There’s still a perception of Jurgen Klopp that he employs “heavy metal” football, and that before and after the game and during halftime he retreats to his office to blast “Killed By Death” for inspiration. Add in the destruction that Liverpool’s frontline of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino can wreak, and it’s fun and easy to think of Liverpool being trailed by explosions, a la Antonio Banderas, wherever they go.
That hasn’t really been the case for the past couple seasons, as Liverpool perfected the “just enough” method of winning in their merciless march to the league title last season, rather than bludgeoning everyone 5-1 and then walking off with the town’s riches and wares.
But with the emergence of Diogo Jota this season, Klopp was back to his Scorpio best this morning for Liverpool’s crunch match at Manchester City. The debate all week was whether Klopp would opt for the tried and trusted (but struggling) Firmino to start or replace him with the far hotter Jota. Klopp has never understood why you can’t have your dessert at the same time as the main course, and started both in a daredevil/unhinged 4-2-4 formation. Frimino wasn’t even withdrawn behind the front three, but up alongside.
That made Liverpool dangerous every time they had the ball, as they were starting out matched up with, if not outnumbering, City’s defense. Mane, Firmino, Salah, and Jota were running behind, around, and through. But the subtraction of a midfielder meant that City had an advantage there, which meant that if they could get past the initial wall of four of Liverpool’s press, they could advance through to their forwards in about the same fashion as the rebel fleet hitting hyperspace.
The combination of these led to the best 45 minutes of soccer this season has brought from anywhere, with both teams having at each other like a Rocky fight scene. City couldn’t deal with the sheer numbers that Liverpool were hurling forward, and Kevin de Bruyne could barely contain his giggles at the space he was finding.
Liverpool opened the scoring with a penalty after Mane had bamboozled about three different City players with a nifty turn, and Salah converted from the spot. But De Bruyne created the equalizer when he was completely deserted on the right of midfield, having all the time to find Gabriel Jesus in the box. De Bruyne could have, and probably should have, put City ahead by the same method. He was completely alone on a counter with Liverpool’s undermanned midfield caught upfield, and his wicked cross brought about another instance of the cursed handball rule that has sat on this entire season like an obese and vengeful cat. However, De Bruyne missed from the penalty spot.
The 1-1 score at half had neutral salivating for the second half, promising 45 minutes more of frantic, ecstatic levels of action, while supporters of either team got their affairs in order when their hearts exploded somewhere around the 65th minute.
But 2020 won’t let you have anything nice for long, and the burden of this season became apparent in the second half. Both of these teams have been playing two games a week for four straight weeks, with Champions League duties claiming their midweeks. A torrential downpour, otherwise known as “another day in Manchester,” didn’t help much, making the turf even heavier. Both teams were out on their feet by the 70th minute at the latest, and the match petered out in a disappointing fashion not unlike one all men know from the night you’ve had just one more whiskey than you should have. Just like you have to then at that moment of truth, both teams had to utter “It’s just not gonna happen,” in the game’s final throes.
The draw leaves Liverpool five points up on City with the latter having a game in hand, and the former in 2nd behind Leicester at the top of the table. For 45 minutes, it was everything the sport is capable of at its highest level. For the next 45, it was what it looks like now.