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5 talking points as Firmino’s brace vs Man Utd boosts Liverpool’s top four hopes

Liverpool came from behind and survived a late onslaught to snatch a vital three points against Man Utd on Thursday to keep their top four hopes alive.

Bruno Fernandes helped fired United into an early lead when his shot towards goal was inadvertently turned in by Liverpool defender Nat Phillips.

The visitors rallied though and managed to produce a stunning comeback.

First United failed to clear from a corner with the ball eventually falling to Philiips, whose shot towards goal was turned in by a magnificent backheel from Diogo Jota.

Then on the stroke of half-time Liverpool got their noses in front, as Trent Alexander-Arnold’s whipped free-kick was met by the head of Roberto Firmino charging in at the far post.

Mohamed Salah congratulates Roberto Firmino after the Brazilian scored Liverpool’s third

Firmino then bagged his brace straight after the break – again off the back of good work by Alexander-Arnold – reacting to a rebound from the full-back’s shot to volley past Dean Henderson.

Any hopes Liverpool had of cruising to victory from there though were dashed when Marcus Rashford reduced the deficit before United threw everything at their rivals.

But the hosts couldn’t find another breakthrough, as their pressure was eventually punished as Mohamed Salah scored on the break.

For a game which has so often failed to deliver in terms of entertainment value, this one more than lived up to its billing.

Here are the talking points from Old Trafford.

1. Bailly penalty call

Eric Bailly was let off for his robust challenge on Nat Phillips inside the area
Eric Bailly was let off for his robust challenge on Nat Phillips inside the area

Liverpool had shouts for an early penalty waved away after Roberto Firmino’s shot hit Eric Bailly’s arm in the box – and rightly so – there wasn’t much the United defender could do about it.

But it was a less clear cut decision when he clattered into Nat Phillips around half hour in.

Referee Lee Mason was in no two minds, pointing straight to the spot as United’s players protested, but soon changed his mind after some correspondence with the VAR.

Liverpool’s players weren’t happy with the decision, and it was a tough one, but it’s time we eliminated this grey area and give some power back to the defenders.

Yes it was clumsy, robust and yes Bailly did take Phillips clean out. But he got the ball first, there was no real danger to the attack and it was hardly a malicious challenge.

If we start giving penalties for that we really are in trouble, and Mason was right to overturn it.

2. In my defence…

Roberto Firmino puts Liverpool ahead with a pinpoint header
Roberto Firmino puts Liverpool ahead with a pinpoint header

Take nothing away from Alexander-Arnold’s perfect delivery. Take nothing away from Firmino’s movement and bullet header.

But let’s be frank… Paul Pogba should have done better.

Defending isn’t exactly the Frenchman’s strongpoint, but his marking just moments before half-time was non-existent.

He let Firmino have a clear run at goal without any disruption or attempt to block him off, and seemingly any awareness that the striker was behind him in the first place.

The fact Pogba gave away the free-kick for a petulant foul doesn’t look too favourably on him either.

It’s not the first time his nonchalance has cost United, and it won’t be the last.

3. Bobby back in the goals

Firmino ended his barren run with two striker's goals
Firmino ended his barren run with two striker’s goals

It’s been a while… January 29 in fact. The last time Firmino got on the scoresheet.

And as usual, the goals came along like buses to end the Brazilian’s drought.

Two crucial interventions from their No.9 either side of half-time put Liverpool well in command and gave United a mountain to climb.

But perhaps more pleasing to Jurgen Klopp will have been the manner of the goals he put way.

Firmino has been heavily criticised this season for his performances and disappointing strike rate.

Yet while he isn’t your conventional No.9, both his goals were exactly what you’d expect from one – a back post header and a close-range finish.

The fact he was even in those positions will have been encouraging enough for Klopp, who backed his forward this week and seemingly has no intentions of replacing him in the summer.

Firmino’s still got some pressure on his shoulders, but a few goals to help secure a top four finish will go along way to reminding the fans he still knows where the net is.

4. Are you watching Gareth Sout… oh forget it

Trent Alexander-Arnold was on top form again to help Liverpool to victory
Trent Alexander-Arnold was on top form again to help Liverpool to victory

You’re almost running out of things to say at this point.

If it’s not clear to the watching England manager who his best right-back is by now, it’s not going to be.

Alexander-Arnold continued his impressive run of late with another display right out the top drawer and was arguably the best player on the pitch.

His ball for Firmino’s first goal was right on the money, and it was his persistent threat which led to his teammates second.

At one stage he even popped up on the left-wing and almost scored from there.

United dropped a rick by putting Pogba up against him when the pace and work rate of Rashford would have been more appropriate.

But it was still down to Alexander-Arnold’s tireless running that Liverpool had such a valuable outlet – one which United couldn’t deal with.

Just get him on the plane already, Gareth.

5. In Liverpool’s hands

Diogo Jota's goal pulled Liverpool back level and from there they largely dominated
Diogo Jota’s goal pulled Liverpool back level and from there they largely dominated

Liverpool needed to get a result here to stand any chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season and they pulled one of their better performances out of the bag to keep themselves in the race.

United could have wrapped up second place with a win but fell off the pace after the first 20 minutes and couldn’t find an equaliser despite their best efforts late on.

This was Jurgen Klopp’s side back to their best in terms of their forward play, even if some of their defending left a little to be desired.

And the result keeps things interesting with just a few games to go.

From here you’d back Liverpool to seal a top four spot, with favourable fixtures against West Brom, Burnley and Crystal Palace to come.

Much is likely to hinge on Leicester’s fixtures against Chelsea and Tottenham.

But for Klopp, this is just what was required.



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