As the final whistle sounded, I threw down my streaming remote in frustration, an emotion shared by untold millions of Liverpool fans around the globe. But mixed in with that was a sense of awe at the outstanding performance I had just watched of the England national keeper.
Nick Pope single-handedly stole a completely undeserved point for Burnley, resetting a bunch of statistical record streaks (wins at home and after going one-up being two of them), destroying one notable potential record in the making (perfect home record in a season), and making the Reds’ job of trying to break the century point-mark a lot more difficult. They will now need to win every game of the three they have left, two of them away.
Not that you need me to state it, but Pope is the obvious man-of-the-match.
The way he frustrated Salah and Mane, in particular, was truly inspiring if you were anyone but a merseysider, and even then you had to be impressed. Similar to his counterpart on the opposite end of the pitch, he exhibited amazing catlike instincts. And in similar vein to Alisson’s effect on opposing attackers, you could see the impact of his impossible saves on Liverpool’s front three as the game got to the business end. I don’t know if Salah would have missed the obvious opportunities he had (one going skyward, the other a helpless effort he would normally score sleepwalking), or if Bobby would have hit the post, or if Mane would have fluffed his shots, but for all three of them to do so in the second half of one game was indicative of their mindset. They were trying maybe a bit too hard, because getting the ball past Pope seemed impossible except if the shot was absolutely perfect.
Which, to his immense credit, Robbo’s header was. From any angle you watch it, it was a breathtaking effort, in my mind easily topping the charts for “headed goal of the season”. You can’t do it any better than that, and it is exactly what was required to get one over the Burnley “postman” (is that a term? I don’t think it’s a term). All credit to Rodriguez for the presence of mind he showed with the well-struck equalizer, which in reality gave Alisson no chance at all, but felt run-of-the-mill, and something that Nick Pope, on this day, would have somehow teleported to stop had it come at the other end.
Youngsters Jones and Williams gave respectable performances, even as the former also seemed to be bewitched by the guy in yellow, and missed at least one obvious opportunity to impress even more. Still, you get a feeling that, in a game like this, we needed our injured skipper, if only for the sense of purpose he can provide when things aren’t going smoothly.
There are no two ways about it. Liverpool should have won by a decent margin, but didn’t. Beyond Pope himself, all credit to the Clarets, their organization, patience and dogged determination, and in so many ways, to their highly impressive manager. I wrote after the game at Turf Moor in the early season that “Mr Dyche will get the England post some day”, and I stand by that. What he continues to do with the resources and talent at his disposal is nothing short of astonishing, and good as his keeper is, his actual position at the top of the golden glove race is one testament to that. A potential place in European football next season may just be another.
Liverpool, maybe more than any other team in the league, really needs and relies on its fans to push them forward. With no Kop to suck the ball in to the net, a bit of the magic is gone. Honestly, though, as I read back this column, I must pause and remind myself that statistical records notwithstanding, the Reds are impossibly early champions, and seven (!) guards of honor in rapid succession is not something that anyone is likely to see again anytime soon, maybe even in my lifetime.
So here’s to that.