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The hunt is on! Firmino and Liverpool show their teeth at exactly the right time to boost Champions League hopes

22:36 BST 13/05/2021
Roberto Firmino Liverpool 2020-21 Premier League
Chelsea and Leicester will be feeling the pressure in the race for the top four after the Reds overcame Man United at Old Trafford

Match statistics: Manchester United 2-4 Liverpool

The hunt is on and Liverpool have the smell of blood in their nostrils.

After their winter hibernation, the Reds have suddenly sprung into life. Champions League football is in their sights, the door is open and Jurgen Klopp’s men look ready to barge their way through it.

They’ve certainly run into form - results-wise, at least - at just the right time. They have the longest unbeaten run in the Premier League at the moment, and they extended it to seven games on Thursday night courtesy of their first win away at Manchester United in more than seven years.

It was tense, it was nervy, it was chaotic at times but it was vital. Having trailed early to Bruno Fernandes’ heavily-deflected strike, Liverpool hit back strongly through Diogo Jota’s impudent flick and two goals in three minutes either side from Roberto Firmino, then survived a rocky spell after Marcus Rashford pulled one back for the home side. 

And then, in the final minute, Mohamed Salah ran clear to calm the nerves and start the celebrations.

Not always pretty, but oh so important. A big result and a big performance in a big game, from the recently-deposed champions.

Suddenly, from nowhere, it is the Reds who occupy the box seat in the race for the top four. They were dead and buried a couple of weeks ago, when tossing away points at Leeds and at home to Newcastle, but back-to-back wins and the struggles of both Leicester and Chelsea have let them back in.

They simply cannot afford to pass up this opportunity. After a season of intense struggle, downright misery for large parts, to sneak into the Champions League would be a huge boost heading into the summer. Never mind the finances, think of the mood lift.

Three more wins should do it. West Brom on Sunday, Burnley on Wednesday, Crystal Palace after that. Nine points from nine should do the business, with Chelsea and Leicester due to meet at Stamford Bridge next Tuesday. If Liverpool get their flawless finish, they’ll have earned their spot at Europe’s top table.

This, it should be said, was as well as they have played in weeks, months maybe. Determined and deadly, dangerous and dogged, they found their teeth when it mattered. Their big players stepped up to the plate.

None more so than Firmino. The Brazilian has had a tough season, but all will be forgiven if he can fire his team in this most crucial of periods. He hasn’t played this well for a long time, and for once he had a finish to match his neat flicks and his intelligent counter-pressing.

He headed Liverpool ahead right on half-time, helping himself to a trademark delivery from the brilliant Trent Alexander-Arnold, and then repeated the trick after the interval, Bobby on the Spot after Alexander-Arnold’s shot had been fumbled by Dean Henderson.

Liverpool were flying at that point. They had recovered from their nightmare start, levelled when Jota brilliantly diverted Nat Phillips’ scuffed shot past Henderson, and they had taken full control. They played the opponent and not the occasion, and they were the better side.

But they gave their fans palpitations, missing chances to move further ahead through Jota and Alexander-Arnold, and then wobbling when Rashford ran through to make it 3-2. Had Phillips, Fabinho and young Rhys Williams not been alert in their own six-yard box, United would have been level.

Salah would have the last word though, racing clear as the clock ticked to 90 and slotting past a flat-footed Henderson. The Egyptian’s 200th Liverpool appearance marked in style, with goal number 124. Some player.

Klopp will need him, and the rest of them, to repeat the trick in the next three games. Three more wins should ensure Liverpool end this ridiculous campaign with smiles on their faces.