Saturday, 21 November 2015

Manchester City 1-4 Liverpool: Post-Match Thoughts

Today, Liverpool finally showed what fans have been desperate to see since August. When Firmino joined our ranks in the summer there was great excitement – a creative midfielder renowned for perfectly timed runs and a good end product, the yang to Coutinho’s yin. However, until now, this dream of a perfectly balanced Brazilian partnership has been hampered by the poor form of Coutinho and a series of knocks and niggles suffered by Firmino. Against Manchester City, however, it all clicked into place. The two of them ran the show, particularly in the first half; a dazed City defence couldn’t handle the passing and movement of the skilled pair, and were three behind within half an hour. Firmino bagged a goal and two assists, and would have had a hattrick had it not been for the excellent performance of Joe Hart; Coutinho also clocked up a goal and assist. A moment of magic from Aguero following some shambolic defending temporarily put a slight dampener on proceedings, but the party mood was very much revived by a fearsome half-volley from Martin Skrtel of all people.

I was trying to think of a way to work it subtly into the article, but I think I’m just going to come out and say it – I’m feeling quite smug right now. I have consistently defended Firmino against those who have written him off ridiculously early, and I even brought him into my fantasy team recently: I was confident that he could deliver for us, and today he gave us a taste of what he can bring to our team. He was definitely man of the match for me – no mean feat on a day when every single player put in a good shift – and everything good we produced seemed to involve him in one way or another. His link-up with Coutinho was especially impressive: the second goal in particular saw them combine exquisitely, with Firmino slotting a pinpoint ball through to his compatriot who finished coolly. Considering his limited game time up to now, this partnership was particularly impressive – he seems to naturally gel in our team. Indeed, he played well with everyone: he and Emre Can had some nice interplay on multiple occasions, for example. Can’s performance is definitely worthy of note – he pushed forwards a lot, and fulfilled the role of playmaker excellently. He pulled off two or three perfect backheels that bamboozled the defence, one of which led to the third goal. Again, this was extremely pleasing to see: his form has been a little underwhelming so far this campaign and it was great to see him step up for the big occasion.

The feeling of smugness doesn’t just apply to me: the club as a whole must be feeling very pleased with themselves regarding the Raheem Sterling deal. The young Englishman was woefully ineffectual against us, with the highlight being his failure to convert from six yards out. This was made all the more enjoyable by the fact that Firmino, who we bought using some of the Sterling money, was bossing the game – of course we should remember that Sterling is younger, but for today at least it was hugely satisfying to watch our former starlet get so comprehensively outshone. Questions were asked about our investments this summer, but the two big-money signings have not disappointed so far: Benteke, while frustrating to watch at times, has netted four goals, and as already documented Firmino has recently exploded on to the first team scene. Jurgen Klopp, who is a joy to watch in press conferences and on the sidelines during matches, is getting the best out of all of the players: this comprehensive win against arguably the best side in the league demonstrates that under his leadership we have the potential to do big things.

That said, tempting as it is to ride on the wave of euphoria from today and ignore all negatives, expectations should be tempered. Klopp said it himself when he joined – getting Liverpool back to the top will take time. Yes, we’ve humiliated City in their own back yard this week, but our last game was a defeat at home to Crystal Palace. The German has already mastered counter-attacking tactics for away games, but at home we continue to struggle. Our attack is regularly left frustrated, unable to pick apart packed defences, and our own back line lets us down when teams break against us. Sakho’s absence will only accentuate this problem; I am confident that we’ll do a good job with what we have up to January, but there’s no hiding the fact that a new central defender (or two) is ultimately required. Our target now has to be to remain in contention until the next transfer window – if we achieve this, we can strengthen further and then kick on for at least a top four spot. A few more results like this one and that shouldn’t be a problem. This was the most enjoyable Liverpool match for some time: long may it continue. Vamos Brasil!
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013