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Liverpool set injuries aside to reiterate their status as Premier League comeback kings

Liverpool 4-1 Luton: Van Dijk, Gakpo, Diaz and Elliott scored to send the Reds four points clear

Richard Jolly
at Anfield
Thursday 22 February 2024 02:29 GMT
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As long as they had 11 players, Jurgen Klopp had vowed, Liverpool would give it a go. Deprived of 10, going a goal down, they certainly did. A stunning turnaround brought Klopp’s band of brothers four goals and took them four points clear at the Premier League summit.

They head to Wembley on Sunday buoyant, despite their injury problems. Depleted, they were not defeated, transforming a deficit into an emphatic triumph with irrepressible energy. Klopp had imbued his makeshift side with a defiant spirit and, as Luton Town threatened to earn their maiden win at Anfield, they required it.

Minus Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez, lacking their three top scorers, they conjured a dramatic double from a pair of Dutchmen, Virgil van Dijk and Cody Gakpo. Luis Diaz, belatedly scoring with his ninth attempt at goal, and Harvey Elliott completed victory. And yet the architect of it was Alexis Mac Allister, with two assists in a three-minute blitz. A theme of the night was that everyone had to step up to compensate for the missing and the Argentinian was the only survivor of Klopp’s first-choice midfield.

He provided the class to accompany Liverpool’s abundant effort after one player from Cork blundered and another pounced, Chiedozie Ogbene putting Luton ahead.

Yet they have led twice against Liverpool this season and won neither match, with Diaz delivering an injury-time equaliser at Kenilworth Road. Perhaps, much as Luton tried to resist it, they knew what was coming. Already the season’s comeback kings, Liverpool have now rescued 22 points from losing positions. Their powers of recovery persist even as many of their footballers are sidelined.

So does their unbeaten run at Anfield, which now stretches back 27 league games. Remarkably, Van Dijk has only played in one top-flight defeat at home in his Liverpool career. When a second beckoned, he began the Liverpool response. It was all the more admirable as, with a bench consisting of left-backs and rookies, Klopp seemed to have no gamechangers in reserve. One of those defenders, Andy Robertson, did get an assist when he came on, albeit by kneeing the ball to Diaz, who drove forward and finally found a clinical touch with his shot.

Before then, though, Mac Allister twice provided pinpoint delivery from the right flank.

First he delivered the corner that Van Dijk headed in with a plenty of force and precision. Then he hooked a volley across the penalty area for Gakpo to head past the excellent Thomas Kaminski. Then came Robertson’s unconventional assist for Diaz, who had adopted his friend Nunez’s mantle for taking a host of shots, some of them wayward.

Luis Diaz took 10 shots on the night and finally found the net with his ninth (Getty Images)

Elliott ensured the outcome was a vindication for Liverpool’s tactic of applying pressure. The goals were the indirect consequence of an assault, on the defence and the eardrums alike. Klopp helped engender a rousing atmosphere, rallying the crowd when Luton dreamt of their finest Premier League result and, at the 19th attempt, a first victory at Anfield to accompany the two they have got at Goodison Park this season.

The half-time scoreline may have needed them to suspend their disbelief. A decade after playing in non-league, Luton were winning at Anfield. “Conference champions, you’ll never sing that,” the visiting fans told their hosts. They were jubilant when Ogbene headed into an empty net after Caoimhin Kelleher fumbled Tahith Chong’s shot. If not a glaring error, it was not ideal preparation for the Carabao Cup final for a goalkeeper who would have played at Wembley even if Alisson was fit.

Yet Ogbene’s presence in the penalty box showed the benefits of the boldness of Luton’s wing-backs. Klopp had praised Rob Edwards for the transformation in Luton’s team this season. He scarcely wanted further evidence of it but was provided with a close-up view. Ogbene was outstanding, enhancing his case to be deemed the bargain of the season. Two blocks Teden Mengi made to deny Diaz were superb. Kaminski made two fine saves from Gakpo and a brilliant one to repel Van Dijk’s bullet header.

Ogbene opened the scoring at Anfield (AP)

Liverpool had made their trademark high-speed start. There were two chances for Diaz in the first four minutes but, when they trailed, it was tempting to wonder if they were weakened too much.

They had lost five players in the space of a few days, with Alisson, Curtis Jones, Diogo Jota, Nunez and Salah all sidelined. It meant Elliott’s 100th Liverpool appearance came in the forward line. The fourth youngest player to reach that landmark, he responded with a display of elegant creativity. Diaz could not convert the chances he fashioned but Elliott scored himself instead, whipping a shot into the net.

Liverpool got younger again in the closing stages, Klopp giving 18-year-old Jayden Danns a debut. He played the ball into the box for Elliott’s goal. Now a similar result on Sunday will get Liverpool the season’s first silverware.

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