Champions of Europe and now of planet Earth: Liverpool are world-beaters after a 1-0 extra time-win over Brazilian side Flamengo in Qatar.
Liverpool 1-0 Flamengo (AET)
Club World Cup Final, Khalifa International Stadium
December 21, 2019
Goals: Firmino 99′
Priority established, midfield aligned
No mistaking what Liverpool wanted to achieve here: after recent weeks of rotation and rest for much of the squad, this was a strongest-available lineup for the Club World Cup final.
It might not be the competition of the highest priority in the eyes of some, but the squad have been consistent in their message that it’s a trophy they wanted to their name, a trophy which will write their names further into Liverpool Football Club history.
With Fabinho and Gini Wijnaldum out, Jordan Henderson took up the base of midfield role, with Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the offensive outlets either side; the first-choice front line was in and so too was the defence of early 2018/19, rather by default of being the last men standing.
The one alteration to usual was Ox playing left, Naby right of the midfield three, when both have typically featured in the opposite role.
Even so, the intent was apparent and the desire to win from all parties was clear.
Flamengo threat and the Gomez afterburners
Liverpool might have started both halves the better, but Flamengo certainly had their chances and spells in the game where they controlled the possession.
Much of their best work came down their left, the Reds’ right, where Trent had his hands full with Bruno Henrique, the best outlet for the Brazilians with his pace, trickery and direct running.
More than once, it was the insurance policy inside of Trent who saw off the danger: Joe Gomez.
His pace helped him produce a crucial block after Henrique had gotten the wrong side of the Reds’ full-back, while he also produced headers and clearances when Liverpool needed them.
Add in his willingness to push on with the ball to evade the first line of the press and fire forward passes, and the Gomez of early 2018/19 was very much on display here.
This was all the more important given Virgil van Dijk was somewhat below his perfectionist best at times, likely as a result of overcoming illness in the past day or so.
With Trent naturally looking to be higher upfield, Gomez was often the cover down the channel and produced a big display all-round—comforting with the injuries Liverpool have, but also showing last year’s run of form was no fluke or one-off.
Rubbish refs at showpiece events
Over an over, we see the same issue arise in big international games: the referee trying to make themselves seen, heard and felt, when they should be the exact opposite.
Qatar’s Abdulrahman Al Jassim was absolutely desperate to be the centre-point of the match, elongating every discussion and over-acting the most minor of decisions needing to be made.
It’s not about you, mate.
At times the need to be on camera was painfully evident, calling players back for big gesticulations and making a big deal out of hushing those who questioned his frankly amateurish calls.
He missed a scissor-tackle on Mane, an obvious block on Keita running through by Filipe Luis and a headlock on Henderson for a penalty from a corner, and that was just in the first half.
It wasn’t all against the Reds either, as he gave a free-kick for Oxlade-Chamberlain losing his footing and slipping to ground.
Particular second-half highlights were a foul being given against Keita, seemingly for dribbling past Filipe Luis, who then fell over, and Salah being booked for beating Vitinho to the ball.
It’s hard to know if the performance is to try and prove his ability is on a par with prominent South American or European contemporaries, or to give the host nation a bigger role in the 90-minute final.
Either way, it’s not the first time we’ve seen officials from smaller nations try to impose their ‘skills’ on showpiece events, and this one again failed to get it right.
How much do you reckon he loved a 93rd-minute VAR check?
Firmino’s non-stop impact
This might not have been vintage Firmino, but even without hitting his very best form, his importance to the team was apparent throughout.
Movement and hard work come as standard from the No. 9, but in both halves of the pitch he was relentless and vital.
Firmino arguably missed Liverpool’s two best chances in the 90 minutes, one right at the start of either half: over the bar the first, onto the post the second.
But he also scored the goal which has seen the Reds crowned champions of the world, with a fantastic surge of stamina, plenty of composure and timing at the crucial moment.
Bobby also provided a fantastic through-pass which could have led to an earlier winner, setting away Mane for the free shot-penalty-no penalty VAR nonsense in injury time.
And, defensively, he produced two vital headed clearances around his own six-yard box line, one from a cross and one from a corner.
Immense, important and irresistible.
Back to business with a table-top clash
While the Reds were playing in Doha, the Premier League‘s second- and third-placed teams were fighting it out back home.
Leicester took the lead, but Man City prevailed 3-1 in the end—meaning, with a game in hand, the Reds have a 10-point lead at the top of the table.
Our next fixture, of course, comes on Boxing Day—away to second-place Leicester.
Positives? They’ve now dropped four points from their last two games, as the Reds’ closest challengers.
Negatives? They’ll be up for this game more than any other, and Jurgen Klopp‘s squad looks likely to be without another option after Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury.
Win that one and we’ll be flying rapidly towards being champions of England, Europe and the world, all at once.
This trip, the essential forfeiting of the League Cup, was all about another trophy, and on the day there were a string of good performers—captain Henderson particularly prevalent among them—who ensured the right outcome for the Reds.
It was just one of seven tasks we started the season with though; two have been won, four are over and done with, and the trophy cabinet gets a little bit bigger.
Back to the major tasks now for this formidable side.