Article by Joe Hagan-Duckers – @JoeHDuckers
Last Saturday’s 94th minute winner from Sadio Mané had every Liverpool fan jumping out of their seat as the Reds came from behind to defeat a resolute Aston Villa 2-1. The comeback meant Liverpool sustained their six-point-lead over Man City, who staged their own comeback to beat Southampton 2-1. Following the match, Jurgen Klopp was thrilled with the late win during his press conference, whereas Pep Guardiola used his to attack Liverpool’s match winner, Sadio Mané for ‘diving’.
Remarkably, the Senegalese’s near-post header was the 35th time Liverpool have scored a 90th minute winner in the Premier League, the highest of any team, with Arsenal in second with 25. It seems to be becoming a habit for this brilliant Liverpool side. His winner at Villa Park was also not the first time Mané has come up with the goods in stoppage time, with 19th December 2016 coming to mind…
Immediately following the game, comparisons were made of this Klopp team to Alex Ferguson’s Man United. And there is no doubt there are similarities. Growing up in the naughties, it seemed to me that Ferguson’s United always pulled it out the bag when the chips were down. I have lost count the amount of times I saw the likes of Ronaldo, Tevez and Rooney bail out their team. Likewise, this current Liverpool now have players who can do the same as what they did.
This season Liverpool have won 10 points from a losing position, the most in the Premier League, which underlines the incessant, mental strength of Klopp’s team never gives up. Klopp himself dubbed his team as ‘mentality monsters’ last season following that famous 4-0 win over Barcelona, and that’s testament to his own hard work that’s instilled this side’s ability to come back and win.
In particularly, during the 08/09 season Ferguson’s United seemed to display the same attribute when Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool challenged them for the title. The Red Devils were doing the exact same as what Klopp’s Liverpool are doing now.
How many times during that season did we see that United team come from behind and score late winners, which ultimately handed them the title. The obvious example is Macheda’s absolute blag of a finish against Villa, which completed United’s comeback against Martin O’Neill’s side. United had just lost their previous two games against Liverpool and Fulham, with Rafa’s Reds breathing down their necks. This goal changed everything. It kickstarted a 7 match-winning streak which then handed them their 18th title.
That Macheda goal sparked the same feelings as Kompany’s cracking effort against Leicester last season, you just knew they were both going to win the league after it. Macheda’s goal hurts even more now considering he has gone on to do absolutely nothing since those two winners against Villa and Sunderland.
Nevertheless, it was not just against Villa when this United side scored late winners. They did it five times that season, and pundits always use the famous cliché that it is the sign of champions. Ferguson’s United became synonymous with this, and now this Jurgen Klopp side is starting to as well.
Already this season, Milner and Mané have scored crucial, late winners with Lallana and Robertson also popping up with key goals respectively. It was a common theme last season as well, with Divock Origi scoring memorable late winners against Everton and Newcastle.
Earlier in the season Daniel Sturridge scored an 89th minute screamer against Chelsea which rescued a point for the Reds. Although this was an excellent point, it was one of seven draws, and as ridiculous as this next sentence will appear, please bear with me. It was these draws which ultimately cost Liverpool’s first title in 29 years. As mad as that is, it is true and underlines the calibre of the other challengers, Man City.
The home draw to Leicester and away stalemates against West Ham, United and Everton, would be usually fine for title challengers in any other, normal season. But as Liverpool would have it, 97 points and one loss were not enough as Man City’s 906-million-pound juggernaut pipped us by a point to make it back-to-back leagues. To make matters worse, the one loss sustained by Liverpool is the least amount of games lost by a side who failed to win the league. This unwanted record was previously set by, you guessed it, Rafa’s Liverpool in 2009.
Spookily, it was also draws that impeded Rafa’s title charge, finishing with 11 compared to United’s six. Last season’s seven league draws meant that Liverpool recorded five more than eventual champions, Man City. Obviously, I may be nit-picking as you cannot legislate for losing a title whilst achieving 97 points. In any other season apart from the previous two, 97 points would have won us the league. But that’s the world we’re living in at the moment, and these fine margins now matter more than ever, where draws to West Ham and Everton can be costly.
Consequently, this has now set an unprecedented precedent and means that Liverpool are going to have to keep on winning near enough every game, no matter how early or late, pretty or ugly. Despite now being in a healthy position top of the league, where we will remain until after the international break, there will undoubtedly be twists and turns. I don’t think any Liverpool fan will be taking our current six-point-lead for granted, especially after our seven-point-lead last season.
No-one knows what will happen in the future, we can only predict, but this season will probably manifest into another extraordinary title race between two very, very good sides. However, one thing for certain is I grew up hating Ferguson’s United for doing the exact same things that this Liverpool side are currently doing. Its riling up rival fan Twitter accounts, ran by teenagers sitting in their bills, with names like Guardiolista, and long may that continue.
Article by Joe Hagan-Duckers – @JoeHDuckers