“There’s still time for this one to break down, we’re not there yet”. As we reached Marylebone, where we finally found a train heading back to where we needed to go following a missed connection, a journey into London, a closed tube line and a hastily-located bus, optimism was thin on the ground. Hours earlier, similar creeping doubts pervaded those around us in the Upper Main Stand as Liverpool sat on a slender 1-0 lead, having already missed a penalty. But, much like the last train to Oxford, the team came good: questions had been asked, but in the end the answer was emphatic.
A late change in the line-up saw Dejan Lovren replaced by Ragnar Klavan. This gave cause for some concern in the opening fifteen minutes – the Estonian was repeatedly targeted, and lost multiple duels to Depoitre. It was only the lack of ambition from Huddersfield that prevented this from developing into a more serious problem; there were rarely any runners looking to meet these flick-ons, and Liverpool were allowed to clear up without too much difficulty. The assuredness with which these situations were dealt with is also attributable in part to the interesting role played by Joe Gomez. He was ostensibly at right-back, but regularly drifted inside to essentially function as a third centre-back: Matip could consequently play closer to Klavan, and sweep up some of his missed clearances. This system worked well, and Gomez excelled in it; his confidence and poise was one of the few positives in a generally lacklustre first half, and in truth a convincing case could be made for naming him Man of the Match. Going forward, it was only Salah that looked even vaguely likely to make something happen; in a harsh irony, it was he who missed the penalty late in the half that would have made Liverpool much more comfortable going into the break. Daniel Sturridge failed to make any kind of mark on the half – he spent most of the time as neither one thing nor the other, failing to make darting runs in behind but not coming short to receive passes much either.
Thankfully, there was a big reaction after the break. All too often this season this kind of response has been lacking, but Liverpool got straight to the task at hand in the second period and grabbed a crucial early goal. Sure enough, it was the up-to-now anonymous Sturridge; he showed exactly why he still has a role to play, slotting home with unerring coolness after the ball broke to him fortuitously. Huddersfield’s stubborn resolve was broken, and Klopp’s men did well to keep applying the pressure. There had been no goal threat to speak of at all from the away side, but everyone was aware that one moment of madness in that back line could mean more points dropped – it was imperative to stay on the front foot. Henderson must take some credit for ensuring this happened: he pressed relentlessly to ensure Huddersfield never had the time to work anything. It was also the captain that produced a glorious ball into Firmino, who really should have picked out Sturridge in the middle with his pull-back. Far from dwelling on his error, though, he immediately netted the vital second goal from the resultant corner. He connected sweetly with the ball, using his head to guide it beyond Lossl. Joel Matip could do with taking tips off him: the centre-back was guilty of missing two guilt-edged headed opportunities.
At 2-0, arguably the most pleasing passage of the game ensued. The tempo was taken down a notch, and Liverpool asserted near-complete control: this has been rare indeed in recent times. That is not to say that attacking intent was extinguished completely, but the midfield began waiting for gaps as opposed to trying to force them. Unbelievably, Jordan Henderson has been taking criticism for this – he played a few balls sideways and backwards when a forward pass would have been a needless risk, and this apparently opens him up for abuse. There are often legitimate criticisms to be made of the captain, but he was an important part of the win on this occasion. It was one of his midfield partners, however, that added the clinching third goal: Wijnaldum’s first of this campaign bore a striking resemblance to his last of the previous season, as he curled it in powerfully at the near post despite seemingly lacking the angle to do so. It was nowhere near as crucial as his goal against Middlesbrough, but it could be important on a personal note – he has had a shaky start, and a goal could do him the world of good.
Solanke and Oxlade-Chamberlain were brought on in the latter stages of the game, and both impressed. They linked up nicely, and not just in the obvious ‘run down the byline, cross for the target man’ way; there was some of that, but there was also a nice interchange on the edge of the box that should really have resulted in Solanke adding a fourth. The other substitute, Can, was also very solid – it was great to have such accomplished options off the bench. He kept up the intensity with some good pressing, and added a further controlling presence in the middle of the park. This contributed to a very pleasing clean sheet, and a satisfying afternoon all round.
Liverpool now have a great opportunity to notch up back-to-back wins in response to the shambles at Spurs; Maribor in midweek offers an excellent chance to get some momentum going with another victory. Another performance such as this one will surely see Klopp’s men take a big stride towards qualification from the Champions League group stage – let’s hope the players got home quicker than I did and were able to get some rest!
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