Substitute Roberto Firmino grabbed a stoppage-time winner as Liverpool beat Mexico’s Monterrey 2-1 on Wednesday to reach the Club World Cup final, where they will take on Brazil’s Flamengo.
Liverpool, without centre-back Virgil van Dijk, who was missing through illness and with Firmino and Sadio Mane starting on the bench, never truly imposed themselves on the game.
But their trademark perseverance paid off and earned them a place in Saturday’s final.
“They fought really hard. We had problems before the game and during the game as well, but I think the boys did exceptionally well,” said Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp.
It was a cruel ending though for Monterrey who played with discipline and brightness on the counter-attack.
They could have enjoyed a famous night had it not been for the alertness of Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
With Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip injured, Klopp had to ask midfielder Jordan Henderson to fill in for Van Dijk alongside Joe Gomez in the centre of a makeshift defence.
There were also starts for Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi in attack, as Klopp began with two-thirds of his usual attacking trident on the bench, presumably with Saturday’s final in mind.
Liverpool got off to the ideal start when they took a 12th-minute lead.
Mohamed Salah split the Monterrey defence with a clever reverse pass which Naby Keita raced on to and confidently slotted home.
The lead, however, lasted only two minutes as Liverpool’s defence failed to deal effectively with a high ball into the box.
A shot from Jesus Gallardo was blocked, but the ball fell to Rogelio Funes Mori who fired home to make it 1-1.
Liverpool’s Alisson Becker was the busier of the two goalkeepers, twice foiling the dangerous Colombian winger Dorlan Pabon before the break.
Pabon was again a threat after the interval, with Becker at full stretch to keep out his sweetly-struck free-kick.
The Brazilian goalkeeper also did well with a long-range effort from Funes Mori.
Yet with the game heading for extra-time, Firmino, who only came on in the 85th minute, settled the encounter.
The Brazilian turned in a low cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold at the near post, after good work from Salah, who kept the ball alive before bringing the right-back into the game.
It was a cruel end for an impressive Monterrey whose coach Antonio Mohamed felt they had merited more.
“We deserved a positive result. We honoured Mexican football. We were competing to win, but we lost concentration in the final minutes and conceded,” he said.
“I am proud of the way we honoured our town and country — we lost with honour and dignity and (are) looking forward to the Mexican league.”
Monterrey face a two-legged Liga MX playoff final against Club America on Dec. 26 and Dec. 29.
Saturday’s final will mark a repeat of the 1981 Intercontinental Cup, the tournament’s forerunner, when a Zico inspired Flamengo beat Liverpool 3-0 in Tokyo.
(Edited by: Olawale Alabi)
Europa League quarter-finals and semi-finals draw
Following is the draw for the 2019/2020 Europa League quarter-finals and semi-finals, which was held at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland on Friday.
Second leg matches of the last 16 ties will be played at the clubs’ respective home stadiums.
However, two ties where the first leg did not take place —- Inter Milan vs Getafe and Sevilla vs AS Roma —- will be played over a single leg in Germany.
Quarter-Finals draw (Matches on Aug. 10 and Aug. 11 in Germany)
– Quarter-final (QF) 1: Wolfsburg or Shakhtar Donetsk vs Eintracht Frankfurt or Basel
– QF 2: Manchester United or LASK vs Istanbul Basaksehir or Copenhagen
– QF 3: Inter Milan or Getafe vs Rangers or Bayer Leverkusen
– QF 4: Olympiakos or Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Sevilla or AS Roma
Semi-Finals draw (Matches on Aug. 16 and Aug. 17 in Germany)
– Semi-final (SF) : Winners of QF 4 vs Winners of QF 2
– SF : Winners of QF 3 vs Winners of QF 1
Edited By: Olawale Alabi) (NAN)
UEFA Champions League quarter-finals and semi-finals draw
Following is the draw for the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals and semi-finals, which was held at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland on Friday.
Four quarter-finalists were confirmed before the COVID-19 pandemic suspended the season, while the remaining four last 16 second leg matches will be played at the respective clubs’ home stadiums.
Quarter-Finals draw (Matches on Aug. 12 and Aug. 15 in Lisbon)
– Quarter-final (QF) 1: Real Madrid or Manchester City vs Olympique Lyonnais or Juventus
– QF 2: RB Leipzig vs Atletico Madrid
– QF 3: Napoli or FC Barcelona vs Chelsea or Bayern Munich
– QF 4: Atalanta vs Paris St-Germain (PSG)
Semi-Finals draw (Matches on Aug. 18 and Aug. 19)
– Semi-final (SF) 1: Winners of QF 1 vs Winners of QF 3
– SF 2: Winners of QF 2 vs Winners of QF 4
Edited By: Olawale Alabi) (NAN)
Key strengths of Liverpool’s title winners
Liverpool were crowned champions of England for the first time in 30 years on Thursday with seven matches remaining, having turned the English Premier League (EPL) title race into a procession.
They have smashed records along the way and more could follow, including most wins, most points and the biggest winning margin.
It will go down as a season for the ages, but what makes Juergen Klopp’s side such an unstoppable force?
All truly great sides are constructed on unshakeable foundations and Liverpool are no exception.
When Manchester City splashed out 35 million pounds (43.39 million dollars) on goalkeeper Ederson in 2017 it raised eyebrows.
But, a year later, Liverpool paid nearly double that for another Brazilian shot-stopper, Alisson Becker.
It was a masterstroke.
Alisson kept 21 clean sheets last season as Liverpool and Manchester City went head-to-head in an epic title race, more than any other goalkeeper.
He leads the way again with 12 this time in spite of being out injured early in the season.
Alisson exudes calm, distributes the ball like a cultured libero and make the difficult look remarkably routine.
