Liverpool 1-0 Flamengo (AET): Who was man of the match?
World champions and international treble winners: that has quite the ring to it. Though profligate in front of goal and on the receiving end of some woeful refereeing, Liverpool eventually ran out victorious against Flamengo to cap off a memorable 2019 with more silverware.
South America’s finest were impressive in the first half but the Reds, who went up a gear from the semifinal as Klopp fielded his strongest side, dominated thereafter and ultimately deserved the victory.
But who impressed most for the champions?
Alisson Becker’s contribution against Monterrey last time out was vital but had relatively little to do here, with Flamengo able to muster only three shots on target over the course of the 120 minutes. His toughest test was Gabriel Barbosa’s low shot across goal early in the second half, and he passed it.
Trent Alexander-Arnold nearly opened the scoring in the first 10 minutes but would spend most of the game trying to contain Bruno Henrique in a battle Flamengo’s best player initially edged. Fellow full-back Andrew Robertson also offered slightly less than usual in an attacking sense, but performed solidly on the whole.
Virgil van Dijk helped Liverpool to their fourth clean sheet in five matches but it was his central partner Joe Gomez who really starred in the backline. This is perhaps the closest he has come to recapturing his excellent pre-injury form from the first half of last season. He was virtually a brick wall here.
In midfield, Naby Keita couldn’t quite replicate his semifinal impact. He blazed over early on when he ought to have made the net bulge, but was set to execute another deadly combination with Mohamed Salah before a bodycheck the referee somehow ignored. He’s certainly set for healthy game time over the festive period.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain joined Keita in an aggressive selection and turned in a battling display prior to another concerning injury.
As on Wednesday, Roberto Firmino was Liverpool’s matchwinner, this time showcasing immense composure to sit the last line of defence down and fire home. Prior to that champagne moment, it had actually been a tricky evening for the forward, his passing and decision-making again letting him down.
He can play considerably better, but equally, producing the goods even when off your game is the established mark of a top player.
Sadio Mane deserves credit for his measured assist. He could have gone for glory himself but dutifully met Firmino’s call with a swivelled pass which put it on a plate. Mane might have been the hero had Rafinha not tripped him when racing through on goal, but the less said about that particular incident, the better…
It had been a frustrating game for Salah, but he’ll leave Doha struggling to juggle all the silverware. A player of the tournament award and mysterious prize from the sponsors to add to the main showpiece. His important role in both semifinal goals makes that decision justifiable.
But the titular honour goes to the man who held the trophy aloft after his now trademark shuffle: Jordan Henderson.
Henderson’s role is usually understated in some ways, but he has had an eventful tournament. Having filled in at centre-back against Monterrey and very nearly scored a spectacular long-range final winner, he produced a bending ball forward which evaded the Flamengo defence and set Mane away before he teed-up Firmino.
It was only a fortnight ago that he set-up the Reds’ opener at Bournemouth with an even better pick-out for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. His long passing has been sublime.
As has now become customary, Henderson delivered a captain’s performance for the big occasion. Usually I’d try to support such ringing praise with some numbers, but in this case it was simply a matter of using your eyes. The 29-year-old sets a magnificent example with his tooth-and-nail battling and assured use of possession.
With each triumphant moment of celebration, his stature grows. In the peak period of his career, he has consigned his doubters to a fractional and shrinking minority.
2019 was the year of three Jordan Henderson trophy lifts. 2020 looks to set to bear more for the best team in the world, one of which might be etched in the Liverpool consciousness for generations…