As much as it was lovely to see Liverpool play again a few days ago at Goodison, that game was at best forgettable. The team looked uninspired, even dull, and one had to wonder if the impact of the pandemic break was going to be more pronounced than simply a few months without football. It’s not that the championship was in danger; it would happen this season, no matter what. But would all those tantalizing records be broken? Would it end up in a whimper after all?
Today provided an answer in the form of an emphatic, resounding no. Or rather, NO!!!
Klopp’s men came on the pitch with purpose, oozing determination and class. The knives were resharpened. Clearly having the first eleven helped, with Robertson and Salah displaying, at times in tantalizing fashion, why they are some of the best in the world in their respective roles. But everybody else showed up too. Five minutes in, there was already little question that Liverpool would win. When Palace unfortunately lost Zaha to injury a few minutes later, removing their creative engine, it merely became a question of “by how much?”
It ended up with four, but it could easily have been eight.
For most of the game, the Reds simply toyed with the Eagles. It looked like a practice session, where one team is assigned to attack, the other to defense. A textbook execution of patient pressing play was rewarded with three quarters possession, and a ridiculous margin in attempts off (21-3) and on (8-0) goal. Even those numbers are misleading, as Liverpool’s style is focused on generating better chances and foregoing marginal ones. Put another way, if you wanted to understand what this version of the team looks like, and why it has been so dominant for the entire season, simply queue up this game and watch it again.
You would be forgiven for wondering if it was a practice match. Seeing Liverpool produce such a beautiful example of their impressive modern style in front of an empty Anfield, a Kop devoid of its members and their ball-sucking power, was downright eerie. And then there were those goals.
Goodness me, every one of them is a worthy goal of the week. At least one – Fabinho’s – should be a contender for goal of the season. Is started with Trent Alexander-Messi’s perfect free kick, and what kept flashing in my mind was those videos I saw of the team during the break playfully competing for who was best at hitting different targets in a set amount of attempts. Trent killed it then, and he killed it in exactly the same way here. There was no way Hennessy was getting to it, even if you made him nine feet tall. The Terminator’s pass to Salah for the second was classic Liverpool and so gorgeous, it deserved a sublime finish, which is exactly what it got. But fantastic as both goals were, they ended up paling in comparison with what Fabinho did next. Another patient build-up, side to side, and he ends up with the ball thirty yards out, the Palace defense busy trying to keep track of all those red shirts cantering joyfully around them. Out of nowhere, he pulls out his cannon, aims at the far post, and strikes the ball so cleanly and with so much power, it felt like a Magnetron exploded. Hennessy had no chance with that one, either. The grin on Fab’s face afterwards told the entire story. Let us also not forget the last one, an incredibly skilled combination play between the front three that gave Mane a golden opportunity, which he slotted in calmly, pointedly, and murderously. That was Liverpool at its absolutely finest, quick, effective, efficient, and most of all, harmonious. A goal that was a sweet melody.
Can you even imagine how Anfield would have erupted seeing any one of these? Let alone all four?
Martin Atkinson played the devil – again – but the way the Reds were playing today, it didn’t matter. Still, two penalties should have been awarded, and I’m beginning to wonder if VAR is even happening in this strange ending to the season. It was absolutely lovely to see the youngsters, and Neco Williams in particular in his premier league debut showing remarkable sparks of Trentiness. One has to sit back and admire that somehow Liverpool seems to have manufactured ANOTHER one. I’m also supposed to pick a man of the match, and I’m torn, because so many players were excellent. Should it be Gomez, who keeps impressing? Fabinho, for being everywhere, for his marvelous assist, and then that wonder goal? But in the end, I am going to pick Sadio Mane, who was the sharpest of all. He plays as if he never stopped, and screw the virus.
Liverpool may yet get its guard of honor at the Etihad, should Chelsea prove inspired enough to strip points off of the Citizens tomorrow. I’m in two minds about that, as part of me wants to see Liverpool win it there. Be that as it may, the thirty-year long and agonizing wait is surely over. And should this have been Liverpool’s last game as Champions-elect, they could not have done it in more style.