With Philippe Coutinho sidelined and Mo Salah left on the bench, and an Anfield crowd growing more and more restless by the minute, Liverpool labored through the opening hour of its second game of the 2017-18 Premier league season. Final-third invention was lacking. Chances were not plentiful.
The Reds’ struggles against the bottom half of the league have been well-documented, and familiar issues were dogging Jurgen Klopp’s side against Crystal Palace. The visitors came to Anfield with three center backs and a determination to shut down Liverpool’s potent attack. For 70 minutes, even after Salah’s introduction, that’s exactly what they did.
But in the 73rd minute, Sadio Mane decided enough was enough:
Mane, like many of Liverpool’s athletic forwards and midfielders, tends to excel in an end-to-end, open match, with space to run into and defenders to beat for pace. That’s exactly what games against inferior teams often don’t offer, and Saturday was no exception. Mane, Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino couldn’t find their way through.
So, as the clock struck 72 minutes, Mane picked up the ball on the left, and said to himself, Enough with trickery. Enough with trying to pick and pass our way through. He played a ball into the feet of left back Andrew Robertson, and sprinted toward the box. An awkward flick, an errant touch, and a fortunate deflection later, he was in on goal, and made no mistake with the finish.
Liverpool held on for a 1-0 victory, the likes of which will be important for Klopp and his team if they are to maintain their place in the top four – or perhaps chase loftier goals. Mane’s direct running broke Palace’s resistance. It might not be a sustainable formula for undoing stringent defenses in the future, but Liverpool found a way. There’s no shame in capitalizing in a little bit of good fortune every once in a while.