In a slog of a game, Liverpool snatched a last-minute victory from Monterrey in the Club World Cup semi-final.
The Reds played a rested team but struggled against the mighty Mexicans whose counter-attacking system nearly worked perfectly. What did we learn?
1. Firmino to the rescue, for once
For much of the last season and a half, Roberto Firmino has been the star and Divock Origi would come off the bench to save the day with his goals. Against Everton, against Barcelona, even in the Champions League final against Spurs he was the one who scored the second goal off the bench.
Against Monterrey however, Firmino was the one who began the game on the bench. The Brazilian watched on as Origi started and, well, didn’t do much. Origi ran hard but Monterrey found him a simpler kind of threat to deal with. Their defenders could handle a player whose style is effective but predictable. So, with five minutes left on the clock, he came off and Firmino came on.
Five minutes later, the cross came into the box from the right from fellow sub Trent Alexander-Arnold and Firmino approached it. He could have smashed it, that would have been understandable, to try and bludgeon the ball beyond Marcelo Barovero in the Monterrey goal. But no, that’s not Firmino. The Brazilian instead just tapped it with his toe, guiding the ball gently beyond everyone straight into the back of the net. Vintage Firmino but a total reversal of fortunes in terms of starters and subs.
2. Alisson the impassable
Liverpool scored very early on in the 2019 Champions League final and then sat back, absorbing wave after wave of Spurs attack. This seemed like a risky move but the Reds knew they could do it because of Virgil van Dijk in defence and Alisson in goal. And sure enough, the Brazilian made eight saves and kept a clean sheet as the Reds won the trophy.
On Wednesday against Monterrey, Alisson was very much needed yet again. Liverpool took the lead early on and although this time there was no clean sheet, it wasn’t for Alisson’s lack of trying as the defence in front of him collapsed. For the goal he made the initial save but Monterrey scored from the rebound. It was unfortunate, but Alisson was determined to let that be the last time he conceded.
The Brazilian was a colossus for Liverpool. It’s not an exaggeration to say that without him in goal, the Mexican side would be in the Club World Cup final. It’s not that they were better than Liverpool, but the chances they created had such a bite to them that with even a normal ‘keeper, the Reds would have fallen.
3. The sound of inevitability
Ramiro Funes Mori played for Everton 67 times. Of those 67 games, three were against Liverpool. Of those three games, only one wasn’t a defeat and it was just a 1-1 draw. He never won, but always put himself about. His most notable moment was a horrible tackle on Divock Origi that injured the Belgian’s ankle, which made him something of a cult figure.
Anyway, his twin brother Rogelio Funes Mori never played for Everton but does currently play for Monterrey. So when he lined up against Liverpool tonight it seemed almost inevitable he would have some impact. And sure enough just moments after Liverpool had taken the lead, Alisson palmed a Monterrey shot out and it fell to the feet of the Argentine. He adjusted and then slammed it home to equalise.
Of course, also inevitable for a Funes Mori is that he ultimately fails against Liverpool. So of course, Funes Mori couldn’t score from his other chances and in the end could do nothing about his side falling to defeat at the hand of the Reds.
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4. Naby Keita, we’ve been expecting you
Naby Keita scored three goals in his first 41 games for Liverpool. He’s scored three in his next three, including against Monterrey. The Guinean midfielder arrived on Merseyside with a massive reputation that saw people reckoning him a success a priori. He fit Klopp, he fit the Premier League, this was going to be a smash hit, right?
Well at first it definitely didn’t seem that way. But now, finally, Keita is finding his groove. Not only is he playing his aggressive passing role in midfield, driving the ball forward, but he is doing the majority of his damage moving off the ball. Making runs into the box beyond the forwards. And it was through one of those runs that he opened the scoring, timing his run to perfect to reach Mohamed Salah’s pass and finish brilliantly to give Liverpool the lead.
5. Liverpool needing the big guns is not a great sign
Liverool played a weakened team against Monterrey, keeping certain key men rested for what they must have assumed was the inevitable final. The team they put out was strong enough to beat Monterrey, well, perhaps it would have been had Virgil van Dijk been playing. The towering Dutch defender missed the game with illness and his absence was certainly felt.
Without Van Dijk to stabilise defence and start Liverpool attacks, the Reds were kind of all over the place. Relying on Mohamed Salah magic for inspiration, which speaks on how worryingly short of inspiration their back-ups actually are. The replacements could do very little and it needed the introduction for Sadio Mané, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Roberto Firmino to get the win.
Those three will all start the final so it’s not a problem in this competition specifically, but the rest of the season is long and we’ve often wondered how Liverpool would cope with a few key injuries (they’ve had none, really, in the last season and a half). Wednesday seemed to indicate the answer is not so good, which is, well, a bad omen for the rest of the season.