Liverpool’s Knack for the Nick for time Fortifies belief that it just might happen this time
Another weekend goes by. Another weekend in which an obstacle knocked on the door of Liverpool’s title challenge, and they said no. Another in which time raced by, ticked, and then nearly stood still, as Liverpool pulled another rabbit out of this league hunting hat.
This time it was in the South Coast, where trouble reared its head, and angst started to set in. But the South Coast is also the latest location of where Liverpool left feeling like they might just do it. That their constant habit of finding a way just before time is fate’s biggest hint that this might be the year that 29-year thirst is finally quelled.
It wasn’t the best start for the Reds, by any stretch of the imagination. They fell behind early to a Shane Long goal, after the Irish forward found himself in space in the box to take a touch, take his time, and find the bottom corner, uncharacteristic by Liverpool’s standards this season. Klopp’s side played like impostors in the first quarter of this game, second to everything, as Southampton ran the game. Their early showing was epitomised by the superhuman Virgil van Dijk very nearly scoring an own goal, as even he looked quite off the races, by his standards.
But Liverpool steadied themselves, Naby Keita heading in a Trent Alexander-Arnold cross for his first ever goal for the club, to level matters. Before that, the Reds had been gaining a foothold on proceedings, the energy and effervescence that greeted Southampton’s start to the game had died down.
However, there was little action in the Southampton area, as the Reds were controlling but quite flat. But that’s been the case for them of late, no matter how they play, whatever way the game looks like it might go, they find a way. Against Spurs last weekend, a subdued second half display saw them concede an equaliser, and then they looked on the ropes. They looked more likely to concede a goal that might scupper their title aspirations than anything, yet they found a way.
Be it a goalkeeping gaffe, or any stroke of luck, something tends to happen. And this time it was rather a Mohammed Salah charged counter-attack that spurred things on, as the Egyptian ran at the Saints defence before slotting home his first goal in eight games. Salah’s celebration showed how much ending his drought meant, while the rest of the team epitomised the whole of the red half of Merseyside. Another moment of relief and release.
Jordan Henderson tucked home Roberto Firmino’s pass to crown off another win. Another result that was achieved when it seemed like things might just be slipping. It might still slip. Liverpool could win all their remaining games and end up on 97 points and still not win the league. But they’re top now, and they’re showing that, however they do it, they want to do it. City have a game in hand, but it’s still a game that needs to be won. And on the South Coast, Liverpool emphasised that need to win, for both teams.
It’s an FA Cup final for Manchester City, whose improbable quadruple challenge continues. But, despite taking the lead after four minutes against Brighton, Pep Guardiola’s side found this a harder nut to crack than many thought, and had to eventually settle for narrow win. This game, in which Kyle Walker could easily have been sent off, and Brighton came close to levelling right after half-time, was more proof of how hard what City are trying to achieve is, and how it could turn to dust. But it’s also proof of the fact that winners don’t always play at their best or most comfortable to get past hurdles, and they’re the first side in the final of both English domestic cups in the same season since Liverpool in 2012.
Three points for Crystal Palace, as a win at Newcastle gets them to 39 points, one behind the fated magic number for survival that anyone barely needs to reach to survive of late. It was a typical Palace goal as well, a foul on Wilfried Zaha in the box, and an unerring Luka Milivojevic penalty. For Newcastle, it’s a halt to their home, after previously winning their last five at St. James’, and they also suffered the loss of defender Florian Lejeune to what seemed like a rather serious injury.
Wolves looked headed for the cup final, two goals with some 15 minutes left against Watford, surely this would happen. Somehow, it didn’t, a Gerard Deulofeu act for the Hornets, where he came on in the 66th minute, and scored twice before leaving injured in extra-time, either side of stoppage time penalty from Troy Deeney, to cap a comeback. Javi Gracia’s side win the battle of the impressive non-top-six, and will appear in their first FA Cup final since 1984.
Premier League: Southampton 1-3 Liverpool; Everton 1-0 Arsenal; Huddersfield 1-4 Leicester; Newcastle 0-1 Crystal Palace; Bournemouth 1-3 Burnley
FA Cup: Brighton 0-1 Manchester City; Watford 3-2 Wolves
Monday Night Football: Chelsea v West Ham