How good was Nat Phillips today?
I used the exact same opening in my column following the last game against the Hammers, and they apply equally well today. With all the concerns about not having any healthy senior centerbacks, the Reds sure seem able to handle things in the back anyway, and it has not been the defensive end that has caused too much trouble so far. I realize that with Salah’s performance, my choice here is not going to be popular, but let’s start by stating this: just like in the last game vs West Ham, Nat – our sixth or maybe even seventh in line at his position, if we count Hendo and Fab – is my man-of-the-match. He did well throughout in his role but most importantly, pretty much broke Michail Antonio, and the Hammers simply could not overcome that.
Speaking of Salah, it seems like he is also a fan of playing West Ham, adding two more goals to his consistently increasing tally, both in general and against them in particular. He has now scored five times in three games (the wrongly disallowed one against Spurs counts because, for our purposes, it should), and is looking sharp as ever. Both of his strikes were magnificent and they were both all Salah. The opener, a left-footed curveball into the far corner around three or four defenders is so classic him that everyone knew it was coming; it’s just that when he’s in the zone, he’s nigh unstoppable with that move. His second, which came at the end of a breathtakingly Liverpool kind of move, showed him at his irrepressible best, bringing down a fabulous yet difficult-to-control pass from Shaq so kindly that the ball seemed to forget the laws of physics, and then instantly switching feet to dink it gracefully behind poor Fabianski who had simply no chance at all. There aren’t a lot of players who can execute this kind of move so flawlessly – Liverpool actually has another one in Bobby Firmino, when he’s in form – but then there’s Salah, who makes it look so ridiculously effortless.
Gini added a third after another classic Liverpool build-up play, with all the right moves happening rapidly and at the right time, with the beautiful backheel from Ox to Bobby setting him up to provide the assist. When we hear Klopp talking about the decision making in the final third, this is what it’s about, and the Reds really do seem to have gotten over their little slump, which in reality didn’t last that long. Just as crucially, they are doing so while rotating the squad. Origi, for example, was mostly MIA today, but he gave Bobby some much needed rest, and that matters.
It may be fitting that in their war against their own cumulative tiredness and mental exhaustion, the Reds needed a couple of, well, clashes at the capital (all puns intended) to break the spell. Both Spurs and West Ham are in-form, and if one had to consider the likelihood of dropping points in this moment, it certainly would have seemed more likely to happen in these games than, say, against Burnley at Anfield. The Hammers look set to continue on, and Dawson’s late goal was very much the kind of goal they have been scoring all season; they haven’t lost their touch. Momentum builds slowly, but with a team like Liverpool, it can become irresistible – just as it can for their chief rivals in the last three seasons, that other team from Manchester.
Guess who’s coming to Anfield next weekend?
I can’t wait.