.
Phillipe Coutinho had a combined xG+xA of 0.53 p/90, i.e. an expectation of being involved in a goal every two games. Nabil Fekir’s numbers are rather similar: his expected goal involvements are 0.44 p/90 (numbers per Football Whispers).
His ability to be the key figure for his side, as both a goalscoring force and creative outlet comes from having quick, itinerant collective around him, always moving to create space for their teammates. Once he does get the ball, it’s always to attack defenders, knowing that if they’re too tight to him, his skill to keep the ball close to him during the dribble and subtly change directions will leave them for dead, or his pace when dribbling will allow him to glide past them (as occurs below against Dijon.)
Speaking of goals, he scores a lot of them. Despite being deployed in the hole this season, his history playing both wide of the striker and as the number nine itself means he’s always going to have an eye for goal and since the departure of Alexandre Lacazette, Fekir has shown himself to be quite the talisman, scoring 22 in 38 games across all competitions. That eye for goal manifests itself in poacher-like positions: he’s adept at drifting into the box in the critical moment; a trait not usually seen in a man of his size.
But it’s his ability to pick up the ball from deep, drive past players with the initial dribble and exploit space that allows Fekir to cause so much damage as a hybrid of a midfielder and forward. Dropping deep to pick up the ball (and engage in the press) alongside his two deeper midfielders, the little Frenchman is most dangerous when he sees space with the ball at his feet. It’s a trait that Phillipe Coutinho often displayed, able to bypass a player with a dribble and then cause havoc. Except Coutinho completed 2.3 dribbles p/90, while Fekir completes 3.1 dribbles p/90 (the fifth highest in Ligue 1).
Just watch him pull three players into him, after dribbling past one, and then play a delightful through ball into Mariano, who is then fouled for a penalty.
Defenders will ask themselves, is he going to take another touch? Or will he lay it off to someone between me and my fullback? Should I be getting close to block a shot or watch for the through ball?
His finishing is that of an elite striker with a shot conversion rate in Ligue 1 of 18.5% (Mohamed Salah’s, by comparison, is 21.7% in the Premier League, while Harry Kane’s is 14.1%.) On top of that is his post-shot xG (which factors in the placement of the shot as opposed to just the position it was taken from. If a player’s post-shot xG is better than their standard xG, then the player is picking the right areas to finish.) Fekir’s post-shot xG (courtesy of Football Whispers) is 11.33, substantially outperforming his standard xG of 8.0.
He’s also made more key passes (2.0 p/90) than Thomas Lemar (1.8 p/90), seen by many as the more creative player, and mirrors Phillipe Coutinho (2.1 p/90.)
The trick is that defenders simply can’t tell, in tight spaces, where he’ll go next. Some have labelled him over-reliant on his left foot, and he can just as easily feign a move onto his left foot (which the defender expects) and turn onto his right. And if there was any doubt as to his right-footed execution, or his inventiveness, witness the goal he scored from the halfway line against Bordeaux. It’s the stuff of magic.Weaknesses
Should Jürgen Klopp decide that he’s already got enough goalscoring firepower in the front three and instead opt for a purely creative wide-man, then Thomas Lemar is still the preferable option. He would be a purer replacement for Coutinho’s role in the “Fab Four” – which was that of the man pulling the strings from deeper.
Similarly, he would have to improve his defensive contribution on the physical front: he offers the outlet of a third midfielder in transition, but if he’s going to be deployed at the tip of a midfield three, he’ll have to learn both Klopp’s organised press and the more physical nature of gegenpressing.
Added to that is a tendency to go too hard at opposing players and lose the ball – he’s dispossessed more times per ninety than Coutinho and Lemar; a by-product of his desire to dribble.
Where would he fit in at Liverpool?
A pairing of Naby Keita and Nabil Fekir, in transition, is devastating in it’s sheer velocity on the ball. As long as a deep-lying playmaker was stationed alongside the deeper-sitting Keita, Fekir would be allowed to roam, press, and get on the ball in tight positions. Of course, he’d also be the ideal man to rotate across the forward line, given his experience as a player both wide and as a striker.
Should you require more convincing, Sadio Mané’s words were quite evocative:
“Nabil is a very great player, if that’s the case, we will be really happy to have him here. I think he would do very good things with us. We always need this kind of player, if we have him it’ll be fire!”
Liverpool’s extraordinary Champions League run has been truly unforgettable, but their recent Premier League exploits have been anything but.
After a turbulent Wednesday night at the Stadio Olimpico, the emotionally and physically fatigued Reds subjected their supporters to a different kind of torment over the course of a turgid 90 minutes against top-four rivals Chelsea.
