If Carlsberg did Christmases…
The Ryder Cup made an appearance at Anfield today, but Liverpool fans have their eyes on another glittering sporting prize. The Premier League trophy is flickering into view. Get ready for the ride.
Arsenal were supposed to provide a test for Jurgen Klopp’s side, a confident, improving top-six rival who would offer a thorough examination of the Reds’ title credentials.
Liverpool will go into 2019 on top of the pile, at least seven points clear of their nearest rivals after this, their ninth successive league win. If they make it 10 against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium next Thursday, Reds fans will be booking the month of May off work. Some already have.
Unstoppable? They are right now. While their enemies flounder, unable to keep their composure and their consistency, Klopp’s side just keep on clearing hurdle after hurdle, ramping up the pressure each time they do. “A long way to go,” their manager continues to warn, and rightly so, but what a football team he has built.
Twenty games, 17 wins, three draws, eight goals conceded, 48 scored, 54 points. This, in terms of points per game, is the best calendar year in the club’s history; 88 points from 37 league matches. Staggering.
They were actually behind here, briefly. Anfield was stunned when Ainsley Maitland-Niles slid in at the back post to convert Alex Iwobi’s cross and give Arsenal the lead. It was the first time Liverpool had trailed in a home league game since facing Leicester City on December 30, 2017, 364 days ago.
They came from behind to win that game, and their response to this setback was emphatic. Within three minutes they were level, within two more they were in front, by half time they led 4-1. Panic over.
Roberto Firmino scored twice, Sadio Mane added a third and Mohamed Salah, for the second successive game, won and converted a penalty. It was the first time in the league this season that all three of the Reds’ vaunted front three had netted in the same game. Arsenal, bewildered, had no answer beyond anger. Unai Emery’s men were quite simply beaten into submission.
This is a game that guarantees goals – the last 10 league meetings prior to this had brought 44 – and it is now the highest-scoring fixture in Premier League history. No consolation to Arsenal, who took Shkodran Mustafi off at half-time, perhaps as an act of mercy. Just as in 2014, the Londoners shipped four in a half at Anfield. This place does strange things to the men from the Emirates.
Want a stat to underline Liverpool’s dominance? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the Gunners’ star man, had seven touches in the opening 45 minutes. Four of them were kick-offs.
With Spurs, Liverpool’s nearest challengers, losing at home to Wolves earlier in the day, Klopp got the intense atmosphere he had wished for. Anfield bounced when the news from Wembley filtered through. It’s December, but there are times when it feels like April round here.
Welcome to a title race. It’s been too long.
Firmino, who had not scored a home league goal since April before today, completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot after the break, courtesy of a generous gesture from Salah.
In netting, Firmino became only the third Brazilian to score a Premier League treble, after Afonso Alves and Robinho. He’ll leave a more lasting impression in England than either of those two, it’s fair to say. “Best in the world,” sang the Kop. They love their No.9.
They love all their players right now, in fact, and do you blame them? This is a team that plays for each other, works for each other, one that supporters can be proud of, each and every week. “We are Liverpool,” they sang. “Poetry in motion.”
The last time we heard that sung with such gusto, it was 2014 and Brendan Rodgers’ side were beginning to dream of being the ones to bring the title back.
They beat Arsenal 5-1 that season too, but they fell short in the end. This one looks, at the moment, ready to go one better. It is only December, but May cannot come soon enough.
Catch them if you can…