For May, read September. The last two times Liverpool have faced Newcastle, Divock Origi has changed the game. This, admittedly, was not a dramatic intervention in the manner of his winner at St James’ Park, four minutes from the end of the penultimate match of the title race.
This time Origi’s influence was rather more indirect. He had started on the left wing. A quarter of the way into the match, with Liverpool, trailing, he swapped with Sadio Mane. A few minutes later, the Senegalese, who had been restored to his best position, cancelled out Jetro Willems’ similarly spectacular opener. Origi’s next catalytic contribution was to go off injured. Enter Roberto Firmino, who played a pivotal part in Mane’s second goal.
Barcelona’s unlikely nemesis, the man who then scored in a Champions League final, Origi had already cemented cult hero status on Merseyside before he facilitated a club record 14th consecutive league win. The real architect, obviously, was Mane. Unhappy when Mohamed Salah failed to pass to him at Burnley two weeks ago, he capitalised on the service of others instead. Imagine how many goals Mane would score if Salah was as selfless as Firmino.
The Brazilian was the other catalyst. Jurgen Klopp had planned to rest him - forthcoming matches against Napoli and Chelsea likely to require more huge efforts from a relentless runner - but Liverpool looked far better when Origi departed and Firmino assumed his usual role between Salah and Mane and, in the interests of fairness, set up a goal for each. A lovely flick sent Salah sprinting clear to score Liverpool’s third goal.
If the eventual outcome felt familiar, there was a novelty factor initially. Liverpool are unaccustomed to trailing at Anfield and Newcastle to winning there. Willems’ first United appearance had farcical proportions, after he wandered on to play midfield when Steve Bruce wanted him to operate as a left wing-back and, as the positional switch was belatedly made, Arsenal scored. His second start began altogether more auspiciously as he hammered a shot into the top corner of the Liverpool net.
Liverpool took time to react. They were denied a penalty when Joel Matip was tugged by Jamaal Lascelles as they jumped to reach Salah’s corner. Mane channelled any feelings of injustice perfectly by levelling a minute later with a shot that was as unstoppable as Willems’ early efforts.
Then Origi exited, Firmino entered and Liverpool flourished. The newcomer set up Mane’s second goal – typically, he helped win the ball back with his pressing – even if it required an error from Martin Dubravka. Yet Liverpool’s front three functions supremely when the wingers run beyond Firmino into the channels: so it was when he looked to feed Mane. Dubravka failed to gather his pass and the ball looped up off the goalkeeper to give Mane the simplest of finishes. Firmino added a flick to release Salah. Three goals for Liverpool and the usual three points.
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