Olivier Giroud’s first-half header, the result of questionable defending, proved to be the decisive moment, with the visitors unable to penetrate a deep-lying, compact backline thereafter.
Automatic qualification for the Champions League seemed all but assured a few weeks ago, but now Liverpool must beat Brighton on the final day to be sure of their place.Reds out of steam domestically
Jurgen Klopp has in his various press conferences repeatedly emphasised the importance of avoiding any complacency in the Premier League as the Reds dream of continental glory. He has not, therefore, significantly rotated his squad, but results have tailed off nonetheless.
Before the first leg against Roma, they threw away three points from a commanding position against West Brom, and before the second, they were held by now-relegated Stoke City on an excruciating afternoon at Anfield. Both games very much belied the huge gulf in class evident from a glance at the table.
The disappointing result at Stamford Bridge was the most predictable of all. Clearly, their triumph in a titanic battle with Roma was immensely draining, and at times the team looked to be running on empty. The fatigue showed itself in a lack of urgency, in uncharacteristic blunders from the usually ruthless front three and in some poor decision-making.
The Reds can be forgiven for this particular defeat but their league form, largely excellent since the New Year, has noticeably nosedived, with just one win from five mostly favourable fixtures.
Once again, they have failed to do things the so-called ‘easy way’, with the top four race going down to the wire for the second consecutive season. Their focus has wavered, and there is no longer any room for error.Record eludes Salah
Mohamed Salah currently finds himself in the midst of what is – by his supreme standards – a goal drought, having failed to score for a whopping three games.
The Egyptian is still hunting for his 32nd league goal of the season, a feat which, if achieved, would make him the highest-scoring individual over a 38-game Premier League season.
His relentless goal-scoring appetite has been evident in recent games, but it was not sated on his former stomping grounds as he, like the rest of his teammates in truth, turned in a jaded display.
He was even booked for simulation after going to ground on the edge of the Chelsea box following a heavy touch; that would sum up his day.
A considerably fresher Salah will hope to delight the Anfield faithful for a final time this season and clinch the golden boot, the latest in a magnificent line of individual accolades, in style next Sunday.Off day for Trent
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s breakthrough season has been seriously impressive, so impressive in fact that many are beginning to judge him not just as a promising youngster, but as an established member of the first team.
Every so often, though, there is an off day which reminds us of the local lad’s inexperience, and he will be frustrated with his performance at Stamford Bridge.
Starting out in what is actually his more natural position in the middle of the park, Trent’s impact on the game was very much limited, and he would be switched to right-back in the second-half when Nathaniel Clyne was withdrawn.
It was crucial for Liverpool’s full-backs to effectively support the attackers against Chelsea’s regimented defence, but the 19-year-old’s usually excellent crossing abilities deserted him as he ballooned a number of balls over the awaiting heads, out of play and sometimes into the stand.
It was a day to forget in a season to remember, and Liverpool will need the teenager at his absolute best when they face Real Madrid.Solanke fails to make his mark
Dominic Solanke looked a real steal over the summer as he starred in Liverpool’s friendlies, but it’s fair to say he’s failed to live up to the expectations those performances generated.
It’s undeniably difficult for one player to change a game, especially when Chelsea had decided to shut up shop, but Solanke had the chances to earn a decisive point for Liverpool, twice heading over the top.
The former Chelsea man is still waiting for his senior goal in English football and whilst it is important to remain patient for the moment, sooner or later questions will start being asked of the man who, remember, effectively leapfrogged Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge in the pecking order.
Perhaps he would benefit from the kind of loan move handed to the likes of Harry Wilson and Marko Grujic, whose confidence will no doubt have been significantly boosted by their success.Stay positive
For a number of Liverpool fans, it was a case of ‘right, time to go outside and enjoy the sunshine’ when the final whistle blew – a curious yet comprehensible attitude.
Many made the point that supporters would very much have taken this scenario – needing to beat Brighton on the final day to clinch top four and, more importantly, awaiting a Champions League final – at the start of the season.
The Reds will be fully expected to overcome the Seagulls, who have little to play for after securing their top-flight status on Friday night. Provided they do that, this uninspiring, and slightly painful, domestic run will quickly be forgotten.
One team were busy booking a date with destiny in the newly named ‘Sadio Olimpico’ on Wednesday night.
The other? Well, they enjoyed a week of preparation with all their eggs in domestic baskets after crashing out the competition earlier in the campaign.
