Liverpool finally earned their first league win of 2017 with a stylish performance against 2nd placed Tottenham Hotspur to keep their hopes of Champions League football alive.
It reached a point where it seemed Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool had forgotten how to win a game with the Reds failing to secure three points in the league since their gritty win over Manchester City on New Year’s Eve.
Saturday however was a welcome result for the German boss as his team dug deep and managed to rattle an in-form Tottenham side to keep themselves in the mix for a top four finish.
Sadio Mane was on the money as he netted two first half goals in as many minutes to give his side a crucial victory on the night.
Jurgen Klopp was back to his gleeful self as he lauded his side’s response to their form in recent weeks. The boss praised a number of individual performances and singled out Mane, Wijnaldum and Firmino for special praise.
Even Mauricio Pochettino was left to concede the superiority of the Reds on the night and he ended up questioning his own side’s title credentials after an evidently poor performance.
Only two points separate the 2nd and 6th placed teams in the league with Manchester City still left with a game to play. The loss, however, meant that a victory at Turf Moor on Sunday could send Chelsea 12 points clear at the top of the table.
That established, the Hard Tackle would now like to discuss some key talking points from the crunch Premier League clash at Anfield.
One ‘Mane’ Show
Sadio Mane officially returned to what he does best with a sizzling double to spear-head a stellar victory for Liverpool.
Since his return to Liverpool following a heart-breaking quarter-final exit at the African Cup of Nations, Mane hadn’t quite provide his side with the fizz and edge in attack that made them a force to be reckoned with not many months ago.
But Anfield was witness to £34 million worth of magic from the Senegalese forward on Saturday as he almost single-handedly threatened to demolish Spurs in a matter of ten devastating first-half minutes.
He could have quite easily had a hat-trick under 20 minutes had it not been for Hugo Lloris in goal as the Frenchman made some crucial saves to ensure his side remained within touching distance of Liverpool.
The Reds boast a high win percentage in the presence of Mane and with sufficient gap between fixtures henceforth till the end of the campaign, Klopp can expect his side to recreate their early season form to launch a proper push for the Champions League places.
If Mane was spectacular, so was his fellow summer signing Georginio Wijnaldum. After massive goals against Chelsea and Manchester City, the Dutchman once again came out trumps on the big occasion against Tottenham delivering a stellar performance including an assist for Mane’s first goal.
Wijnaldum’s performance along with the rest of the Liverpool midfield should effectively make Klopp’s mind up over the partnership he must opt for at the centre of the park. Despite not scoring, this was arguably the 26-year-old’s best performance in a Reds shirt overshadowing his performance against City.
Georginio Wijnaldum vs Spurs tonight:
89% pass accuracy
3 tackles won
2 aerial duels won
1 chance created
1 assist. pic.twitter.com/mXFctHZrFA
— UberLiverpoolFC (@UberLiverpooI) February 11, 2017
A little more consistency and Wijnaldum could go on to become a fan favourite at Anfield, as though he already isn’t.
Immense performance from Firmino
Roberto Firmino has at times been a shining light in Liverpool’s barren run of performances in January, notably against Swansea, and was at it once more as the Reds finally looked in good shape again.
The Brazilian’s work-rate in the centre-forward role is precisely why he is consistently preferred over Daniel Sturridge and Saturday was once again evidence of that.
Sturridge scored a brace the last time the two teams met back in October during a quarter-final encounter in the League Cup but he didn’t get any sniff of action on Saturday.
Although the decision to not sub him on later on was down to Klopp taking it defensive in the closing stages of the game, his lack of starts is purely down to his lesser work-rate compared to Firmino.
Klopp has been as appreciative of Liverpool’s work off the ball as they do while holding possession and he highly rates Firmino in this regard.
Klopp: “Roberto Firmino – I don’t think I’ve seen a better game from a striker without scoring!
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) February 11, 2017
Are Liverpool truly back in business?
At the risk of sounding overtly pessimistic, I’d question the rousing optimism surrounding the club’s performance following a big game, especially considering how they have then gone on to perform against the smaller teams.
While there are no doubts about their mentality on occasions as big as Saturday, it’ll be worth watching henceforth if they can reproduce similar kind of performances against teams in lower positions.
Liverpool’s performance certainly came as a welcome breath of fresh air but it wasn’t surprising either considering the attacking nature of Tottenham’s style of play.
The Reds have had little problem outperforming their opponents in attack this season. And Spurs’ attacking football played into the Merseysiders’ hands on a night when they clearly showed more fight and desire for the end result than the Londoners did.
It is against teams that decide to sit deep that Liverpool have distinctly failed to penetrate lacking zing and creativity in build-up and the edge in the final third.
That said, with ample time between fixtures from now up until the end of the season, the players will be fresh and raring to give it a go each week and Klopp’s side will have to take advantage of that to extract the favourable results.
With both the Manchester clubs hot on their heels, Liverpool can’t afford any slip-ups henceforth if they’re harbouring dreams of Champions League football next season, let alone the outlandish prospects of a Premier League title.
Title hopes down the drain once more for Spurs?
Saturday’s capitulation left Spurs boss questioning his side’s title credentials as they handed Chelsea a glorious opportunity to open up a 12 point lead at the top with a visit to Turf Moor on Sunday.
A victory over Chelsea early on in January to end their 13-match winning streak was a massive statement of intent from Spurs and the North-Londoners have since been sounded out as challengers to the title alongside their high-flying rivals from East-London.
After impressive performances in recent weeks mirroring Liverpool’s and Arsenal’s poor run, many pinned their final hopes on Tottenham to do the catching up with Chelsea.
Having lost out on the Premier League title last year to Leicester City, it looks like the Lilywhites have once again squashed hopes of nicking it off their city rivals this time around with the loss at Anfield.
With thirteen games still left to be played all hope isn’t lost. Pochettino will expect a solid response from his team in the weeks ahead and hope to secure Champions League football.