In front of him, Dutch centre-back Virgil van Dijk has been a colossus since joining from Southampton in 2018.
Rarely can a defensive signing have made such an incredible impact.
Van Dijk’s ability to pick a pass means Liverpool can turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye.
And when it comes to defensive basics, he does everything with rare grace.
In front of Van Dijk is Liverpool’s engine block.
Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho, with James Milner as a reliable back-up, provide the relentless intensity opposing sides find so suffocating.
Without them working in unison, Liverpool’s attacking maestros could not flourish.
When the mercurial Philippe Coutinho left for FC Barcelona in 2018, some feared Liverpool’s creative spark would fade.
Instead, they have flourished.
Klopp’s early Liverpool sides often came unstuck against the “low block” when lesser opponents sat in deep and let Liverpool pass themselves into knots.
Then something happened.
Youth product Trent Alexander-Arnold established himself as first-choice right-back and left-back Andy Robertson joined from Hull for a paltry eight million pounds.
Operating like well-oiled pistons on each flank, they are arguably the best full-back pairing in the world, providing pace, penetration and creativity to open up even the most limpet-like defensive rearguards.
Alexander-Arnold is second behind only Manchester City magician Kevin de Bruyne in the assist charts this season with 12, while Robertson is fourth on the list with eight.
In Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino Liverpool possess an attacking trio that is almost impossible to contain.
As well as searing pace and lethal finishing prowess, Salah and Mane are a midfielder’s dream with their intelligent runs.
Salah and Mane have bagged 32 league goals between them this season while the Klopp’s modern-day number nine Firmino is the unsung hero, running himself into the ground for the cause.
Klopp has ingrained a sense of collective responsibility at Liverpool —- a characteristic of all great sides.
But skipper Jordan Henderson is their talisman.
It took him an age to come out of the more naturally-gifted Steven Gerrard’s shadow.
Even now, football analysis website transfermarkt.co.uk puts the 30-year-old down at 13th when comparing market values of Liverpool’s squad.
But his contribution is priceless.
Henderson’s passing range has expanded, his energy is relentless and above all, he will not tolerate a dip in standards from his team mates.
Henderson shuns the limelight but no captain will be more worthy of raising the Premier League trophy aloft.
Edited By: Olawale Alabi) (NAN)
Ending 30 years of hurt makes Liverpool title win very fitting
Thirty years of hurt came to an end for Liverpool when they were confirmed as Premier League champions on Thursday, courtesy of second-placed Manchester City’s 2-1 defeat by Chelsea.
The result at Stamford Bridge means Liverpool have an unassailable 23-point lead over Manchester City with seven games left.
Liverpool were last champions of England when they won the old First Division title in 1989/1990.
After this was a decline in fortunes which saw Manchester United and Arsenal, then Chelsea and Manchester City seize power.
Inspirational manager Juergen Klopp has rekindled the Anfield flame though.
He delivered the club’s 19th top-flight title, one behind arch-rivals United’s record of 20, after finishing runners-up to Manchester City in a thrilling race last season.
As the Chelsea game moved into stoppage time at an empty stadium in London, 350km away outside Anfield Liverpool fans began lighting red flares as the celebrations began in earnest.
Also watching from afar was an emotional Klopp.
“I have no words. It’s unbelievable and much more than I ever thought would be possible,” he said, after being congratulated by Liverpool great Kenny Dalglish, manager of the 1989/1990 title winners.
“It’s easy to motivate this team because of our great history. It’s pure joy for me to coach them.”
In the last 12 months Liverpool have won the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and World Club Cup.
But regaining their status as top dogs in England, something that was almost a given in the 1970s and 1980s, was the priority.
“Juergen has been fantastic and epitomises everything Liverpool Football Club stands for,” Dalglish said in reaction.
“And it’s not just a one-off. Last year they came within a point of it and this year they have only lost once.
“Onwards and upwards, I think they have a lot more happy days to look forward to now.”
In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic forcing a three-month suspension of the season and delaying Liverpool’s coronation, they have won the title with a record seven games to spare.
They eclipsed the mark jointly held by Manchester United (2000/2001) and Manchester City (2017/2018), who sealed their respective titles with five games left.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola paid tribute to Liverpool.
“Big congratulations for Liverpool,” said the Spaniard, whose title-winning side finished 25 points ahead of Klopp’s team two seasons ago and pipped them by a point last term.
“After 30 years without the title they played every game this season like it was their last, with incredible focus. We were not consistent enough,” he added.
Had it not been for the unprecedented stoppage Liverpool were on course to smash the record for the earliest clinching of the league title.
Instead, they are now the first team to lift the coveted trophy as late as June.
Liverpool finished last season with nine straight league wins.
But after claiming the UEFA Champions League by beating Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid, they began the new campaign in relentless fashion to leave rivals trailing in their wake.
With 28 wins and one defeat in 31 games, Liverpool have set a record-breaking pace and were 25 points clear in February —- the biggest lead in Premier League history.
When they beat West Ham United that month it was their 18th successive top-flight win, matching Manchester City’s record.
But when their hopes of an unbeaten season were dashed by a 3-0 defeat at Watford, it was a result that was merely a blip.
Leading the charge has been Mohamed Salah, the Egyptian forward who is the first Liverpool player to score at least 20 goals in all competitions in three consecutive seasons.
This was since Michael Owen achieved same at the start of the millennium.
Salah scored on Wednesday as Liverpool thrashed Crystal Palace 4-0 at Anfield —– a result that meant Manchester City had to beat Chelsea to delay the inevitable for a while longer.
Manchester City were the first team to breach the 100-point barrier in the Premier League two seasons ago.
But Liverpool are on course to shatter that mark, as well as records for most points at home (55) and most wins in a season (32).
Edited By: Olawale Alabi) (NAN)