Liverpool were left to rue errors at the back as they let the lead slip and lost 2-1 at Arsenal on Wednesday night, thus ending any hope of reaching 100 points this season.
Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool
Emirates Stadium, Premier League (36)
15 July, 2020
Goals: Mane 20′; Lacazette 32′, Nelson 44′
Ox opportunity not taken
Many thought Naby Keita might get a recall, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got the nod from Jurgen Klopp, who said he wanted the “dynamic” former Arsenal man in the side to try and penetrate the Gunners’ back five.
To that end, the former Arsenal man made some good runs into the channels and into the penalty box, getting beyond the three forwards at times.
But the actual on-the-ball productivity was lacking. A couple of crosses and a long-range shot on target aside, Ox’s impact on the attacking play was minimal, more perspiration than inspiration.
Rhythm has been hard to come by and Ox has been shifted around positionally, too, but it has been some time now since his last top performance even in midfield.
With Keita having come back in great form since the restart, there’s a clear order of merit developing with Ox needing to do more to get near the top.
Subbed once again on the hour mark, with Keita showing more in the half-hour thereafter.
Mane deserves appropriate terms of respect
The way people talk about Virgil van Dijk as being without peer. The way Kevin de Bruyne is rightly fawned over as the most dangerous, ingenious and consistent attacking midfielder in the game.
That’s what Sadio Mane is, as a creative forward.
That’s how Liverpool’s No. 10 should be spoken about.
Mane is a phenomenal footballer: a non-stop dynamo of immense work rate, a fluid mover who can gallop or glide past challenges and a clinical decision-maker in the final third who can create or finish with equal precision.
In a normal year with a normal timespan to look back over, he absolutely waltzes to player of the year.
His eventual goal was a close-range finish, but it came after link play, clever movement and an ability to evade every defender in a crowded box.
Lack of focus costly
£130 million on those two, and this is what we get?! (Because this is the internet… that’s a joke…)
If even Alisson and Virgil van Dijk are making defensive errors which lead to goals, we know that the level of intensity, concentration and demands for excellence within the squad have slipped.
It’s natural, unhelpful, irritating and unfortunate. It doesn’t blemish the season in any way, it just stops one or two footnotes being added to it, such as the points record.
But listen: we’d all prefer they made those mistakes now, rather than at the start of next term because they’d mentally burned out after effectively a year-long 2019/20 campaign.
Just get them all out of your systems before September, yeah?
Shaq is back but questions remain
Same questions as usual, then: are Liverpool’s second string good enough to help mount a challenge on all fronts? Next season, obviously.
It’s looking like the same group, give or take one or two (actually just take, according to some reports), meaning Shaqiri, Divock Origi, Takumi Minamino will be the alternatives is the starting three aren’t firing on all cylinders. None have scored since the restart. Shaq has only just come back onto the pitch – his first appearance since January.
It’s great to see him back, but it seems likely to be a farewell appearance as much as anything, with bids from overseas expected for the winger.
If no recruits are added, there’s either going to have to be a massive step-up in input from Minamino, or Curtis Jones will need to have one hell of an impact.
Asking the front three to have yet another relentless, injury-free, clinical season each is only asking for trouble.
One week to trophy-lift
Anfield, the Kop, Wednesday night.
That’s when Liverpool will really, officially, properly be crowned, as the Reds receive the Premier League trophy after the match against Chelsea.
We’ve a week until then, a full week of recovery, preparation, improvements, focus and watching our upcoming opponents in the FA Cup.
The actual games feel a bit ‘box-checking’ for the Reds right now, but the trophy is ours and it’s on the way.
We await to see if we get the fully patented Jordan Henderson shuffle iconic moment of the ages, but either way, next week will bring the day that 30 years of waiting, between one league championship trophy and the next, finally draws to a close.
Champions of everything.