As the Terminator sent an aptly-described fab-ulous ball forward towards Gabriel and Salah for the second goal, with the stands empty, you could clearly hear Jurgen Klopp’s emphatic cry ringing through the stadium. He liked what he saw. Salah did too, as he waited patiently to muscle the ball off the wrong-footed defender, then squirrel closer to Leno and pass between his legs into the far corner. Even when not at his best, even while suffering from a minor crisis of confidence that causes him to get his feet wrong in tricky situations, the golden boot leader still somehow had the presence of mind to nutmeg the plenty excellent German international in a cheeky finish.
Say what you will of the Egyptian, he is a natural phenomenon.
That elongated Klopp cry, accompanying the ball as it did for the long second it took to travel the forty or fifty yards, gave me an instant title for this column. It felt like more, much more than mere appreciation for his defensive midfielder’s vision. Indeed, it sounded like an explosive release of stored frustration, an exclamation akin to one big ol’ “FINALLY!” pouring out in a singular moment of joy, even ecstasy. At half-time, my friend with whom I was watching the game, a Gunners fan, described to me an amazing experiment they ran a couple of years ago to test Ronaldo’s ability to strike an incoming cross in pitch darkness, just based on his finely-honed scorer’s instincts and ability to read exactly where the ball would end up without actually seeing it. That Klopp cry was one of someone who has been there for a long time, and somehow knew how it would end up.
And so it did.
Speaking of the time before the half, the game was far more even then, and I think that had I not had such great company, I might have gotten… well, bored. Both teams played their normal game, Liverpool dominating possession, Arsenal soaking it in and looking for the break. Yet neither team did anything particularly special, apart from one absolute sitter that Milner somehow failed to put in the net even after having an eternity to plan for it and the pass being laid perfectly at his feet by Trent. Had Liverpool failed to win, Millie would have had nightmares about that miss.
He still might.
Speaking of Trent, he seemed determined to prove Gareth Southgate wrong about dropping him from the England squad, and boy, did he ever. Amongst players who opened the game, he was the clear and obvious man-of-the-match. His one-touch cross for Jota’s opener was vintage Trent, a peach of a ball that had to be top-notch perfect in placement and shape in order to even give Jota the lots he still had to do to bullet it past Leno. It was a brilliant goal, and one that must have been utterly demoralizing to Arsenal. Otherwise, one cannot explain the mental collapse that followed. Manchester City would have placed five or six in the opposition’s net over the next twenty-five minutes. Liverpool is still struggling to get out of the slump, so it only ended three up, but on a day where Chelsea loses at home to West Brom, this result completely opens up the race for top-four. Also, don’t look too hard, but the Reds appear to be building up a little steam.
Even so, my actual man-of-the-match is, as it must be, Diogo Jota. His impact on the game was immediate and decisive. His statistic of eight goals in thirteen premier league appearances is misleading, because he was a sub in most of them. His first today was fantastic; his second was not any less so, because it effectively converted another Sadio Mane bungled opportunity into a ball in the far corner of the net. Even after Jota was running back from the goal, his hands aloft, Mane still seemed to register a mild look of surprise, as if wondering where the heck Jota popped from to finish it.
Indeed, Sadio and Bobby are the most deeply infected with the confidence virus. We can only hope they get over it soon.
The Blancos are next. That promises to be quite a different game. Still, if Liverpool is really finding its form, now, at this moment, then the season can still end with plenty of glory. After scratching that league title itch last season, ol’ Big Ears is arguably back to being a tastier target, anyway.