The Bounce Goes Liverpool’s Way

Sport Uncategorized

Mohamed Salah’s name flashed up on the scoreboard. It rang out of Anfield’s public address system. It rolled and roiled down the stands and washed onto the field and into the sky, infused with jubilation and wonder, with relief and belief.

It was, though, wishful thinking. The last-minute goal that had given Liverpool an ill-deserved and scarcely explicable 2-1 victory against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, the strike that restored Jürgen Klopp’s team to the top of the Premier League — until Wednesday, at least — and that ensured Manchester City still cannot, technically, afford even one slip did not belong to Salah. Deep down, everyone in the stadium knew the truth: the goal, if it belonged to anyone, belonged to chaos.

There is a tendency, as seasons draw to a close and prizes begin to be claimed, to imbue certain moments with particular importance, to believe that specific games and specific goals were not just decisive but defining: when trophies were won and lost, the fulcrum on which the whole season turned, the proof of the gray hand of destiny at work.

Fans do it. Managers do it. Journalists and commentators do it, without fail, pretty much every Monday, obsessive saturation coverage demanding that no sooner have events ended than conclusions are drawn, that no weekend must pass without one thing or another having been decided or proved or finished. It is sport’s nod to Thomas Carlyle: a great moment theory of history.

It is a comforting idea. By appointing certain moments as key, the long, exhausting stretch of a season comes to seem — even if only in retrospect — somehow more ordered; a structured, coherent whole seems to bloom from a morass of happenstance. It allows us to apportion merit, and blame, and to establish the parameters and boundaries of success. It means we can make sense of the randomness.

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It is, though, a myth. Seasons are, by definition, collections of moments; discerning which one is the one on which everything hinged, which one is more important than all the others, is an impossibility.

For Liverpool this season, there have been half a dozen, at least. Daniel Sturridge’s late equalizer at Chelsea, way back in September, the goal that maintained an unbeaten start to the campaign; Divock Origi’s freakish winner in December’s Merseyside derby; the late penalty missed by Riyad Mahrez in October that ensured Manchester City did not win at Anfield; Origi’s miss, deep into injury time, against West Ham in February (for a reserve who has barely played this year, Origi seems to have been identified by fate as a person of immense interest).

It is the same, of course, for City. The defending Premier League champion has seemed, at times, almost to breeze through much of the season, sweeping inferior opponents aside with little fuss and considerable style, but there are instants City will remember, too: the missed chances in defeat to Chelsea, perhaps, or Ricardo Pereira’s late winner for Leicester City; the shot from Sadio Mané that, somehow, did not cross the line when Liverpool visited the Etihad Stadium; the shot from Leroy Sané that, later on that evening, very much did.

These are all the moments on which the season turned; not all of them can be worthy of that title. There were two alone in the final 10 minutes of Sunday’s game. First, Moussa Sissoko burst clear for Tottenham, only Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson Becker standing in his way, the chance not just to inflict untold damage Liverpool’s title hopes in his grasp. Van Dijk forced him to shoot; his effort rose and rose, flying high over the crossbar. Anfield breathed again.

And then, with just a minute left to play, Trent Alexander-Arnold lifted in a cross — first time, too high, more in hope than expectation — and Salah, ghosting in at the far post, managed to meet it. His header was soft, and straight at Hugo Lloris; the moment seemed to have gone. For reasons that remain unclear, Lloris fumbled the ball. It fell onto Toby Alderweireld’s foot, and dribbled, in comical slow motion, across the line. Salah wheeled away in celebration, claiming the goal as his own, as if he only needed to believe it to make it so.