Inhibited by ongoing injury issues within the squad, Jurgen Klopp had little choice but to stick with his usual eleven at Stamford Bridge with the exception for Nathaniel Clyne, who replaced Jordan Henderson as Trent moved into the middle.
Unfortunately, the tired legs showed as Chelsea kept the door slightly ajar on a top-four finish with a drab 1-0 win in the summer sunshine.
There was a collective lethargy about Liverpool; the midfield were bereft of creativity, operating in a far too predictable manner despite holding the lion’s share of possession. As for the attack, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané couldn’t be faulted for their efforts, but the usually incisive final ball was lacking as Player of the Year, Mohamed Salah endured his second subdued performance on the bounce.
Making his 50th appearance for the club, the Egyptian’s energy levels looked as shot as anyone’s as he struggled to show his usual class on the ball. Loose touches here and there, Salah certainly looked like a player in need of a week off.
A team well known for their thrilling attacking moves, this was an extreme reversal, with only one real chance falling the way of the Reds. Substitute Dominic Solanke, under pressure from Rudiger, couldn’t steer an injury-time header on target to steal a point that would’ve secured a top-four finish.
Sadio Mané was the most dangerous player for Liverpool, showcasing his pace to drive at the heart of Chelsea’s defence. Forcing Thibaut Courtois into a save with a well-drilled half-volley, the winger was definitely the sharpest of those in red.
Chelsea’s first-half goal was very much against the run of play; Olivier Giroud did what he does best, rising well to head home from Victor Moses’ cross and bring the Champions League race down to the final day.
Conte’s side are still to face Huddersfield and Newcastle while Spurs will also come up against Rafa Benitez’s side. Yet, Liverpool will be relatively calm in the knowledge that a win against Brighton will see them secure 4th spot, albeit in far less comfortable style than it should’ve been.
10 points separated the two teams just a few weeks ago and while Champions League excursions have rightfully taken precedent, Liverpool are once again culpable of making things unnecessarily hard for themselves. 2-0 up against West Brom to then take only a point before a goalless draw against Stoke City mean Klopp’s side have only won one game in their last six league games.
An obvious dip in domestic form, Klopp will be wary that any further slips could see Liverpool throw away an invaluable top-four place. Much like last season’s game against Middlesbrough, next week will be a nervy one.
Still, if you’d asked Liverpool fans whether they’d have accepted needing a win in the last game of the season against Brighton and booking a place in Kiev against Real Madrid, they’d have bitten your hand off.
It’s Brighton or Real Madrid – two hugely contrasting avenues for Jurgen’s Reds.
Venue – Stamford Bridge, Chelsea
Referee – Anthony Taylor
Date & Time – Sunday, May 6th @ 16:30 GMT
Current Odds – Chelsea 23/20, Draw 5/2, Liverpool 11/5Form Chelsea Form
Chelsea have had something of a renaissance in recent weeks. Just when I had written them off and considered Antonio Conte to be just seeing out his time until the end of the season, they’ve started grinding out wins again. It may be too little too late in their push for a top-four place with Liverpool just needing three points from their last two games to snatch fourth, but they will be glad to have managed to stay in the race this long. It really had looked like a foregone conclusion back in March and early April. No doubt, Liverpool’s progress in Europe’s elite competition has taken its toll on their squad and league form – three draws in their last four Premier League games proves that – but, nonetheless, Chelsea have played their part in this race since mid-April, too.
There are two different Liverpool teams at the moment. We have the Premier League outfit who have looked tired and somewhat lethargic since the beginning of April – because they are tired and lethargic. They have to be. Injuries to several key players have meant that Klopp now has to operate with “bare bones” of a squad at his disposal. With some rotation in the front three for league games and an exhausted midfield three, Liverpool have been falling short. The top-four should be sewn up, yes, but let’s not be too harsh. Klopp and his men have had other things on their mind.
Team News Chelsea Team News
Conte is without David Luiz, Danny Drinkwater, and Ethan Ampadu for Sunday’s game. Chelsea will more than likely line up in their 3421 shape which Conte has used for most of the season.
Chelsea’s Top 3 Rated Players this season – (WhoScored.com – at least 10 appearances)
- E. Hazard —- 7.73
- N’Golo Kante —- 7.25
- C. Azpilicueta —- 7.19
The Liverpool injury-list now includes the names of Emre Can, Joe Gomez, Adam Lallana, Joel Matip, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Klopp and the backroom team now have to make some choices on the best way for the Champions League final eleven to rest and recuperate in the three weeks between now and the final. I think we will see a strong starting lineup for each of their remaining league games with the plan to rest the main guys (Salah, Firmino, Milner etc) after 60 or 70 minutes of those matches.
