A lot was made of a weakened Manchester United losing to Leicester City on Tuesday night, an outcome that was part of a domino effect set in motion by the events of a week last Sunday.
Liverpool could either go all Neil Warnock at Sheffield United about it, complaining bitterly forevermore, or they could offer a positive response. Jurgen Klopp opted for the latter scenario, as his team successfully outclassed opponents that have always had an inflated opinion of themselves.
Tuesday was peculiar. The few United fans that cross my social media radar seemed to be in a buoyant mood on the back of their loss to Brendan Rodgers’ side. On one hand it was a result that was not overly helpful to Liverpool’s cause, while on the other, it did not stop claims being thrown out by them that United would be closer to Manchester City next season than Liverpool would.
This was a train of thought that had to ignore the obvious limitations of United’s shadow players, of course. Where is the fun in facing up to reality, when your last title win is stretching into the distant past?
If United do not win the Premier League next season, then by the time their next chance rolls around, it will have been a full decade since they won it. We have been there ourselves; we know how that works. One decade can easily become two; two decades can swiftly morph into three.
Arguably a game between two teams in false positions, there is no way a fully functioning contemporary Liverpool reach this stage of the season needing a perfect and possibly high-scoring end to the campaign just to scrape into a Champions League berth.
As for the team from Old Trafford, they have some undeniably compelling elements, but they also have some glaring weaknesses. They have resorted to resembling the United I grew up knowing them to be: fanciful notions of greatness, that yields the occasional cup, to offset their frustrations in the league being out of reach.
Long may Ole Gunnar Solskjær continue to take two steps forward, two to the side, and two backwards. It kind of makes him difficult to sack, while simultaneously being unable to bridge the gap to the likes of Klopp, Pep Guardiola, and Thomas Tuchel. When push comes to shove, part of Solskjær will always be the manager that was relegated, and then sacked, at Cardiff City.
A fine victory on Thursday evening, it still leaves Liverpool still needing to do likewise against teams piloted by Sam Allardyce, Sean Dyche and Roy Hodgson. Easier said than done given how we have struggled against meat and potato teams managed by meat and potato managers this season.
However, we have now cultivated something that has been sorely missing for much of the last 12 months, a sense of being upwardly mobile.
Not all, but many of Liverpool’s players are beginning to look like they are enjoying playing football again. If they can win the next three games, to rescue something positive from a wretched campaign, then there is scope to take that momentum into next season.
There were concerns here and there, but given we conceded two goals, Alisson had the occasional brain freeze, and Nat Phillips effectively scored an own goal, our goalkeeper and entire back line were quite imperious.
Trent Alexander-Arnold was a vision of perfection, Andy Robertson was everywhere, Rhys Williams didn’t put a foot wrong, and Phillips’s response to earlier misfortune was to be denied a clear penalty by a manc ref, via a succession of slow-motion replays, making an assist for the equaliser, clearing one off the line, that otherwise would have meant us going 3-3, and being an all-round obstacle to the home side’s hopes of finding a way back into the game. He is having the absolute time of his life.
In midfield, Thiago was arguably the best of the collective, while Fabinho and Gini Wijnaldum orbited him effectively. Subtly, it was here where the game was won and lost. Curtis Jones aside, who made an important cameo appearance, with little other options in terms of a Plan B, then the midfield’s Plan A had to work.
Added to this, in the front-three, Bobby Firmino has rightly been under the spotlight for his performances this season but this was more like it from him. While Mo Salah’s unerring magnificence has been the brightest aspect from a largely abject season, and this game was no different. Diogo Jota complimented both perfectly, much to the displeasure of Sadio Mane.
I personally do not have a problem with Mane’s snub of Klopp at the end of the game. He is frustrated, he cares, and he wants to succeed. Mane is a player that thrives on momentum, in the same way Firmino does. Within this, the downturns are very pronounced, to the point that in extreme circumstances they almost become pantomime villains.
Players of immense talent overcome these losses of form. Hopefully, this is the springboard for Firmino to bounce through the remaining games of the season; hopefully, Mane can follow Firmino’s example at Old Trafford during the remaining games of the season.
I think that we were always going to find this season a difficult one, even had stadiums been full, and the injury list a little kinder. We had put so much intensity into the previous three seasons, that a dip would only be natural. A campaign where we caught our breath, before breaking into a sprint once more.
Much of this will depend upon key components returning to fitness, and the potential freshening up of the squad during a summer where a high-profile departure might be needed in order to fund significant arrivals.
First thing is first though, West Brom away. If we cannot clear that hurdle, then we can hardly claim with a straight face that we deserve Champions League qualification.