VAR – with Michael Oliver of all people in charge – actually doing the right thing and it benefits Liverpool for once? Whodathunkit? No one can really argue that it was not an obvious red card. What I found more interesting to observe, yet again, is the impact of the lack of a crowd in the stands. Decisions like this, obvious as they are in the clinical environment of Project Restart, become a lot more challenging, and a whole lot more emotional, with tens of thousands of screaming fans in the stands.
Another useful change and one that I welcome is that it was Paul Tierney, on the field, that got to make the last call. Regardless of the actual outcome, it comes across as much fairer for the referee that we can see them make the call in these situations, rather than the one we can’t in a closed room far away.
Did that red card change the game? I’m not sure. Liverpool were dominating, and the way Sadio Mane showed up today, if he hadn’t been taken down by Andreas Christensen, he would have made it one up. Easily. Kepa had no chance of getting to the ball before Mane did. The pass to him by Hendo was in itself a work of beauty, simple and incisive and all Liverpool. It was still all Liverpool when Mane finally did score for the first time. No team executes these moves better than the Reds, and it never ceases to delight. It also speaks to one of Mane’s essential qualities, which is his remarkable ability to sorta disappear off a defensive unit’s radar for just enough that they get completely disoriented, only for him to suddenly show up a second later, blinking into place like a Pokemon. And just like a cartoon character, his finishing is explosive and deadly.
His second was, to a degree, similar in nature. He lost the ball, jumped up a bit in frustration, and that more or less took Chelsea’s players’ attention off him, as it seemed like he was just going to turn away sulking. In that very moment, Kepa’s fate was sealed. I don’t even know if he realized Mane was closing in on him at the rate that he was, or that he could apparently extend his leg out about ten feet like Inspector Gadget, but there it was, and it was two up, and the game was over.
Since I’m handing out nicknames today, it’s time for another one.
I don’t know about you, but I feel that having Thiago join Liverpool is a massive cause for celebration. I didn’t expect him to play today; players need time to adjust, especially when you’re trying to fit into a system as relentless and demanding as Klopp’s. So when he did start the second half, to let Hendo continue his recovery from that pesky injury he picked up in the off season, my heart was pumping in joy. If there is any player in the world who could just slot in and make a difference in this side, it’s Thiago.
He didn’t disappoint. Not only did he manage to fit in without harming the flow. He actually improved Liverpool’s play. He pressed and he passed, and constantly showed up where he was needed, demanding the ball and quickly handing it off while canceling out a Chelsea player or two. When Wayne Rooney said the title race was done if the Reds got Thiago, it might have seemed bold. It isn’t. There is no other midfield player in the world outside Liverpool’s present squad that would have fit in better. Seeing what he was able to do this early on in the squad must place a grin of epic proportions on the face of every fan, and strike absolute terror into the hearts of the opposition. In this team – especially in this team, with its front three – he becomes a football terrorist of the highest order.
Yes, he gave away a soft penalty, but you could see he tried his hardest to avoid it and that stuff happens. Right there one could also clearly see the difference between buying the then-most expensive keeper in the world who is worth it, and spending even more later on one who isn’t. Alisson didn’t even bother moving off – or on – his line, thereby taking Jorgino completely off his stride and still diving down with those insane reflexes of his to paw the ball away. Let’s not forget that Liverpool still has the best keeper in the world, on top of everything.
As for man of the match, I actually find myself facing a dilemma. Should it be the obvious choice of Sadio Mane? He was sharp as ever, at the peak of his powers, and was rewarded with two notches on his already extensive rifle barrel. Or should it be a player at the other end? Fabinho today played a downright incredible game, and I daresay that were it not for him, one Timo Werner would have found the net, possibly more than once. Liverpool, for all their dominance, could have easily given up one in the first half, except for the presence of the Terminator. The more I think about it, the more I like it. So Fabinho it is.
The Pokemane. The Thiarorist. The Terminator. Why, it’s a regular Umbrella Academy.