Liverpool’s Top 3 Rated Players – (WhoScored.com – at least 10 appearances)
- M. Salah —- 7.72
- R. Firmino —- 7.44
- S. Mané —- 7.28
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) – Courtois; Azpilicueta, Cahill(c), Rudiger; Moses, Kanté, Fabregas, Alonso; Willian, Hazard; Morata
Liverpool XI (4-3-3) – Karius; Clyne, Van Dijk, Klavan, Robertson; Henderson(c), Milner, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mané
When they last met
The sides drew 1-1 at Anfield back in November after a Willian cross somehow found it’s way over Mignolet into the far corner of the net to equalise for Chelsea. That was after Salah gave the Reds the lead shortly before that. Their last meeting at Stamford Bridge was Liverpool’s 2-1 win last season. In fact, Klopp has won on both his visits to Stamford Bridge as a Liverpool manager, so far. A 3-1 win for Liverpool in Klopp’s first season was one of the final nails in the coffin of a certain Jose Mourinho as his time at Chelsea drew to a close.Prediction
Chelsea 1 – 1 Liverpool
A draw will be enough in this game to secure Liverpool’s Champions League qualification for next season. I think the Reds will get that draw, too. I think we will get a repeat of the 1-1 scoreline from the game at Anfield in November.
** Please note – “xGA” in the Form Stats tables symbolises “expected goals against” **
ALLEZ. Liverpool lost 4-2 in Rome, but it was enough to send them through on aggregate, as they saw off Roma 7-6 on aggregate to reach the Champions League final in Kiev. But what were the key stats from a magical if horribly tense night for Klopp’s side?Game of Two Halves
On paper, this was a game that could be split down the middle. The first half was a 2-1 Liverpool win, with Roma failing to notch a shot on target, and James Milner’s own goal the only lifeline for them, as Liverpool created three big chances without reply – the halftime xG was 1.9-0.3 in Liverpool’s favour.
But everything changed in the second half, as Roma won it 3-0, creating three big chances of their own whilst the Reds didn’t create one. It was 6-1 in terms of shots on target, and in terms of xG it was 2.9-0.2 in Roma’s favour. Discarding the late penalty and the freak own goal, 2-2 was probably fair, so 4-2 is a fair reflection of the match on balance, even if it feels as though Roma were slightly fortunate.
Unsurprisingly, this semi-final was the highest scoring ever in the Champions League. And with twenty goals scored between Liverpool, Roma, Real and Bayern, only one year had more goals scored across the two European Cup semi-final games – 1959/60, which saw 24.Fab Three Enter the Record Books
Sadio Mané, Liverpool’s man of the match on the night with five dribbles, two free-kicks won, two big chances, both of which hit the target and of course his goal, made it 29 goals and 12 assists for Liverpool’s front three. The 29 that the trio have netted is the most in UCL history, as is the 46 that the entire team have scored. Once again, the Reds’ goalscoring ability is unparalleled.
At the heart of it all once again tonight was Bobby Firmino, who now has seven assists to add to his ten goals in this UCL campaign, with Bobby in his element. He’s now the first player in Champions League history to make seven goals and seven assists in the same UCL campaign, and only one other player in the Champions League has more than four assists – James Milner of course with eight.
And of course, whilst we’re on goalscoring feats, it must be noted that Gini Wijnaldum scored his first away goal for Liverpool. And whilst it has felt at times that there were big moments available for him to break the drought, his scrappy header tonight was the best time of all.Champions League Legends
Liverpool are a team steeped in European history, and this current iteration have earned their place amongst some great Reds sides. This is the team’s first final in eleven years, and their eighth UCL final overall. That draws them level with Barcelona, with only their opponents Real Madrid, AC Milan and Bayern Munich having reached more finals. Liverpool have met Madrid once before in the final, in 1981. Liverpool won 1-0. Somehow I don’t think that’ll be the score in Kiev.
In terms of other UCL final statistics – Liverpool have now reached as many European finals as the rest of the current Premier League combined. And they’re the first team to have to go through the qualifiers to reach the final since Bayern Munich in 2012. The last team to win it after qualifying were Barcelona in 2009.
Up the Reds. Let’s hope we can make it #6 in Kiev. Only two teams, including our final opponents, have ever won it that many times.
KIEV BABY! Get in you beauty, up the Champions League final Reds.
We didn’t really do it the hard way if you think about it, there was no comeback needed for us and even when Roma scored to bring the gap back to one there was no time.
Of course, watching the game I was fully convinced that Liverpool did it in the hardest way possible.
