While Liverpool fans celebrate a third victory in as many games to kick off the 2020-21 Premier League season, those who had their betting slips out this weekend will probably be rueing the games that have transpired over the last few days.
West Brom shocked the world by racing into a 3-0 lead against Chelsea, whom many had touted for a title charge this season. And though the Blues did manage to snatch a point at the death, it can only be classed as a poor result for Lampard’s men. Similarly, Tottenham’s profligacy proved costly as they were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Newcastle, consequent of a rather baffling penalty decision deep into stoppage time.
But most pertinently to Liverpool, it was Manchester City’s heavy defeat at the hands of Leicester which dominated most of the headlines. From City’s perspective, it was a case of failing to learn from past mistakes- Jamie Vardy and Co were more than happy to punish their lackadaisical mistakes at the back. For Liverpool though, the City result was a massive psychological boost in their title defence. Without forgetting their cataclysmic collapse at the hands of Lyon last month, it might seem that City are still struggling to handle sides that counter-attack efficiently and to correct their own defensive carelessness- the key areas which knocked them out of the title race early on last season.
In contrast, Liverpool produced a statement victory over a much-improved Arsenal on Monday night. Mikel Arteta’s pragmatic approach, the polar opposite of his predecessors’ reckless, gung-ho methodologies that earned them multiple spankings at Anfield, had already proven to be problematic for Liverpool prior to this match. And when Alexandre Lacazette pounced on an uncharacteristic Andy Robertson error early on, it looked like this game’s result might follow the weekend’s theme of shock upsets.
However, this Liverpool side is capable of going up a gear when the going gets tough, as they have shown countless times. Arsenal barely had their lead for two minutes before Mo Salah turned on the style and (indirectly) supplied Sadio Mane’s equaliser. A pinpoint cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold then gave Andy Robertson the opportunity to redeem himself and give the Champions the lead.
In an all-round performance from the Reds, there was a whole host of positives to take away- the most notable one being Diogo Jota’s goalscoring cameo. While Jota’s arrival had raised a few eyebrows courtesy of his hefty price tag, he took little time to show his potential to fit seamlessly into this side. Jota’s effortless ability to find space in the penalty area reaped three golden goalscoring opportunities, the last of which he took to round off the victory. If Jota can reproduce this kind of performance regularly, he’ll be very fit to deputise for any of the front three should the need arise- exactly the kind of option this team has been crying out for.
Even so, Jota may find playing opportunities hard to come by if Mane keeps this kind of form up. After a Man of the Match performance at Stamford Bridge that reaped two goals, Mane produced arguably one of his best displays in a Liverpool shirt against Arsenal – and given the standards he’s set during his time here, that’s saying quite a bit. His equaliser was just the cherry on top of a world-class performance, where he grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and absolutely terrorised Arsenal’s well-organised defence. Mane may have already won the two biggest trophies in club football at Anfield, but it’s testament to his indomitable winning mentality that he is simply not letting up.
Another solid performance which may have gone under the radar was that of Alisson. His place in the side was said to have been in jeopardy in the build-up to the match, and his late inclusion may just have been worth two points for his team. The Brazilian’s avant-garde piece of goalkeeping in the second half, where he simply refused to commit and instead stood his ground as though he were a defender, denied Lacazette a brace and Arsenal a point. Alisson’s distribution was also on point throughout the evening, crucial in facilitating Liverpool’s plan to play out of the Gunners’ press. Compounded with last weekend’s penalty save against his compatriot Jorginho, this display will have done wonders for Alisson’s confidence for the rest of the season – especially after a slight dip in form prior to the Chelsea game. And as we all know, a good goalkeeper can make an immeasurable difference in a title race.
Of course, these were just some of the highlights from a game where Liverpool truly fired on all cylinders – the performances of Fabinho, Alexander-Arnold and many others deserve heaps of praise as well. If Liverpool can continue this form throughout the season, it’s very hard to see them not retaining the title.
Of course, however, it’s a long season where anything can happen. The Premier League is anything but predictable. For the short-term, it is paramount that Liverpool capitalise on what looks to be a period of uncertainty for their closest rivals by opening up a gap between them and the chasing pack.