Mini-crisis? What mini-crisis? After two defeats in two, a lack of late transfer activity and a general sulkiness among a small element of the support base, Liverpool will be glad to have returned to winning ways with a routine victory over Huddersfield Town.
Jurgen Klopp did not ‘need’ to win this game, as some of Liverpool’s more feverish fans suggested, but this victory over former colleague and old friend David Wagner will nevertheless be most welcome after last week’s defeat to Swansea City and Saturday’s surprise FA Cup elimination at the hands of West Bromwich Albion.
That these three points came through three unanswered goals, from Emre Can, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah’s penalty, will only be more satisfying. Huddersfield battled well in the early stages but the spirit they initially showed gradually faded. The Terriers are now without a win in their last seven Premier League games and, sitting just two points above the relegation zone, they must start looking over their shoulder.
The teamsheet told us two things. Liverpool would do their best to go without their £75m signing Virgil van Dijk, who was rested and left among the substitutes. Huddersfield, meanwhile, lined up with a flat back five and wisely sought to frustrate opponents who have struggled at times against deep-set defences.
This conservative set-up seemed at odds with Wagner’s pre-match comments, when he described his old friend’s side as “vulnerable”, but in the opening exchanges Huddersfield managed to mix solid, resolute defending with a handful of counter-attacks that threatened to expose Liverpool’s time-honoured defensive problems.
Laurent Depoitre should have done more to test Loris Karius when one such flowing break forward handed him a clear sight of goal, but his effort was straight at the Liverpool goalkeeper. It was the best moment of a scrappy opening 25 minutes that had, in fairness, gone completely to plan for the hosts.
Come the 26th, however, that plan went to pot. Can’s strike on the half-volley from outside the box was superbly struck, well enough for the midfielder to register his fifth goal of the season, but it was helped past Jonas Lossl by a slight deflection off Philip Billing.
Huddersfield pushed up in search of an equaliser as the first half drew on and came closest after Sadio Mané carelessly conceded a free-kick on the edge of Liverpool’s penalty area. Chris Lowe’s attempt left Karius helpless but zipped just inches wide of the ‘keeper’s right-hand post.
The hosts were buoyant for a few short minutes, but in stoppage time at the end of the first half, Firmino silenced the John Smith’s Stadium and doubled Liverpool’s lead. After slipping clear through the inside-left channel, taking the ball to the byline and sauntering up towards goal, the Brazilian slotted in from almost a 90 degree angle, between Lossl and his near post. It was the finish of an in-form player.
Liverpool resumed control when the two sides re-emerged, with Huddersfield lacking any of the counter-attacking potential they had shown early doors.
Mané came close to finding a third but his diving header with Can’s superb cross was saved down low by Lossl. It was much the same story some quarter of an hour later when Can once again sent an excellent raking ball into the penalty area and Mané stretched his neck muscles to make a connection. This time, the header zipped wide.
With little to please them out on the pitch, the home fans were forced to find amusement in calling Karius a “fat Danny Ward”, in tribute to Liverpool’s third-choice ‘keeper who helped Huddersfield achieve promotion last season. They finally found something to shout with 18 minutes remaining when substitute Colin Quaner tumbled to the turf inside Liverpool’s penalty area under pressure from Andrew Robertson, but referee Kevin Friend saw no foul.
When Friend then awarded Liverpool a spot-kick for a similar foul by Billing on Can, the decibel levels peaked and a keen sense of injustice set in. Salah, who had otherwise been a little quieter than his usual self, did not allow the heightened atmosphere to intimidate him. Having missed one penalty against Huddersfield at Anfield in October, he converted to make sure of the three points.
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