Here are some other things I saw!Sadio Olympico
Whoever’s gone and renamed that Wikipedia page needs a statue built, somewhere. In honour of course of the great Sadio Mané, who’s had quite the impact on Liverpool’s Champions League campaign if you hadn’t noticed.
Another top drawer performance from the winger, easily the best of Liverpool’s front three in the Italian cauldron. Composed in front of goal for an opener that brought my arse back into within a 10-mile radius for a few minutes and great after, didn’t waste the ball and was good tracking the maverick that is Florenzi.
Countless (well you could count them) group stage goals, a hat-trick against Porto and then strikes in the quarter-final and semi. I’ve got a semi on for this lad. Oh, Mané Mané…Salah saving his goals
Good of Mo to drop a 5/10, really. He’s an unbelievable human being. When he’s not scoring goals he’s being everyone’s mate. Whether it’s setting up an anti-drug program, popping into the chippy or seeing some old mates, he’s always striking the right chord.
He didn’t want to score tonight, he’s saving his goals for Kiev. ‘I’ll let my mates have their night, their win’ he thought. He didn’t let them have the final though, thanks to those two boss goals and two filthy assists picked up last week.
A hat-trick on Sunday against the Plastics, feet up against Brighton and onto Kiev for Liverpool’s main man.James Milner, god of all men
What a hero Jimmy Milner is. Glass of Italian Red is it, Jimmy? No boss, I’ll be having a Ribena, he chuckles after another top showing to put Liverpool on the brink.
I won’t lie to you, I still think Milner’s 150k p/w wages haven’t really been justified over the last few years but my word he’s doing his best on and off the pitch to change my mind.
Another who has seen his finest moments of the season come in Europe, you can’t help but feel he’ll have a huge role to play in the dressing room ahead of the final, never mind what he’s got to do on the pitch to stop Kroos, Modric and co wielding their magic.Van Dijk, lord over all attackers
The absolute size of this man’s FOOTBALLING ABILITY. Footballing ability is exactly what I’m referencing. Plucked the ball from the air and swerved round an oncoming foe just seconds after Roma’s first equaliser and I couldn’t help but imagine the absolute power of his FOOTBALLING ABILITY. That hairstyle too, wow. Pulls it off with such audacity.
He was a colossus, though. Won more headers than I’ve purchased bottles of sun-cream and I’m ginger so that tells you all you need to know. Get the feeling that Liverpool could concede 12 in a game and I’d still think he’d been boss. Going through the goals, can’t remotely blame him for any of them.
Whisper it quietly, but I’d rather have Salah injured for the final than VVD.Liverpool progressing to the Champions League final
Observations, is it?
I observed Liverpool move into just their eighth European Cup final, just their third in my life-time. I can’t really remember the other two.
Watch it, drink it in.
Sorry for going all Martin Tyler on you there, up the Reds.
So, Liverpool are a bit good.
Jurgen’s Reds booked their place in the Champions League final following a 4-2 defeat in Rome (7-6 aggregate win) with another supreme performance among Europe’s elite.
Only Liverpool fans would have been worried walking into a second-leg tie three goals to the good, with two late goals for the Italians gifting a glimpse of hope ahead of Wednesday’s tie.
This was far less about the individual genius of Mohamed Salah, but more the accumulation of team cohesion and ethic towards one goal. Mo, voted Player of the Year and Writers Player of the Season, winning almost every individual accolade imaginable, was a relative bystander, but the talent of Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané shone through to ensure Liverpool continued their path towards trophy No.6.
Roma hadn’t conceded at home in the Champions League all season, yet it took Liverpool just 25 minutes to score two. Breaking another club’s record with ease, it’s clear to see why they’re top scorers in the competition.
Mané was certainly the man of the night, providing the fuel to the fire as Liverpool booked their place in the Champions League final for the first time in 11 years. Naingollan was caught in possession, delivering a square pass to Jordon Henderson in midfield. A neat ball to Firmino soon saw the Brazilian with time and space, allowing him to deliver a perfectly weighted ball for Mané. Then came the killer away goal; the first goal conceded by Roma at home in the Champions League this season. The goal marked Mané’s ninth in the competition, equalling a Champions League record for most goals by a player in his first 10 games.
An unlucky deflection off poor old Jimmy Milner caused the heart rates to rise, but there was to be no ending of Liverpool’s fairy-tale story.
Wijnaldum, arguably the player of the first-leg having come on for the injured Oxlade-Chamberlain in the opening forty five before adding control and incisive movement to the midfield, recorded his first away goal in 1,081 days since May 2015 and his first for The Reds.
