Liverpool will at least be best-ever runners-up
This latest chapter in the title race followed the script to the letter. Nobody expected anything but a dominant win for Liverpool against basement-dwelling Huddersfield Town and that was precisely what came about. They are back on top of the league again.
This was the most predictable three points of the season at Anfield but three points that confirmed one thing, at least: if Jurgen Klopp’s side are to fall short of the club’s first league title in 29 years, then they will do so as the best runners-up of the Premier League era.
This victory saw them surpass Manchester United’s 89-point haul from the 2011-12 season, when Sir Alex Ferguson’s men lost out to Manchester City on goal difference. That same fate could still befall Liverpool, of course. More likely City finish just one point ahead.
But this was the seventh straight win for Klopp’s side and, with every passing victory, it becomes that little more remarkable that this exemplary Premier League campaign may not end in success.
City’s advantage reduced but opportunity for more missed
Looking to boost the goal difference column when chasing down City in a title race has backfired on Liverpool before, but there were few concerns about another ‘Crystanbul’ when the hosts went into the interval 3-0 up.
Two more would follow in the second half and there could have been a couple more. Sadio Mané came close to a hat-trick, striking a header against the upright. The returning Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came close, denied inside the six-yard box by Jonas Lossl.
Indeed, the only disappointment of the night at Anfield was that, against a side as open and as vulnerable as Huddersfield, City’s advantage was not reduced further.
The champions are still ahead, by three goals rather eight, and will hope to increase that number on Sunday. It is an advantage that may make all the difference in the final analysis.
Robertson and Alexander-Arnold deliver again
As he prepares to accept the PFA Player of the Year award on Sunday night, Virgil van Dijk has been widely credited as the transformative player in this Liverpool side, making it more defensively sound and resolute.
That change could have resulted in loss of attacking output but then there has been a difference out wide too. Much of Liverpool’s creativity this year has come down the flanks and their full-backs – Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold – were at it again here.
Both assisted, Robertson twice. His first a deep and searching cross, the second low and drilled. Alexander-Arnold’s, meanwhile was a perfectly-executed ball over the top of Huddersfield’s defence, chipped over the goalkeeper by Mohamed Salah.
Their combined assist tally in all competitions for the season now stands at 24. That is why both were named in the PFA Team of the Year alongside Van Dijk. They deserve just as much credit for turning Liverpool into contenders.
Huddersfield show brief signs of a Premier League after-life
For a team that took the lead inside 15 seconds, Liverpool did not play particularly well in the first 15 minutes. The period between Jon Gorenc Stankovic’s costly error and the quarter-of-an-hour mark was Huddersfield’s best of the game.
The visitors harried and unsettled a home side that slipped into lapses of concentration. Isaac Mbenza posed a particular threat, sending a couple of dangerous crosses past Liverpool’s goalmouth, and their fevered pressing caused problems too.
Jan Siewert had one job when taking over mid-season: give Huddersfield’s supporters hope that next season will be different. And though 11 defeats in 12 games is hardly promising, there have been brief signs of a Premier League afterlife.
There was the win over Wolverhampton Wanderers, the narrow defeats to West Ham, Brighton and Watford. Here, nothing was expected of them, but still there was some fight, even if it was exclusively contained inside the first 15 minutes.
Sturridge off the pace on possible farewell
A muscle injury to Roberto Firmino – nothing to be overly concerned about, according to Klopp – meant that Daniel Sturridge made only his third league start of the season and first since the turn of the year.
Unsurprisingly, this veteran of Liverpool’s last title challenge five years ago looked off the pace when next to the new generation. When tasked with leading one first-half counter-attack, he was caught by several Huddersfield players and it came to naught.
And in what may well be Sturridge’s final appearance in a Liverpool shirt, he could not cap it with a goal. There was one effort disallowed, as he strayed the width of his body beyond the last defender, mistiming his run.
If he leaves as expected when his contract expires this summer, Sturridge will always be remembered fondly for his goal-scoring in that 2013-14 campaign and a number of important goals in the injury-hit years since. And yet clearly, this team has moved on.