When Mohamed Salah was summoned from the bench, the task was twofold. Win the game and the league for Liverpool. He managed one but not the other, a Manchester City comeback taking Liverpool’s destiny out of their own hands.
The bid for the historic quadruple finally ended, perhaps in a suitable style, with Liverpool winning. They have triumphed in 16 of their last 18 league games, but it was not enough. It amounted to a second case of doomed heroics in four league seasons, chasing City to the last again, finishing with more than 90 points, but coming second.
On a strange afternoon at Anfield, the loudest ovation was reserved for part of Liverpool’s past. When Philippe Coutinho put Aston Villa 2-0 up at the Etihad, all Liverpool needed a goal. They procured two in the end, but Andy Robertson’s strike met with less noise than Coutinho’s. Even Jurgen Klopp looked subdued, aware that nine months of work could end with Liverpool as champions of Europe, but not England.
Salah’s cameo had a purpose, and not merely in condemning a spirited Wolves side to defeat. Son Heung-min had overtaken him in the race for the golden boot with a brace at Norwich. The Egyptian’s first goal in eight games, and only a third in open play since February, drew him level. The footballer of the year has added more silverware to join the FA and Carabao Cups. Injured in the FA Cup final, he returned to the pitch and the scoresheet alike.
I have found a scruffy way to end a drought but, with a Champions League final beckoning, it may have been timely. Salah bundled the ball over the line after Joel Matip’s forceful header was somehow blocked by Raul Jimenez on the line and Sadio Mane hooked the ball away from John Ruddy.
Mane, who had got Liverpool’s equaliser, extended his own fine form, a ninth goal in 12 starts reward for the most threatening display of any of Klopp’s attackers. Roberto Firmino, another brought off the bench during an hour-long impasse at 1-1, helped set up Robertson’s third, the left-back completing a one-two and a move that featured a lovely flick from Mane.
He, at least, heads to Paris in fine fettle. The same may not be true of his supplier. Thiago Alcantara produced a pass of effortless brilliance, releasing Mane with a backheel. The Senegalese slotted a shot past Jose Sa and, when offside, later dinked one over the hurt goalkeeper’s replacement, Ruddy.
But Thiago’s artistry was followed by his injury. His fragility necessitated his departure from him, the injured Spaniard going off at half-time to join those whose preparation for the Champions League final is less than ideal. He was hopping and hobbling around the dugout in the second half, which scarcely boded well. That Divock Origi, scorer of their last goal in Champions League finals, missed his Anfield farewell with injury offered further cause for concern.
Nor, indeed, was this a performance to have Real Madrid quaking. Liverpool were ragged at the back and, until the last 10 minutes, wasteful in attack. Wolves had conceded four goals to Kevin de Bruyne alone 11 days earlier but, with a hugely defiant display from Willy Boly, they put up stiffer resistance.
Liverpool made a false start, early optimism dented by a defensive mishap. It was a day when Virgil van Dijk, only judged fit enough to be a substitute, was missed. The offside trap malfunctioned in his absence from him, with Wolves escaping behind the Liverpool back four. Leander Dendoncker ought to have doubled their lead, shooting wide after Pedro Neto found him. Hwang Hee-Chan should have restored their advantage, with Alisson making a terrific save.
But the opener was chastening for Ibrahima Konate, who has been so impressive of late. He missed Sa’s kick, giving the goalkeeper a pre-assist by heading thin air and allowing Jimenez to run in behind and center for Neto’s finish.
The start to Neto’s season was delayed by injury and the end was hastened by it, with the Portuguese limping off. That his campaign contained a solitary goal means Wolves can wonder what would have happened had he been fit throughout.
They had chances for winners with Hwang threatening. Twice more Jimenez overhit the final pass. Instead, Salah and Robertson scored, but only when it became academic. Liverpool ended the domestic campaign unbeaten in 2022 and at Anfield. But, crucially, not champions. Theirs have been a bold bid but, in 2022 as in 2019, they end up a point behind City, again so near and yet so far.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.