Liverpool kept their Champions League hopes alive but endured a rollercoaster ride at Old Trafford, winning 4-2 – though not helped by the referee.
Man United 2-4 Liverpool
Premier League (35), Old Trafford
May 13, 2021
Goals: Fernandes 10′, Rashford 68′; Jota 34′, Firmino 45+3′ 47′, Salah 89′
The Nat Phillips Game
At this stage, it’s probably no longer useful to assess Phillips’ level or his suitability for this Liverpool team. He’s here, he’s the best option they have at the moment and should be supported as such.
In some sections of social media, he’s even approaching some kind of cult hero status, such has been his emergence out of nowhere.
Phillips was involved in pretty much all the first-half talking points.
He scored an own goal to get things going, deflecting Bruno Fernandes’ shot past Alisson with the goal eventually being awarded to the Portuguese.
He won a penalty which was then overturned (more on that below) and provided the assist for the equaliser.
He finished the game having won four aerial duels and having made six clearances, including one off the line.
Regardless of what people think Phillips’ level will be after leaving Liverpool, he’s settled into this team when the club desperately needed him to, and done an admirable job.
Probably not, but YOU’VE SEEN THEM GIVEN. Especially this season.
There have been numerous fouls given throughout this campaign where players have taken the ball and then clattered into the opponent.
There have even been yellow and red cards dished out for supposed reckless follow-throughs.
It’s probably for the best that these aren’t given, as players can’t make their legs magically disappear after kicking the ball.
But judging by pretty much every other instance of this type of challenge this season at least a foul has been given, often more.
With this in mind, as soon as Anthony Taylor went to the monitor the expectation might be for him to change his mind and give a free-kick outside the area.
Then you remember it’s the 2020/21 season and this is Liverpool, and then it became inevitable that the decision was going to get overturned altogether, which is what happened.
Later, the non-yellow card for Scott McTominay after a foul on Sadio Mane, which would have been his second booking, was just another example of Liverpool’s bad luck this season, but they claimed the win nevertheless.
Bobby back with a brace
Going into this game Roberto Firmino only had six goals in 33 starts across all competitions this season. Reaching double figures in 2020/21 seemed completely out of the question.
The best that may have been hoped for after his inclusion in the XI for this game was a tireless pressing performance after being rested against Southampton, and to provide a platform for Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota.
Instead, he was the one on the scoresheet.
The Brazilian netted via a well-executed header having evaded Paul Pogba at the far post at a Trent Alexander-Arnold free-kick, and from being in the right place at the right time as the press was turned up to 11 at the start of the second half.
Ideally, you don’t want a striker scoring 25 percent of their season’s goals in one game, but if you are going to do that then choosing Man United away as that game isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Similar instincts from Firmino from now until the end of the season, especially considering Sadio Mane‘s dip in form, will play an important part in where Liverpool end up in the table.
Just the five key passes for Alexander-Arnold in this game, including an assist for the second goal and effectively an assist for the third as his shot was too hot for Dean Henderson to handle.
The right-back had more touches of the ball than any other player on either side and his performance was reminiscent of those standout displays in previous seasons.
His passing range and accuracy was back, even though this won’t be reflected in the pass success stats (68%), as these are balls into good places rather than always directly to team-mates.
But the ones that did land directly on the feet of team-mates stood out, and he was duly named Man of the Match by Sky.
All of this without mentioning the E word, though Gareth Southgate was present at Old Trafford…
Champions, Europa or Conference?
This win takes Liverpool into fifth having not been above sixth since February. They move above West Ham and are now more comfortable in a Europa League spot, but their aim is still to go one better and qualify for the Champions League.
They are four points behind Chelsea and six behind Leicester and have a game in hand on both. Leicester and Chelsea also have to play each other on Tuesday after they meet in the FA Cup final at the weekend.
Three wins will be enough for Liverpool unless Leicester help themselves to goals against Spurs but also lose to Chelsea.
The players are in no doubt as to the task ahead of them.
“Our objective is, and it’s necessary for us, to win all our remaining games,” Philipps said when interviewed by Sky after the game.
Jurgen Klopp will be reinforcing this but also making sure the players are focused on playing at a level and in a manner that will naturally see them pick up points in the remaining games against West Brom, Burnley and Crystal Palace.