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Klopp's beer, Salah's records and a Liverpool win to savour: Inside the Reds' Man Utd masterclass

14:00 BST 25/10/2021
Liverpool Manchester United 2021
The Anfield outfit crushed their great rivals at Old Trafford in a result that will be talked - and sung - about for decades to come on Merseyside

Sometimes, being locked in can be a good thing.

More than half an hour after the final whistle had sounded at Old Trafford, and the Liverpool fans were still bouncing.

They were going nowhere, but they did not care.

“The Reds have got no money, but we’ll still win the league,” came the chant, big and booming. Defiant.

One by one, the players were serenaded. Mohamed Salah, the Egyptian King. Roberto Firmino, their number nine. Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson, Jordan Henderson, Sadio Mane. 

Their heroes.

Manchester United, naturally, copped a bit. ‘Ole’s at the wheel,’ had rung out for a good five minutes during the second half of the Reds’ 5-0 win on Sunday, and it got a good airing at the end too. Eric Idle’s ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ was dusted off too. A United song turned against United. Salt in the wound, and then some.

Pitchside, Liverpool’s players could hardly contain their smiles as they ran through their post-match interviews. 

“I’m more than happy,” a beaming Salah told Sky Sports. Henderson, the captain, spoke of “a fantastic day” and “a great performance from start to finish.”

Jurgen Klopp played it cool, but even he let slip that he would enjoy a beer - “just one!” - on the coach back to Merseyside. “I couldn’t be happier,” he added.

The Reds boss had made his supporters wait for his trademark fist pumps at the final whistle, but they came eventually. One, two, three. He saves those for the big wins, Klopp. This was a big win.

The biggest, in fact, that Liverpool have ever recorded at Old Trafford. Seismic, historic, scarcely-believable yet somehow predictable. With this team, and with this manager, nothing feels impossible any more.

“This group always wanted to write their own little chapters for the big, big history book of this club,” Klopp told his post-match press conference. “This one was a little one tonight, a little chapter. People will talk about it in the future, 100 per cent, because it will not happen very often, if it happens again at all.”

He is right. Liverpool fans still sing about the day they went to Everton and scored five. You know, the day when ‘Rush scored one, Rush scored two, Rush scored three and Rush scored four…’ 

That was nearly 40 years ago, so you can imagine they will be singing about October 24, 2021 in years to come, and rightly so.

In the dressing room, the celebrations were loud but professional. “It’s a big one, of course, but it’s three points the same as anywhere else,” said one source, insisting that minds were already switching towards the next challenges - a Carabao Cup tie at Preston North End on Wednesday, and the visit of Brighton in the Premier League on Saturday.

There was concern, naturally, for James Milner and Naby Keita, both of whom had been forced off through injury. It is a hamstring for Milner, so likely a fortnight on the sidelines at least, while Keita suffered a whack to the shin from Paul Pogba, who was sent off for the challenge.

Liverpool should know the full extent of the damage in the next 24 hours, but we will certainly not be seeing the Guinea midfielder at Deepdale this week.

Pogba offered his apologies, post-match, but Keita’s misfortune certainly took some of the shine off Liverpool’s win. Sunday was probably his best performance in a Red shirt, and it ended with him on a stretcher. How’s your luck?

Still, this was not a day to focus on the negatives. And Liverpool’s players, as they should, took time to savour the moment. 

“Different class,” posted Van Dijk on Instagram. “What a week,” added Robertson.

Salah, meanwhile, was grabbed by a member of the club’s media team for a picture with the match ball. The Egyptian had just become the first Liverpool player to score a hat-trick at Old Trafford since Fred Howe, all the way back in 1936, and the first visiting player ever to do so in the Premier League. 

“Best in the world,” read the caption on Trent Alexander-Arnold’s post, a photo of him and Salah sporting smiles as wide as the River Mersey. Nobody can argue at the moment; Salah already has 15 goals for the season and has scored in each of his last 10 appearances. If there are any records left to break, then he wants them all. 

Salah's appetite is insatiable. “At half-time we were talking in the dressing room that we need to write more history,” he revealed after the game. “We just need to keep going, try to score as many as you can. A chance like that will not come often.”

His hat-trick arrived in the space of 12 minutes, either side of half-time, and neatly showcased the gulf in class between the two sides.

Liverpool, quite simply, were sharper, quicker, more determined and more clinical, in just about every area. They are a team and United are not. They are well-drilled and well-coached. United, all recent evidence suggests, are not.

They had been surprised by United’s naivety in playing what was essentially a 4-2-4 system. They had expected a tough test against a deep-defending side, but had been quickly encouraged by the home team’s half-hearted attempts to press, and by the vast amount of space on offer, particularly behind the overworked Fred and Scott McTominay, and down Liverpool’s right flank.

The game plan, Henderson said, was “to play our football, play with intensity and try to get the ball forward early when we win it back.” Time and again, Liverpool played on the insecurities of United’s midfield and back-line, and exploited the laziness of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s forward players without the ball.

They attacked Luke Shaw, preyed on Harry Maguire's lack of fitness and form, and ruthlessly exposed Aaron Wan Bissaka's lack of quality in possession. 

These were targeted attacks, and Klopp’s selection gambles worked a treat.

Keita, picked despite being substituted at half-time against Atletico Madrid last Tuesday, scored the Reds’ first goal and had a hand in the next two. His ability to pinch possession and drive forward with the ball was key as the visitors swiftly asserted control.

Diogo Jota, preferred to Mane, caused havoc with his pressing and combination play from the left. Firmino was arguably the best player on the park, constantly knitting things together, while Ibrahima Konate shone alongside Van Dijk at centre-back.

“I thought he [Konate] was outstanding,” said Henderson. Liverpool are yet to concede a goal with the Frenchman on the field.

All in all, then, a special day for Klopp and his side. A special week, in fact. Five goals at Watford, a rip-roaring win at Atletico and a demolition job against their fiercest rivals. Injuries are a concern, but everything else is rosy in the Anfield garden right now.

The last word went to a lone United fan, standing patiently outside Old Trafford some 90 minutes or so after the final whistle. 

As Klopp made his way past him, towards the warmth of the Liverpool team bus, the fan could not resist.

“Fancy managing us, Jurgen?” he shouted.

Klopp simply smiled. How could he not, after a day like that?