Liverpool 5-5 Arsenal (5-4 pens): Who was man of the match?
It may only have been a League Cup Round of 16 tie, but this will go down as a classic. Liverpool’s youth contingent, above all local lad Curtis Jones, will remember for it for the rest of their still-nascent careers.
Twice in this match Liverpool were dealt hammerblows – falling 4-2 behind in catastrophic fashion before Joe Willock’s wondergoal threatened to render their valiant comeback meaningless. But evidently the relentlessness, the unwavering belief which characterises the first-team is pervasive.
Virtually every player in red faltered consequentially at some stage, yet each strove tirelessly for redemption, and at last Arsenal were overwhelmed.
It had threatened to be a pretty wretched evening for Caoimhin Kelleher, his Anfield debut predominantly spent scooping the ball back out of the net. Reflecting on perhaps three of the goals, he may feel he could have shown more conviction. But the penalties presented an opportunity to attain instant hero status, and he seized it with a decisive and excellent save to deny Dani Ceballos. He can now expect to fend off competition from Adrian, incidentally a shoot-out match-winner himself, for the quarterfinal.
The ultimate glory will largely shield Liverpool’s makeshift defence from criticism. They certainly weren’t helped by those in front of them consistently giving the ball away and launching Arsenal counters, but their efforts to wrestle back possession in the moments after were tame.
Sepp van den Berg is clearly only at the beginning of a development process which will ready him for the top level. Joe Gomez looked rather sheepish in the absence of an experienced partner, and James Milner needed two clinical finishes from the spot to overshadow a criminally under-hit backpass leading to Arsenal’s fourth.
But what about Neco Williams? Many Liverpool supporters wouldn’t have had heard his name before tonight, and those who had probably knew very little about him. Here though he announced himself with a fearless, dogged performance, culminating in a make-or-break assist for Divock Origi. Yet another young full-back with heaps of potential has emerged.
Moving into midfield, you could argue only one of the experienced trio delivered. Adam Lallana was frustratingly ill-equipped for the no.6 role in a high-intensity affair and Naby Keita’s Premier League starting chances took a hit with a display that fell short in both departments: his last contribution was to play a hospital pass the way of Milner.
After his deflected cross produced the opener, a gradual series of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain errors were drawing smug jeers from the away end but he channeled that hostile reception into motivation and seized the game by the scruff of the neck, producing yet another scorcher of a goal to set Anfield ablaze.
Continuing the redemptive trend, Harvey Elliott carelessly lost the ball to virtually hand Arsenal the third goal but then won a penalty at the other end and proved a menace in the second half.
Rhian Brewster may not have got in on the scoring act, but Klopp looks beyond the headlines when assessing the contribution of his attackers and he’ll be very pleased with Brewster’s displays of tenacity. One particular moment, when he flew into a number of tackles in quick succession as Liverpool searched for a route back into the game, stands out given that it rallied the dishearted supporters.
So it comes down to Divock Origi vs Curtis Jones for MOTM.
There’s no doubting that Origi’s contribution was vital and he injected much-needed quality with a dazzling turn teeing-up his first before, ice-cool as ever in the dying stages, he steered a precise volley beyond Martinez.
But, 15 to 20 years from now, we may look back on this bracing October night as the launch of a scouser’s starring career at his boyhood club.
The overall verdict isn’t just sentimental, though. Jones was introduced in the aftermath of what looked a killer Ainsley Maitland-Niles goal but would go onto outshine his vastly experienced partners in the middle of the park.
It was his driving, single-minded run which ended in the assist for Origi’s fourth.
And then he expertly shouldered the all-consuming pressure in the final act of a simply exhausting, blow-for-blow contest by finding the bottom left corner from 12 yards.
Jones looks destined to be the next talent to make a senior breakthrough. This, it must be stressed, only marks the highpoint of what is turning into a hugely impressive season.
In nine Premier League 2 matches, Jones has scored five and laid on four, even with his side struggling. In the UEFA Youth League, he has struck twice in three games. The 18-year-old is turning flashes into consistent delivery.
And so it seems the only way from here is up.