What a time to get your first away goal, ey?
2-1 Liverpool and the tails were up again.
The scene of the first-half certainly came via the Dutchman, who non-nonchalantly strode across the park as if it was nothing more than a Sunday league kick about with his mates. This was Gini at his absolute best, establishing complete control over the midfield and putting Liverpool in the driver’s seat wherever possible.
The second-half saw Roma come out all guns blazing, looking to exploit Liverpool’s youthful looking right-hand side. At 19 years of age, Trent Alexander-Arnold has made some mark on Europe. Dominating Young Player of the Year Leroy Sane, the young full-back has shown far more maturity than his youthful years would suggest, showcasing his talents on the biggest stage and subsequently, his undeniable talent.
Under the cosh in the second-half, the 19-year-old endured a tough second-half as Roma looked to pile on the pressure to instigate another historic comeback. Yet, Trent stood firm to the challenge, albeit alongside a rather fortuitous handball decision that saw the right-back stake a claim for Liverpool’s No.1 next season.
Great save, though.
As a Liverpool fan, I’d almost lost the feeling of getting a refereeing decision our way, but this was definitely that. On another night, Trent would’ve been sent for an early bath and Liverpool would have undone even more of their own groundwork to make their task just a little harder.
Roma’s second goal could well have been attributed to the full-back, but it was a collective effort as Edin Dzeko was left unmarked to steer home from Loris Karius’ save as the Italians refused to lie down.
As it was though, Liverpool came relatively through unscathed, with Trent seeing out a torrid spell of pressure before responding in due course with some positive forward thinking to reflect he’s far more than just a usual 19-year-old, able to do it on the finest stage with the biggest pressure.
A stunning strike from Niangollan and another dubious penalty aside, Roma were never going to get near to Liverpool. Ragnar Klavan can be attributed no blame for the referees call having kept his arms close to his chest, but just as in the first-half, the officials sparked further late drama with the home side eyeing another unexpected turnaround.
Henderson, Milner and Gini – fantastic. The trio ran their hearts out once again as they fought Roma’s midfield head to toe in the biggest fight of their lives to push Liverpool on their way to a historical tie in Ukraine. Then there’s Firmino and Mané; often overlooked due to the superb form of Mohamed Salah, the duo showed their class on a night when Liverpool needed them the most to reflect just how detrimental the front three can be to any back-four.
Robertson? From Hull-City full-back to playing in the Champions League semi-final, the Scotsman has taken to the competition like a fish takes to water. Cannoning past the Roma defence, Robertson was a huge outlet for the Reds as they looked to continue pressurising Roma in the dying embers of the match.
Safe to say the old saying of ‘Liverpool never do things the easy way’ came true again. Jurgen’s Reds, tremendous again, showed that they’re more than capable of taking the fight to the ever egotistical Real Madrid in Kiev.
Bring on Real and the underdog status of May’s crunch tie.
Venue – Anfield, Liverpool
Date & Time – Wednesday, May 2nd 2018 @ 19:45 BST
Referee – Damir Skomina (SLO)
Current Odds – Roma 27/20, Draw 11/4, Liverpool 9/5Form
Roma had a good win at home to Chievo on Saturday evening. They were in the mood for goals, too, with their 4-1 victory. Liverpool are not Chievo, however. Roma will have the belief that they can turn this tie on its head after what they did to Barcelona in the quarter-final but I still feel the Reds are too strong for this Roma team.
Liverpool have been somewhat stumbling towards the finish line in the race for a top-four place in the Premier League this season. Another disappointing draw on Saturday means that Champions League qualification is still not guaranteed for the Reds this season. However, their European performances have been nothing short of exhilarating as of late and I expect more of the same on Wednesday night.
Roma Team News
Roma rested Under, Strootman, Florenzi, and Manolas at the weekend. They will return to the starting eleven on Wednesday night. Di Francesco has some thinking to do about how he sets his team up for this game after their back-three lineup and high line were exploited by Liverpool at Anfield. Roma will most likely revert to a 433 shape for this game.
Roma’s Top 3 Rated Players this season (WhoScored.com – 10 appearances or more)
- A. Kolarov —- 7.56
- E. Dzeko —- 7.44
- F. Fazio —- 7.24
Liverpool Team News
Liverpool really are down to the bare bones now as the season reaches its conclusion. The loss of Oxlade-Chamberlain after his injury in the first leg was devastating as the young midfielder had been in the form of his life. After some injury scares for Henderson and Alexander-Arnold against Stoke on Saturday, Liverpool managed to just about come through the game unscathed. Matip, Lallana, and Emre Can are also out due to injury. The only change from the team that started the first leg will be Wijnaldum coming in for the injured “Ox”.
