Mohamed Salah claims his 50th goal in English football
Chris Bascombe, John Smith's Stadium
20 October 2018 • 9:18pm
Jurgen Klopp once complained his side does not play poorly and win.
It is a claim he is having to refine more often during this most curious start to the season. Liverpool remain a combination of the promising, effective and utterly infuriating yet there they are, level on points with Manchester City and rewriting club records.
Mohamed Salah claimed his 50th goal in English football to defeat Huddersfield, and by keeping a clean sheet Klopp’s side achieved what none at Anfield have done before. Never in 126 years has a Liverpool team conceded three goals or less in its first nine league games. Have the swashbucklers become the bus-parkers? Not quite, but it’s some makeover.
As a package there is much to commend as Liverpool try to ensure City do not repeat last season and begin their surge for the title in autumn. That cannot disguise that this win was scarcely deserved.
Klopp’s gesturing and scolding throughout a sloppy 90 minutes underlined Huddersfield’s ill-luck, the home side particularly enraged by the failure to award a penalty against James Milner shortly before half-time.
When the two friends, Klopp and David Wagner, embraced at the end, Liverpool’s coach looked almost apologetic.
“It may be the first period in my life we win average matches,” said Klopp. “There are different ways to win. I prefer the spectacular way, but I understand why it was how it was.
“I knew it would be difficult after the international break as it always is. I'm not angry, but I think we should expect ourselves to do better. A lot of the things that we couldn't do today was because Huddersfield were good, but when they couldn't do anything anymore, we helped with rubbish passes. I was more animated today because if you are tired you still have to be afraid of your manager."
Certainly, Liverpool have never performed so inconsistent and won so often in the Klopp era. While Salah again took the glory, not for the first time this season victory owed more to Virgil van Dijk’s composure at the back – ably assisted by Dejan Lovren.
Aside from the exquisite move for the winner created by Xherdan Shaqiri, the once trustworthy attackers squandered every counter-attacking threat, displaying an uncanny ability to overhit, misplace or simply not bother to make the final pass.
In mitigation, this was a changed Liverpool line-up. Sadio Mane was absent because of his broken hand. Roberto Firmino was a late substitute, although even he caught the carelessness bug when he eventually appeared.
Adam Lallana was starting for the first time since January 1. Daniel Sturridge was starting his first Premier League game for Liverpool for 10 months.
The hosts were still talking about miracles pre-match, Huddersfield forlornly pursuing their first home goal since April to swell belief their return to The Championship is not a formality.
The post denied Jonathan Hogg after he beat Alisson from 25 yards. The linesman’s flag stopped Alex Pritchard’s celebrations. And the generosity of referee Michael Oliver prevented Huddersfield a chance to equalise when Milner looked sheepish as the ball struck his hand three minutes before half-time. The officials did not see it.
“If it is a case luck evens itself out we will have a lot of luck over the next 29 games. We have no luck so far,” said Wagner. “For a lot of weeks for have performed a high level without collecting enough points.
“I would be more concerned if I did not have the opportunities. We had them. Goalscoring is the most difficult part of this game. This challenge really excites me, to turn this around and make sure everyone stays on board. I will make sure the dressing room seizes it.”
Huddersfield had set about Liverpool with little consideration for reputation, Wagner’s attackers scurrying towards defenders in the manner Klopp normally demands from his front three.
It was an admirable, if risky, strategy, making for a frantic, exciting but generally low-quality game.
Gini Wijnaldum’s introduction at half-time - Jordan Henderson left with a hamstring injury - brought composure and Salah should have doubled his tally on 64 minutes, hitting inches wide when facing keeper Jonas Lossl. Throughout, Liverpool's lead was precarious.
Punishment should have been severe, substitute Steve Mounie failing from close range on 82 minutes. It was Huddersfield’s last chance. They had the right application but lacked quality.
Nevertheless, the sight of Liverpool players running to the corner flag to see out injury time told the story of the evening.
Liverpool are still there, but winning without playing well can only sustain a challenge for so long.
“The basis is brilliant. Twenty-three points and still space to improvement,” said Klopp.
There is plenty for optimists and cynics to pounce on with Liverpool's current form.
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