Liverpool were lucky against Aston Villa. If you believe some headlines, Jurgen Klopp even admitted it.
“Yes of course when you score these kind of goals, it’s lucky, but it’s not that we didn’t deserve to win the game,” he said after the 2-1 win against Aston Villa.
On the balance of play, few will contest that Liverpool dominated both the ball and chances. They outshot Aston Villa 25-4, and yet, but for a toe from Virgil Van Dijk late in the second half it could have finished 2-0 to Aston Villa.
“It wasn’t one-way traffic,” Dean Smith said afterwards.
That doesn’t stop the assertion that Liverpool are lucky. What those people missed was Sadio Mane laying the groundwork for a comeback long before he glanced a header past Tom Heaton in injury time. The Senegalese international was the catalyst for Liverpool on a day when the ball seemed allergic to the Villa goal.
“Our mentality was fantastic,” Sadio Mane said afterwards. “At 1-0 down, we kept believing,” he added. “We missed chances. But we tried, tried, and tried again.”
That mentality seems in line with that of his manager, which is intertwined with humility.
“I don’t always believe,” Klopp said. “But I never give up.”
Liverpool could easily have given up and played the bad luck card in their defence. On a day when the ball seemed allergic to the Villa goal for long periods, Liverpool mustered an xG of 2.39 (via Understat.com). There was also Roberto Firmino’s equaliser in the first half that was ruled offside because of his armpit (a decision that remains contentious even days later), and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s penalty claim that went ignored.
That was when Mane stepped up. The forward, signed from Southampton for £30million in 2016, assisted Liverpool’s 87th-minute equaliser with a devilish cross that landed on the head of an onrushing Andy Robertson.
He then went on to score the winner in injury time from a Trent Alexander-Arnold corner.
Lucky Liverpool strike again. Only, that’s not quite right.
Watch Mane’s run, from the middle of the goal towards the near post. It may seem like a moment of inspiration. A forward drawn towards the ball and reacting to a combination of desperation and desire. Watch Liverpool’s corners again, and you’ll notice it was a run Made had made several times throughout the 90 minutes. Of Liverpool’s 10 corners around half arrived at the near post.
The first four were a mix of poor deliveries and eventual blocks from defenders, but Mane remained undeterred and continued making a darting run towards the front post. By the 94th minute, he could have been forgiven for staying static, but he kept moving, kept believing and was rewarded accordingly.
It’s that relentless consistency that has, in part, helped Liverpool secure 10 points from losing positions this season — the most of any team in the Premier League.
Klopp’s men have yet to hit their peak this season, but they have also dropped just two points in the Premier League this season. They face title rivals Manchester City this week, and although City escaped their own potential banana skin with a 2-1 win against Southampton, there was still time to talk about Mane’s winner.
Guardiola chose to wrap a compliment around a thinly veiled dig at the attacker after he was booked for diving against Villa.
“It has happened many times, what Liverpool have done, in the last few years, it’s because [Mané] is a special talent,” Guardiola told BBC Sport. “Sometimes he’s diving, sometimes he has this talent to score incredible goals in the last minute. He’s a talent.”
Both Klopp and Guardiola know that it will be hard to pass off a disappointing result this week as ‘unlucky’. There was little mention of luck when John Stones managed to make a goal-line clearance last season at the Etihad -- a moment that would come to define the season.
Instead, when discussing Liverpool’s ‘luck’, it is worth considering the words of Roman philosopher Seneca, ‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.’
So by that definition, yes, perhaps Liverpool are ‘lucky’ but only because of their determination and preparation meeting the opportunity of a corner in the 94th minute.
“We’ve had so many late goals that it can’t be a coincidence,” Alexander-Arnold told the Athletic. “We never give up on anything, and the fitness levels are so good. That spirit and unity comes from the manager.”
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