Defeat against Manchester City would have been terminal for Liverpool’s already faint Premier League title hopes. They didn’t let it happen. Nevertheless, a sizeable gap still exists between Jurgen Klopp’s team and second-placed City and leaders Arsenal, who were the true winners of this weekend’s action.
Yet, more than the points, this was a deeper victory for Klopp’s Liverpool. In the face of those who say this team is starting to look ‘past it’, they showed that there is still life yet. It was the contingent of Klopp’s dependables — or those who at least were before this challenging start to the season — that laid the groundwork for inflicting defeat on a City side who last lost in the league in February.
Mo Salah’s 76th-minute goal proved decisive with the Egyptian capitalising on a rare Joao Cancelo mis-step before spinning his marker and finishing past Ederson for the only goal of the contest. “Mo played an exceptional game, outstanding, one of two strikers in the centre with Bobby [Roberto Firmino],” Klopp said in reference to the 4-4-2 system that had Salah central. “He was a constant threat in behind and working really hard.”
However, it was Liverpool’s resilience that shone through during this cool autumnal evening. City dominated in the second half, had a goal disallowed for an earlier foul and kept Liverpool fighting for the win until the ninth minute of added time. This was only Liverpool’s third clean sheet of the league campaign and keeping a City team at bay who had scored 13 in their last three league outings was a feather in the cap of Klopp’s defence.
No one impressed as much as Joe Gomez, who relished the confrontation with Erling Haaland. The Liverpool centre-back looked to engage him and matched him physically and for speed. It was a season-defining display and in a period when there is so much debate about the form of English central defenders and concerns over their fitness, here Gomez launched himself into the conversation.
Gareth Southgate, the England manager, wasn’t present at Anfield but will have received a glowing report from his assistant Steve Holland, who was in the crowd for this pulsating affair.
Gomez has played three times since he was jeered by England fans at Wembley after being left with a scratch under his eye following a clash with Raheem Sterling in the canteen at St George’s Park. He suffered a serious knee injury ahead of Euro 2020 and only made four league starts last term. Lesser players would have given up after suffering as much misfortune as Gomez has.
Gomez could make late England burst
Yet, with Ibrahima Konate and Joel Matip both ruled out of Sunday’s game, it was Gomez’s task to partner Virgil van Dijk and withstand City’s pressure. Another few performances like this one combined with the development of John Stones, Harry Maguire and Reece James’s predicaments and a place on the plane to Qatar could be forthcoming.
Gomez is versatile and his statistics against City were immaculate. He was not dribbled past once and won possession 10 times. “It’s just great for Joey that he can show what a player he is,” Klopp said. “He is an outstanding, outstanding talent — a great player and he can play different positions. He was sensational, a mature performance together with Virgil and the two full backs.”
Gomez’s performance was no doubt aided by the presence of Van Dijk, who was back close to his best following close scrutiny of his recent performances. The sign of the Dutch centre half moving through the gears came on 80 minutes when a City attack down the left ended with Cancelo firing in a volleyed cross that was spearing towards Haaland in the middle. Van Dijk, however, watched it all the way and, from underneath the crossbar, headed the ball to safety.
It was calmness personified, but such laid-back defending has bordered on being too casual at times, yet he played with a point to prove.
Klopp went on to praise his entire defence: with Alisson making crucial stops when required and Robertson having a solid game back in the starting XI. But it was the credit laid at the feet of James Milner that was noteworthy. Milner was positioned at right back and up against Phil Foden, who had given his compatriot a torrid time last season and was now playing as an advanced left wing-back.
“I’d like to mention that I am pretty sure before the game a lot of people thought, ‘Oh, James Milner against Phil Foden’. The way James Milner played was absolutely unbelievable. Joey as well. He was on the right side and [both] did pretty well.
“Robbo [Andy Robertson] was there with a top-class game and Virgil as well. Then in the moments when we needed Ali [Alisson], he was there as well. Our defensive line, it was for sure the best game they played this season. It was good, the timing was nearly perfect. That’s the way we have to defend.”