Liverpool’s Top 3 Rated Players this season (WhoScored.com – 10 appearances or more)
- M. Salah —- 7.72
- R. Firmino —- 7.44
- S. Mané —- 7.28
AS Roma (4-3-3) – Alisson; Florenzi, Fazio, Manolas, Kolarov; Strootman, De Rossi(c), Nainggolan; Under, Dzeko, Perotti
Liverpool XI (4-3-3) – Karius; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson(c), Milner, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mané
When they last met
Last Tuesday’s meeting at Anfield was a rollercoaster ride. Roma asserted themselves well in the first twenty minutes of the game but then the Reds simply went up a gear and took charge until the 80th minute. Seven goals in all, five for Liverpool, two for Salah. It was a special night at Anfield, marred only by the ugly scenes created by some Roma “Ultras” outside the Albert Pub beforehand.Prediction
AS Roma 2 – 3 Liverpool
The famous home support might be worth a goal or two for Roma in this game but they are simply second best when comparing the two sides. Liverpool really should have put this game to bed at Anfield, and it looked like they had until the last ten minutes when concentration lapsed. Roma may have kept Barcelona out but, strange as it is to say it, Liverpool are a far more potent attacking force than Barcelona these days. Salah will light up the Italian capital upon his return.
If you are travelling to the game please stay safe and do us proud. YNWA.
For Sean Cox.
** Please note – “xGA” on the Form Stats Tables symbolises “expected goals against”
Funny isn’t it. Tuesday night saw one of the most free-flowing attacking performances Liverpool have produced this season, possibly ever under Klopp. Running riot against Roma, five goals in the Champions League semi-final was no small feat; an indication of what this side are capable of in the final third.
The contrast between that performance and Saturday’s couldn’t be starker.
This was not a semi-final contest with the possibility of a trip to Kiev and a chance for Klopp to claim his first trophy at Liverpool, in fact, the affair seemed rather anti-climatic; a lunch-time game against a relegation-threatened side not known for their eye-catching football.
Yet, Liverpool must remember their domestic season isn’t over yet. There is still work to be done to ensure a top-four finish and with two games to go, what once looked like a comfortable league position could well be under threat after another stalemate.
Here are the observations from the match.Salah is human after all
When Jordan Henderson found Mohamed Salah through on goal inside the opening exchanges, you’d have bet your house on the ball hitting the back of the net. It seemed like destiny; Salah’s clipped effort was set to make him the highest ever Premier League goal-scorer, surpassing Suarez, Ronaldo and Alan Shearer.
Yet, the Egyptian proved he’s human just like the rest of us, failing to convert his golden chance to put Liverpool in the driver’s seat. Dragging his chip wide of the goal, there was a collective sense of disbelief around Anfield – had Salah actually just missed?!
A free-kick inside the side netting saw him come close on a second occasion, but there was to be no goal number 44 for the season, marking the first time since Boxing Day that Salah has started a game at home and not scored.
For once, it just wasn’t his day.Referees just love the limelight
I can’t think of a single Premier League game this season that has been free of a gross error in judgement from the referee, but this was the worst of the worst.
Last weekends drab draw with West Brom was a lesson in how not to officiate; Danny Ings was hauled down inside the area by Craig Dawson but nothing was given before the forward received a punch in the stomach from Hegazi – no punishment and no retrospective action taken.
This was no better, though.
Erik Pieters’ manhandling of Salah somehow went without punishment before Liverpool were denied another stonewall penalty after Gini Wijnaldum’s cross struck the defender’s arm. It was clear as day in comparison to James Milner’s alleged handball in the Champions League just days earlier.
Since 2003, Liverpool won only half their PL penalties at Anfield. EVERY OTHER PL PERENNIAL CLUB WINS 60-75% AT HOME. Refs go into matches saying to themselves "don't be swayed by Kop"; i.e. ignore everything. Refereeing is mostly guesswork anyway. Too quick to see.
— Paul Tomkins (@paul_tomkins) April 28, 2018
Liverpool have been awarded no penalties at the Kop end this season, with Spurs earning more spot-kicks in a 10-minute spell at Anfield than Klopp’s side have in 17 home league games. Even Calvert-Lewin has had more penalties go his way than The Reds.
Of course, blaming the officials holds connotations of a ‘get out of jail card’, but a late chance for Milner from the spot kick would have more than likely sent all three points to the home side and gone a long way towards cementing top-four.
