What a breathtaking, elegant & beautiful game
Liverpool waited 30 years for it, planned and sweated for it. They could not deserve the Premier League title more.Updated: Jun 28, 2020 10:00 IST
In their last Premier League game, Liverpool scored four goals against Crystal Palace. Each of those goals told the story of a club that has finally broken a 30-year jinx to win the league. Each of those goals told the story of footballing perfection, of beauty and precision, flair and ability, freedom and discipline. If the goals were not high art, they could almost have been kitsch.
The first goal came from Trent Alexander-Arnold, the baby of the team. A local boy picked up for Liverpool’s academy when he was just six. Debut for the first team at 18. Now, at 21, one of the finest attacking full-backs in the world. Standing 25 yards out. A short run up, and bang, the ball whipped over the wall, dipping just enough like a guided missile into the top right corner. The boy wonder can do it all. He is from Liverpool. This is his turf.
Goal two came from Mohamed Salah. Who else? The talisman of this Reds side that can do no wrong...or is that Virgil Van Dyck? Or Trent? Or Jordan Henderson? Or Sadio Mane?
It’s hazardous to claim a single talisman for a side that can claim eleven, but Salah remains the club’s highest goal-scorer this season (in his debut season for the club in 2017-18, he broke the record for most goals scored in the Premier League in a single season, and has since carried on in the same vein). For this goal, there is the defence-splitting pass, arguably the most beautiful thing in the beautiful game. It’s the Brazilian Fabinho who dinks a lobbed ball from way out that leaves all of the opposition on the wrong foot. Salah simply outpaces his marker into the box, meets the ball with his foot. Goal. But of course.
Then Fabinho joins the party. Receives a gentle ball far out — 30 yards and counting — from the Palace goal. No one expects anything much at this distance, but Fabinho has other ideas. He sends a cannonball of a shot screaming into the goal after one languid touch.
Whipped, curling freekick? Check. Superb team goal from a visionary pass? Check. Long-range screamer? Check. What’s left? The counter-attack of course. Liverpool is a team that can play any game you throw at them, but if there’s one style that defines them, it’s ‘gegenpressing’; the harrying, harrowing, all-out pressure game that manager Jurgen Klopp has brought to the club. And so, here’s Sadio Mane (talismanic?) spinning in from the left touchline and passing upfield to his Brazilian strike partner Roberto Firmino (talismanic?), who moves up further at speed and passes to a sprinting Salah; the Egyptian manages a mind-bending first-time pass and the ball finds Mane again, this time at the other end of the field, where he has run at the blink of an eye. Mane runs into the box with the ball, shoots, scores. Unstoppable.
The point of this emotional match report from a match that happened days ago? Simply to point out that this is a team that is as close to perfection as it gets. They have won the Premier League. They could not have done any less. They waited 30 years for it. They could not have deserved it more. They stitched together a team that defines teamwork, with a sixth of the budget of Manchester City. They picked up players from teams relegated from the Premier League, players who have now become stars. They have crafted a legend out of skill, effort, belief and camaraderie.
If there’s one thing to rue, though it was unavoidable and bigger than any sport, it is that they could not march to this triumph to a packed Anfield, of which it is said ‘there is no sound like the sound at Anfield’, and which Arsene Wenger once called ‘the most heated stadium in Europe’. A city where the club anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone, is worked into funeral masses and wedding dances, could not come and join their favourite sons in celebrating the end of a long jinx.
Ah well. At least the jinx is broken.