Liverpool put the pressure back on Man City as they returned to the top of the league with an emphatic 5-0 thrashing of relegated Huddersfield at Anfield.
Liverpool 5-0 Huddersfield
Premier League, Anfield
April 26, 2019
Goals: Keita 1′, Mane 23′, 66′, Salah 45+1′, 83′
Even More to Come From Keita
It’s been a difficult debut season for Naby Keita, as the midfielder has taken time to fully settle in and adapt to the tactical demands of his role in the side, and the speed and physicality of the Premier League.
Fans have had to wait longer than expected to see the player who earned rave reviews for his performances at RB Leipzig, but in recent weeks Keita has finally put together a consistent run of form, visibly playing with more confidence and assurance in his own ability.
After goals against Southampton and Porto, he added his third for the club inside 15 seconds, setting a new record for Liverpool’s fastest-ever Premier League goal.
Not only was the finish superbly taken, slotting coolly past Jonas Lossl after collecting Mohamed Salah‘s pass, it was Keita who created the opportunity with an aggressive piece of pressing high up the pitch in the first place, putting Jon Gorenc Stankovic under pressure on the edge of his own box.
Keita’s quality in possession is obvious, and his direct runs and incisive passing add a real cutting edge to Liverpool’s midfield, but once again here he put in a real shift off the ball—as he did against Cardiff last weekend.
One excellent recovery tackle on Steve Mounie early in the second half denied a clear scoring opportunity for the striker.
At times he has appeared somewhat lightweight and easily shaken off the ball by stronger opponents this season, but this was further evidence that he is adapting to the league and growing in stature game by game, which is extremely encouraging ahead of next season.
Speaking to Sky Sports after the game, Klopp described him as the “complete midfielder” who had shown “his best game in all defensive situations.”
Trent and Robbo, Chief Suppliers
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson were named in the PFA Team of the Year this week, as both players have enjoyed outstanding campaigns both as part of the tightest defensive unit in the league, but also as Liverpool’s key creative forces.
They have spoken about their mini assists competition running throughout the season, and both added to their tallies with deliveries of supreme quality.
In what was almost an exact carbon copy of Roberto Firmino‘s goal in the recent 2-1 win against Tottenham, Robertson was afforded the time and space to send another trademark, pinpoint cross into the six-yard box for Sadio Mane to bury with ease.
He then laid on Salah’s second of the game with a low driven ball across the box for his 13th assist of the season, and his 11th in the league—the joint-most of any defender in a single season in Premier League history.
Meanwhile, Trent showcased his superb understanding with Salah, arching a glorious lofted pass into the Egyptian’s path to make it 3-0 on the brink of half-time—taking the No. 66 up to 11 assists.
A combined tally of 24 assists between the pair is a remarkable return and demonstrates the fundamental importance of the full-backs in Klopp’s system, as both Trent and Robertson are producing numbers most midfielders and attackers would be proud of.
What’s more, they’re both still at an age where they can still improve in various aspects of their game, and we can look forward to seeing them both continue to develop next season and beyond.
There surely isn’t a better full-back pairing in Europe at this moment in time.
Mane and Salah Vie for the Golden Boot
While Salah was a notable absentee from the PFA Team of the Year—perhaps harshly overlooked due to the incredibly high bar he set for himself last season—Mane was included, and has enjoyed an exceptional season of his own in front of goal.
Mane stepped up and took responsibility with a succession of vital goals while Salah endured the longest mini-drought of his dazzling Liverpool career, and healthy competition between the pair has seen them share the responsibility this season, with both bagging a brace.
For a player of relatively small physical stature, at 5’10”, Mane has shown a remarkable propensity to pop up with headed goals this season, and demonstrated his positional instinct and technique on two occasions.
Powering past Lossl from Robertson’s cross in the first half, he then cushioned a lovely controlled header into the far corner from Jordan Henderson‘s deep, looping ball in the second half, and could easily have had a hat-trick as he rattled another into the post soon after.
Salah, meanwhile, set a new record for the most goals of any player in their first 100 appearances for Liverpool, registering his 69th for the club.
He also became just the third Liverpool player to score 20 Premier League goals in consecutive seasons, joining Robbie Fowler and Luis Suarez.
His deft, dinked finish in the first half, followed by a simple tap-in in the second, took him up to 25 for the season, and 21 in the league—putting him one clear of Mane in the Golden Boot race, and two clear of the rest of the chasing pack.
For Mane, he has scaled new heights and enjoyed the finest season of his career, and while Salah’s total is still some way short of his sensational 44-goal haul last term, it has been another outstanding campaign for the Egyptian and the duo have pushed each other on to great effect for the benefit of the team.
Liverpool Show They’re Going Nowhere
It would have been very easy to have been disheartened in the wake of City overcoming two big hurdles in beating both Tottenham and Man United—two games many had pinned their hopes on for Pep Guardiola’s side to drop points.
For fans, it was hard to watch, but Liverpool showed absolutely no signs of being remotely affected by City’s winning run, and were completely focused from the first whistle against Huddersfield, sending out a booming message that they simply won’t go away and will battle until the very end.
The three points and the manner of the victory was hugely impressive given the pressure and expectation to deliver, and it means the onus is now on City to go Turf Moor and win again in what could be an awkward encounter against Sean Dyche’s stubborn Burnley.
Klopp has spoken publicly about the importance of Liverpool focusing on their own job and doing everything to reach their own target of 97 points by winning every single remaining fixture, and he will have been delighted with what he saw against Huddersfield, with no signs of nerves or complacency setting in at any stage.
Liverpool have now surpassed the points tally of Arsenal‘s iconic 2003/04 ‘Invincibles’ side, with 91 points on the board with two games left to play.
It’s a phenomenal return, regardless of whether it ultimately brings glory, and is something to be proud of.
It may or may not turn out to be enough to surpass City come the end of the season, but Liverpool are doing everything possible to take the title race all the day—you can’t ask for any more than that at this stage.
One Eye Looking Ahead to Barcelona
Klopp took no unnecessary risks with his team selection, as both Fabinho and Roberto Firmino were notable absentees from the matchday squad, while Joel Matip was rested as Dejan Lovren stepped in to take his place.
After Fabinho had to be withdrawn almost immediately after coming on against Cardiff due to a head injury, the club are clearly taking a very cautious approach before throwing him back in—perhaps in light of the Loris Karius debacle last season.
Firmino, on the other hand, reportedly suffered a minor muscle strain in training, which Klopp described as “not a big thing,” and he was confident enough to leave him out entirely and give Daniel Sturridge a rare outing—perhaps his last start for the club.
The two Brazilians will be key for Liverpool over the two legs against Barcelona, and this was the kind of fixture Liverpool knew they could afford to leave them out in and still get a comprehensive victory, while giving both players extra recovery time ahead of Wednesday’s trip to the Nou Camp.
Gini Wijnaldum was also notably given a breather for the final 20 minutes, and the Dutchman will surely also be central to Klopp’s plans for Barcelona.
The manner of the game went as perfectly as Klopp could have hoped, with Liverpool storming into a commanding half-time lead.
And therefore they were able to cruise to a comfortable victory without having to overly exert themselves in the second half and save some legs for what will be an energy-sapping task in Catalonia.