This was most certainly the purest advert for VAR you’ll ever seen.Rocky audition for Butland won’t win him any admirers
With more and more links emerging between Liverpool and the Stoke goalkeeper, Saturday very much felt like an audition for the Englishman.
It wasn’t passed with flying colours, though. In fact far from it; Butland was very fortunate not to be caught out by Salah’s early chip, needlessly retreating back to his line rather than coming out to pressurise the forward. A later fumble was indicative of a nervy afternoon that saw him pass the ball into touch under no pressure.
Given Liverpool’s philosophy of playing out from the back, Butland’s performance raised far more questions than it answered. Rest assured, he didn’t win any admirers on Merseyside.Lack of depth evident again
Liverpool’s ongoing injury crisis has made questions over squad depth all the more poignant of late. With Premier League games sandwiched in between big European ties, Klopp’s need to rotate the side has seen a notable drop in intensity.
A relative decline in quality is to be expected, but recent games against Everton, West Brom and Stoke reflect the lack of a goals source outside the usual starting eleven. Investment is needed in the summer to ensure Liverpool have the depth to deal with both domestic and European commitments. Until then, rotation will likely play hand to frustrating checks in momentum.Top four isn’t settled yet
Liverpool undoubtedly have bigger fish to fry at the moment, with a crucial game in Roma the last hurdle to overcome before a Champions League showdown in Kiev, but top-four is still yet to be rubber-stamped.
A maximum of three points in their last two games would be enough to see them over the line, but with Chelsea next on the horizon, what previously appeared a comfortable league position could get a little nervy for the Reds.
Liverpool: Karius; Gomez,Van Dijk, Klavan, Moreno; Trent Alexander Arnold, Wijnaldum, Henderson; Salah, Ings, Firmino
Stoke: Butland; Pieters;Martins Indi, Shawcross, Zouma; Shaqiri, Ndiaye, Allen, Bauer; Diouf, Crouch
The game got off to a steady start with Stoke tending to be more positive than expected. The mystery about Liverpool’s line up was sorted with Trent Alexander-Arnold lining up in the midfield.
Liverpool get their biggest chance in the 5th minute, as Salah exposes Stoke’s high line to leave himself 1 v 1 against Butland, but Salah incredulously misses a dinked effort.
Liverpool create another opportunity which starts off a headed clearance from Karius . The move reaches Moreno whose wonderful delivery is just ahead of Salah, and the resulting effort is blocked. Stoke slowly grow into the game and create their first chance in the 20th minute as Bauer sets up Diouf whose headed effort hits the side netting.
Liverpool immediately create a chance at the other end as Wijnaldum delivers a crisp cross-field pass to Salah who sets up the on-rushing Arnold who gets the ball caught under his feet and struggles to get a good shot on goal. Moreno then kickstarts Liverpool’s next move as his pass to Firmino is flicked onto Wijnaldum. Wijnaldum’s near post shot is just wide.
Arnold then tries to set up Salah but his effort is overhit, but Butland fumbles a regulation collection and the ball gets to Salah, who is then fouled by Pieters on the edge of the box.
Ings creates the next opportunity as he passes to Wijnaldum whose effort is beaten away by Butland, Ings scores off the rebound off a tight angle but his effort is flagged for a marginal offside.
Liverpool then try to prise open Stoke for the rest of the half in vain as the half ends scoreless.
Half Time : Liverpool 0 – 0 Stoke
Liverpool kick start the second half and get their first chance in the 50th minute as a corner reaches Salah but his strike is wide off the post. Stoke make their first chance as Sobhi replaces a limping Martins Indi and Sobhi creates a chance immediately whose effort is saved by Karius.
Liverpool get their next chance as Salah twists and turns and gets ball to Ings whose shot is blocked by Butland. Liverpool then make a double change as Milner and Clyne replace Trent and Ings respectively. Stoke reach by bringing on Fletcher for Crouch. Liverpool then create a double chance of Clyne and Moreno, but both efforts end fruitlessly.
Liverpool’s next big chance comes in the 75th minute as a dangerous cross from Moreno to Salah but is cleared by Zouma. Stoke continue to frustrate Liverpool who are denied a very good penalty shout as Wijnaldum’s cross strikes Pieters’ arm, but the referee waves away the appeal.
Stoke then create their biggest chance of the game as Diouf’s hard work ensures that he lifts the ball over Karius to Shawcross, whose touch is wide with Karius nowhere in picture.
Liverpool appeal for yet another penalty in dying minutes as Firmino goes under the challenge of Pieters but the referee isnt interested as the final whistle is blown.
Full Time : Liverpool 0 – 0 Stoke