Liverpool beat the only side who had taken points off them so far this season, seeing off Man United at Anfield to march on toward the Premier League title.
Liverpool 2-0 Man United
Premier League, Anfield
January 19, 2020
Goals: Van Dijk 15′, Salah 90+3′
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s second starting chance
As was expected, Fabinho and Joel Matip returned to the squad after injury, but both on the bench—meaning Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started again.
It was a straight call for Jurgen Klopp between Ox and Adam Lallana, and after starting against Spurs this would have been a boost to the No. 15 to get the nod once more.
As was the case at Spurs, Ox was replaced just after the hour mark.
But this was a much-improved performance, important tactically and on the front foot in possession, and his frustration after going to the bench wasn’t needed in this instance, other than for wanting to remain involved.
It was Ox who won the telling corner for the opening goal with his industry and running; and Ox who created several presentable openings with positive passes and bursts into the final third.
With a little more fortune he may have scored in the second half, but it was still a good showing.
Perhaps, though, it just wasn’t the absolutely dominant display he wanted, and which might have prolonged his run in the side.
We don’t know what’s a foul anymore
OK, confusion reigns. Van Dijk was penalised, in the end, for a foul on David de Gea to prevent Roberto Firmino scoring his first Anfield league goal of the season.
The referee didn’t think it was a foul initially, but the VAR was certain it was and expressed surprise that it wasn’t immediately blown up for.
None of Graeme Souness, Roy Keane or Gary Neville thought it was a foul, two of which have rarely if ever given anything 50-50 Liverpool’s way.
Yet there seems an inevitability in the modern age that every time the goalkeeper is touched, the whistle blows accordingly.
In truth, it would have been a total shock if the goal was allowed to stand, such is the level of protection stoppers are usually afforded—and it allowed Victor Lindelof (for losing the ball) and De Gea (for not making the subsequent save) to escape further scrutiny.
The gulf, the gap
If United thought they were doing well enough to warrant being only a goal behind at the break, the Reds came out determined to rectify that misconception.
Within 10 minutes of the second half it could have been two, three or even 4-0, as the Reds clocked up seven shots without reply in a dominant period where United simply couldn’t touch them.
Jordan Henderson went closest as he smashed a shot against the post, but Mane and Oxlade-Chamberlain also had good chances and Firmino left players sprawled on the floor with a brilliant twisting, turning run in the box.
In that period of the game, the distance between what the two clubs are capable of at this moment in time was made abundantly clear, both on the ball and off it while trying to regain possession.
And while the scoreline remained close, the reality was of the Reds being in a different league to their rivals.
Salah finally makes his mark
Mo Salah should have had about four goals—most particularly a close-range effort in the second half which he somehow steered wide after an Andy Robbo cross.
The Egyptian hadn’t scored previously against United and, in the buildup to the game, joked that it was because he was absent on the day that the only game the Reds hadn’t won this season was at Old Trafford.
After a somewhat tight and tense end to the game, Mo made sure none of that mattered: a great show of pace, strength and composure to hold off Daniel James and nutmeg De Gea for 2-0.
That’s 11 league goals for the season, level with Sadio as our top scorer, and his value to the team continues to be shown.
“And now you’re gonna believe us…”
The Anfield crowd decided this was the day we’d let it be known: we feel this is the year, this time we’re going to complete the job.
Of course there’s an element of fear in some parts about tempting fate, giving ammunition for any potential errors, but the truth is this team just don’t look capable of losing so much ground. This is very different to 2014.
Sixteen points clear is an enormous gap at this stage, and the form and determination remains entirely intact.
? "And now you're gonna believe us…" pic.twitter.com/SCqqZXha0k
— This Is Anfield (@thisisanfield) January 19, 2020
Liverpool are back in action on Thursday night, away to Wolves, in what will be an exceptionally tough game, likely harder than the away trip to Spurs was.
Until then, though, we can bask in being 30 clear of United, 30 short of sealing the title.
Now you’re gonna believe us.