16 December 2018

Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United

Mané 24'
Lingard 33'
Shaqiri 73' 80'

It was all set up for another Mourinho Moment.

I do not need or want to list the litany of disappointments and failures against Jose Mourinho's sides, whether at Chelsea or United. It has felt like voodoo at times, Mourinho's deal with the devil fully in focus.

This looked all set to be another example. Another example made especially worse because Liverpool were actually good.

Liverpool were doing the pressing and the possession and the rolling at an opponent like an incoming tide. After a fourth minute United set play that frightened, with Young's delivery past everyone into the net but Lukaku rightfully ruled offside, United couldn't get out, Liverpool kept coming, Liverpool kept shooting.

Sure, most of Liverpool's shots were from distance, because that's what Mourinho defenses force, but the goal felt coming because Liverpool kept coming. And then it came, wonderfully, in the 24th minute: Fabinho's delicious pass over United's five-man defense finding Mané's run, chest control, weaker foot goal past De Gea.

1-0, three-quarters of the match to go, this is gonna be fun. But then it wasn't. Out of nothing, United attack down Liverpool's right, the midfield bypassed, Lukaku with the ball on the flank, Dalot open behind Robertson for the low cross. But when the low cross came in, it's headed straight for Alisson instead of Dalot. Phew. Except not, because Alisson spills the ball when claiming, bouncing off his knee directly to Jesse Lingard. The goal keeper who's saved Liverpool multiple times already this season – including in the 92nd minute of the Champions League just five days ago – literally hands an equalizer to the most hated of rivals.

Life is not fair. It is not just that Mourinho's sides frustrate and shut down, but all sorts of evil somehow arises. Gerrard's slip. Ibrahimovic's late offside equalizer. Multiple 0-0s with missed chances and uncalled penalties. And now Alisson's flub.

And now we can go full Mourinho. Liverpool, still in control, still in possession. Liverpool, still shooting from distance, more and more with worse and worse result. To make matters worse, Fellaini replaced Dalot to start the second half, a shift away from the basically 3-4-1-2 to a basically 4-4-1-1, with Fellaini there to man-mark Firmino when out of possession and win headers when in.

Now we've actually reached Full Mourinho.

And we're frustrated. And we're pegging shots from nowhere that almost certainly aren't going in, first the forwards, then the midfielders, and then even the center-backs, with both Lovren and van Dijk even "trying" their luck. 29 shots by the 72nd minute, 15 of them from outside the box, 14 of them blocked. It's all set up for torture, it's all set up for pain.

But then Xherdan Shaqiri comes into the game. Less than two minutes later, Liverpool are in front. Less than ten minutes later, Liverpool are 3-1 up. With both goals from Liverpool's substitute.

It is better to be lucky than good. It is best to be lucky and good. Wijnaldum's long cross-field finds Robertson, who gets the ball to Mané. The run to the byline's dangerous. The cut-back can go anywhere after Matic's touch and De Gea's kick save. It falls to Shaqiri, who thankfully gets there before Clyne, smart enough to make the run into the box as United's defenders retreat to the six-yard box, his shot arrowing in off both Ashley Young and the underside of the cross bar.

Seven minutes later, that man again. Liverpool counter, Mané to Shaqiri to Firmino, laid off hopefully for Salah but again somehow magnetized for Shaqiri's boot, then magnetized to find a United defender and United's goal, a massive swerve off Bailly's knee beating De Gea.

It could not be more heartening for Liverpool, because it could not be more dispiriting for Manchester United. They've got to suffer through ten more minutes after Shaqiri seals the game – ten more minutes with more Liverpool chances, ten more minutes with Anfield alternately singing in full voice and shouting "Olé!" as Liverpool rub salt in all the wounds.

Now, Liverpool return to the top of the table. Now, Manchester United are closer to the 20th-placed side than to Liverpool, with 19 points separating the two teams as we enter the third week of December.

It is further evidence of Liverpool's strength in depth, with yet another crucial substitute goal. Two, in fact.

It is further evidence of Liverpool's versatility, with another return to the 4-2-3-1 formation, but with Keïta wide left, Mané on the right, Clyne making his first league start in forever, and Firmino pretty much everywhere. Shaqiri's entrance shifted Mané to the other flank, where he was able to set up Liverpool's winner, then Henderson's entrance saw Liverpool in a 4-3-3 to both shut down proceedings and counter more effectively.

It is further evidence that Liverpool have good players, with Fabinho superlative, Firmino and van Dijk not far off, Wijnaldum metronomic, Robertson still running up and down the touchline, and a sumptuous goal from Sadio Mané. All this without Salah having the impact we always hope he'll have.

It is further evidence that this might actually be Liverpool's time. The frustration ultimately ends if Liverpool keep doing Liverpool. The voodoo gets broken. The bad guys lose in the end. No matter the egregious error equalizer, no matter the fifty minutes of frustration. Mourinho can't do this every time, United can't do this every time.

Not to this version of Liverpool.

1 comment :

Unknown said...

I just have to say while I am reeling in a euphoric blissful state that I love you. I love your write ups. I love hating Man Utd and I love watching them suffer. I am going to grab the missus, because I am ready!