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Crisis over! Liverpool's Mane of the moment settles title jitters

10:34 PM IST 09/02/19
Sadio Mane Virgil Van Dijk Liverpool
The winger scored for the fourth Premier League game in a row to set the Reds on their way to a 3-0 win over Bournemouth that puts them back on top

Liverpool’s mini-crisis is over.

After two draws – yes, that constitutes a mini-crisis these days – Jurgen Klopp’s side are back on track, and back on top of the Premier League.

Just as importantly, they looked back to their old selves in dispatching Bournemouth at Anfield.

Eddie Howe’s team may have been useful opponents – this was their eighth successive away defeat in the league – but the manner in which the Reds cruised to a 3-0 victory here suggests that reports of their demise, as most suspected, were greatly exaggerated.

This was their 20th win from 26 league games, and it was achieved in a style which suggests the disappointment of Leicester and West Ham is already forgotten. Those seeking to crown Manchester City as champions will have to wait.

Klopp had insisted in the build-up to this game that talk of pressure and nerves was irrelevant as far as his players were concerned. “Our only tool,” he said, “is football.”

They used it well here, scoring picture-book goals courtesy of Gini Wijnaldum and Mohamed Salah, after Sadio Mane had headed them into a 24th-minute lead.

That strike meant the Senegal star has now scored in four successive Premier League games for the first time in his career. With a dozen league goals, he is now level with Eden Hazard and closing on Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

That’s some going. Salah has been Liverpool’s headline-grabber over the past 18 months, but Mane’s consistency, and his importance to this title challenge, must not be underestimated.

Hungry, selfless and deadly, the 26-year-old represents everything that is good about Klopp’s side. His ovation as he left the field here, replaced late on by Divock Origi, was both rapturous and deserved.

His goal, headed emphatically past Artur Boruc from James Milner’s right-wing cross, was exactly what the Reds needed after a dominant opening.

Mane had netted the opener in this fixture last season, and his goal here allowed Liverpool to play with the freedom and energy that was conspicuous by its absence at West Ham last Monday.

Wijnaldum’s goal, his first at Anfield since October 2017, encapsulated that.

The Dutchman, restored to the side after a minor knee injury, had brought drive and composure to proceedings, and both were in evidence on 34 minutes as he broke the lines to latch onto Andy Robertson’s astute pass, bring the ball down with one touch and then, with his second, lift a gorgeous effort over Artur Boruc and into the net.

Think Robert Pires against Peter Schmeichel, and you’re pretty much there.

It would take some goal to top that, but one arrived three minutes into the second half as Liverpool turned on the style once more.

Naby Keita, impressive in a midfield three, weighted a fine pass through for Roberto Firmino, who had run in behind Nathan Ake.

As Bournemouth closed down the shot, the Brazilian produced a sublime back-heeled flick into the path of Salah, who stroked home his 20th goal of the campaign. Some one-season wonder, the Egyptian.

There could have been more, Salah striking the bar at the Kop End and Keita missing a chance for his first Reds goal soon after.

Bournemouth had threatened in the first minute through Ryan Fraser, but rarely thereafter. Liverpool were able to see out the clean sheet, their first here since Boxing Day, in relative comfort.

By the end, Anfield was in party mode. ‘Liverpool, Liverpool, top of the league’ they sang.

After the questions and the concerns and the worries and the panic of the past week, they deserved a moment of indulgence.

Rocky Balboa still packs a punch, eh. Who knew?