Now we’ve seen it all. In this crazy season, with Liverpool’s title defence in tatters long before Manchester City had been crowned Premier League champions, their chances of even qualifying for the Champions League about to disappear on the back of a draw with already relegated West Bromwich Albion, up popped their goalkeeper Alisson to head in the winning goal three minutes into stoppage time.
That’s how desperate Liverpool had got. Yet as Trent Alexander-Arnold flung over yet another corner, the Brazilian stopper rose at the near post to glance on a powerful header into the far top corner.
The entire Liverpool team surrounded their unlikely hero before Alisson, whose father died earlier this year, emerged to point to the skies.
The Liverpool bench celebrated wildly as the final whistle blew within a minute. So Jürgen Klopp’s side live to fight another day as, with Burnley and Crystal Palace still to play, they moved within a point of fourth-placed Chelsea.
In the hunt for the golden boot, Mo Salah had moved level with Harry Kane on 22 goals to cancel out Hal Robson-Kanu’s early goal for relegated West Brom. Notwithstanding FA Cup finalists Chelsea and Leicester play one another on Tuesday evening, everything is still up in the air in the battle for the final two Champions League places.
Liverpool dominated possession of course, notwithstanding the loss of Diogo Jota through an ankle injury sustained in Thursday’s win at Old Trafford that rules him out of these last three games of the season. That at least offered a straight forward way back into the starting XI for Sadio Mané, whom the manager said beforehand had apologised for refusing to shake his hand at the end of the previous game.
Roberto Firmino, scorer of two goals against Manchester United, started with the armband for the first time as Liverpool pressed West Brom into errors in dangerous areas around the edge of their own box.
Conor Gallagher’s miscontrol invited a snapshot from Thiago that deflected behind for a corner. When this was returned to Alexander-Arnold, the in-form right-back’s cross was header over by Nat Phillips.
If it appeared the die was cast, however, the one-way traffic was promptly reversed after Thiago was adjudged to have fouled Okay Yokuslu near the centre circle. The Spain playmaker held his head in his hands in disbelief but credibility was suspended when Albion promptly scored.
The initial free-kick was cleared but in a game played in such a rush, with such a high proportion of turnovers, the ball came back for Matheus Pereira to play a cushioned side-footed pass over Liverpool’s back line for Robson-Kanu to run in on the inside-right channel, open up his body and slot home a left-footed shot. On his first Premier League start of the season, it was the Wales striker’s first league goal since February of last year.
With the pressure of a relegation battle at least over, this might have afforded Albion the opportunity to play with some freedom but Liverpool penned them in relentlessly.
Mané should have equalised when shooting wide of the near post after Fabinho played in Thiago down the right of the penalty area. Then Salah pulled Alexander-Arnold’s lovely cross-field pass, left to right, out of the sky with a sumptuous first touch but could only plop the second into Sam Johnstone’s grateful arms.
Salah was not so wasteful 12 minutes before half-time, however, when West Brom were again caught dawdling near their own D. Grady Diangana played a pass back towards a teammate but Mané intercepted to square the ball to Salah who struck his 22nd league goal of the season with a first-time left-footed shot from the edge of the area.
This put the Egyptian equal with Kane, in the sub-plot of the Premier League’s golden-boot chase, and Liverpool level. Almost immediately they could have been ahead. Mané’s backheel rebounded off Yokuslu into Firmino’s path but his shot struck the post.
It was a helter-skelter of a game; a playground battle between the older pupils and the youngsters invited to join in. Liverpool were dominant in terms of territory, possession and goal attempts but they did not have control.
It was frantic, exhilarating for the neutral, but felt like the last few minutes of a cup game, not midway through a match between the last Premier League champions and next season’s Championship promotion hopefuls.
When Robson-Kanu again found himself running clear on goal, it took a dynamic recovery from Alexander-Arnold to prevent another twist.
The second half continued in the same go-for-broke vein. Pereira found himself on a one-on-one race with Phillips from the halfway line but could only get a weak shot away, easily saved.
From Albion’s own corner, Conor Townsend was left waving his hands in the air as he saw Salah and Alexander-Arnold coming at him, two on one. It was the stuff of a young defender’s nightmares. Thankfully for the home team, though Salah timed his run to perfection onto Alexander-Arnold’s through pass, his shot was expertly held by Johnstone. This did not save Albion’s players from a right old rollicking from Sam Allardyce who suggested that since they knew what to do, then they should also do it.
Mané had one netted effort disallowed for offside; Albion were celebrating when Kyle Bartley headed home Diangana’s corner only for VAR to judge the offside Matt Phillips was in Allison’s sightline. There was still time for Alexander-Arnold to cut easily inside only to shoot over from eight yards out. It was a crazy game as Liverpool’s extinguished title defence came to its crazy end.
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