Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino bamboozles flat-footed Huddersfield

Paul Wilson at the John Smith's Stadium on 30 January 2018

Liverpool’s epic victory over Manchester City this month was beginning to look like a Pyrrhic one through being followed by two unexpected defeats against teams from the bottom of the Premier League, so there was considerable relief when first-half goals from Emre Can and Roberto Firmino helped Jürgen Klopp’s side stop the rot in West Yorkshire.

“It was not brilliant but it was deserved,” the Liverpool manager said. “It was the reaction we needed. Sometimes a little bit of pressure is not too bad, it can make you perform.”

That ought to encourage David Wagner, though the Huddersfield manager knows his players are under much more pressure now.

Strictly speaking Town are not yet a bottom-of-the-table team, though without a league win since mid-December they look to be heading that way. They offered token resistance here, have picked up two home wins since beating Manchester United in October and their next game is at Old Trafford this Saturday. “The quality side won,” Wagner said. “That tends to happen if you don’t have much luck. I see effort and commitment from my players but our confidence isn’t the highest.”

While not at their best Liverpool were still slick enough to secure the points to all intents in the first half and could have won by a more convincing margin but for squandering chances later.

The visitors surprisingly started without Virgil van Dijk, at £75m the most expensive substitute in Liverpool history, while the home side switched to three at the back and gave Laurent Depoitre and Steve Mounié a rare outing together up front. The former was involved in the first opening of the game, stabbing a first-time shot that forced a save from Loris Karius after Philip Billing had flicked on Chris Lowe’s cross. It was a better opportunity than Huddersfield possibly realised but, although Depoitre had a clear sight of goal, the ball was running away from him and he did not have time to steady himself.

Huddersfield were left regretting that when Liverpool took the lead midway through the half. Can had already brought a routine save from Jonas Lössl with an optimistic shot from outside the area but, when a headed clearance from Christopher Schindler came his way a minute later, he had no hesitation in having another go from a similar distance. Philip Billing’s attempt to close him down was a little late and more than a little half-hearted and the midfielder succeeded only in deflecting Can’s effort beyond Lössl.

That seemed to settle Liverpool, even if the travelling support was well aware that taking the lead against West Brom in the last game had been the signal for their opponents to hit back with three goals.

Huddersfield were unlikely to do the same by retreating behind the halfway line, yet that is precisely what they did, inviting Liverpool to pass the ball around the edge of their area. Liverpool are quite good at that and, when Andrew Robertson beat Florent Hadergjonaj to reach the byline, it took a timely intervention by Schindler to prevent his cutback reaching James Milner.

The only response Huddersfield made before half-time was from a free-kick just outside the area when Chris Löwe’s shot flew narrowly wide. If that was hard luck, Huddersfield had only themselves to blame for going two goals down on the stroke of the interval. The interplay between Milner and Sadio Mané that sent Firmino into the area would have been hard for anyone to counter, though once the Brazilian began to dribble along the goalline towards Lössl the home defenders positioned themselves for a cross. Firmino punished this presumption, squeezing a shot between the goalkeeper and his near post from an impossibly narrow angle.

Mané should have increased Liverpool’s lead early in the second half but could not quite summon the power or the placement with a header and, when Milner tried a rising drive from outside the area, the goalkeeper was alert enough to tip his effort over the bar. Mané was wide with another header as the game moved into its final quarter and Mohamed Salah could find only the sidenetting after rounding Lössl.

Huddersfield did have a penalty claim before the end but Kevin Friend waved away appeals for Robertson’s challenge on Collin Quaner, just before awarding one at the other end for Billing’s clumsy but harmless stumble into Can. Salah stepped up to score and further incense the crowd, yet it simply had not been the home side’s night and it could easily have been worse.

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