HIS shirt in the air. His shirt in the air and the ball has catapulted back from the net. His shirt in the air after the truest moment of quality in the game. His shirt in the air and he is absolutely roaring, he is giving it the big one in front of the travelling Reds as the smoke clears. His shirt in the air, it has gone right off and this is the big one, the biggest one, a season defining one. His shirt in the air, Liverpool out of jail and the points come home to Merseyside.
Imagine it. Putting your foot through that in front of your own supporters after having been brought on at half-time to essentially save a season. Because that’s what it was, that’s where Liverpool had got themselves since Joel Matip had come on against Bournemouth through to half-time against Stoke; had Bournemouth been followed up by a defeat it could/would have killed this side for this season, could/would have been the final blow. And you are through on goal and you put your foot through it with such certainty and it is there, and your shirt is in the air.
All of your efforts, and your efforts are so significant your manager is worried about you, all of your efforts for months crowned by such a strike, a strike which doesn’t mean Liverpool have achieved their ambitions for the season but which means they have continued to give themselves absolutely every chance. A strike which means you aren’t walking back into a depressed dressing room. A strike which means the points don’t just come home to Merseyside but they bounce home, the coach bounces home, everyone bounces home, everyone bounces into training on Monday. One strike which had everything on it and everything behind it. One strike for everything.
Roberto Firmino topless and resplendent. Liverpool topless and resplendent. Defiant when they should have been cowed.
They had started cowed. The first half was dreadful from a Liverpudlian point of view. The shape was terrible. It’s execution was terrible. Individual performances were terrible. There was nothing in it to redeem it, not in the slightest. It was a capitulation, a backwards step. That Liverpool nearly got to the break at 0-0 was a reminder that you don’t always get what you deserve as the Reds have found out too often to their cost. But that they went in only 1-0 tells us much about the mediocrity of their opponents who should have put Liverpool to every sword going.
That Stoke failed to do so perhaps suggests that they got what they deserved but that wouldn’t allow for two outstanding saves from Simon Mignolet. He somehow managed to keep his top on after both. Both saves could easily have ended with his shirt in the air because they were both match winning. The first keeps Liverpool within touching distance at 1-0. The second preserves the lead at 2-1. Had Stoke scored either time it could/would have seen Liverpool collapse. These three points belong to him as much as to the scorer of the winner.
Philippe Coutinho scored his second goalscorer’s goal in two games. Illness seemingly agrees with his finishing. These two goals haven’t been brilliant and that is what makes them so brilliant to see. The job for himself and his coaches is to create an alloy out of his sheer ability with scruffiness, with the undeserved goal, with the unerring, opportunistic finish. He was bright as a button for 25 minutes after coming on. He then looked as ill as he was reputed to be. But it was fine by then because Daniel Sturridge had come on and scared the life out of Stoke with one good through ball and simply by virtue of being himself.
It’s easy for the Liverpool staff and even the Liverpool supporters to see Sturridge as the man perpetually coming back from injury. Stoke’s defenders saw him as a massive headache. They dropped 10 yards almost immediately because football isn’t rational, because you don’t always get what you deserve, because if you want the better side both on the pitch and in general to win 19 times out of 20, go and watch Rugby Union. Football is defined by moments and the gap in between moments which can occasionally be defined as staying close to being able to pull moments out of the bag. Footballers remember lads who have done this and treat them accordingly. Treat them with fear. Handle with caution.
Every Liverpool player improved markedly second half, though Ragnar Klavan remains a concern for the Reds. Both Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner worked well as wing-backs in the second 45 minutes and penned Stoke City in prior to going 1-2 and worked hard after going 1-2. Emre Can and Gini Wijnaldum both end the game looking increasingly strong, both deserved to be on the winning side by the close with Stoke thankfully accepting the sweet release against the Reds, ending the match almost as abject as Liverpool started it, unable or unwilling to rail against the dying of the light.
The change of shape for the Reds is worthy of some discussion but it is discussion for another day; this one doesn’t lend itself to sober analysis, it lends itself to sheer unadulterated joy, for tops being lashed and drinks being drunk and Grand Nationals being enjoyed and call that horse race the big one if you want but we all know what the big one really is today.
Firmino wins the big one. One down, six to go.
Up the topless Reds.