Soccer

Liverpool hit back after first-half scare to sweep aside Luton

The Reds restored their four-point lead at the top of the Premier League ahead of Manchester City’s game in hand at the weekend.

Liverpool came from behind to beat Luton
Liverpool came from behind to beat Luton Liverpool came from behind to beat Luton (Peter Byrne/PA)

A stirring second-half comeback saw Premier League leaders Liverpool restore their four-point advantage at the top and avoid one of the shocks of the season with a 4-1 victory over Luton.

Chiedozie Ogbene’s early header was only the 11th league goal a visiting team had scored at Anfield this season but for a long time it looked like producing another twist in the title race as the depleted hosts struggled to find their best form.

But headers from Virgil van Dijk and Cody Gakpo within the space of two minutes turned things around before Luis Diaz and Harvey Elliott fired home to ease them away from the clutches of second-placed Manchester City.

Virgil van Dijk started Liverpool’s scoring in the second half
Virgil van Dijk started Liverpool's scoring in the second half Virgil van Dijk started Liverpool’s scoring in the second half (Peter Byrne/PA)

Any slip up, even at this stage, could have significant implications in what is currently a three-way battle and without this victory City would have had the chance to go top at Bournemouth on Saturday as Liverpool are otherwise engaged in the Carabao Cup final against Chelsea.

That Wembley encounter meant no risks were taken with Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez, who are both carrying knocks, but with injuries had already ruling out nine other players it left Jurgen Klopp with very few options.

What the first half, in particular, showed was that stand-ins Elliott and Gakpo lacked half-a-yard of pace both over the ground and in their passing.

They were not helped by some poor decision-making by Diaz, the one regular starter in the forward line, who in only the third minute delayed his shot too long as he tried to manoeuvre it on to his right foot and then shot wide with only goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski to beat.

Luton stunned Anfield by taking the lead in the 12th minute. Tahith Chong received a return pass from Cauley Woodrow before shooting from a narrow angle and the ball squeezed under Caoimhin Kelleher and bounced up to the far post where Ogbene headed into an empty goal.

Chiedozie Ogbene heads Luton into the lead
Chiedozie Ogbene heads Luton into the lead Chiedozie Ogbene heads Luton into the lead (Peter Byrne/PA)

Luton’s gameplan was then to try to attack the space behind the full-backs but limit Liverpool’s options by going man-for-man in defence, which often left them two on two.

The last visiting team to win a league game at Anfield – Leeds in October 2022 – did the same.

And Luton also worked harder – Albert Sambi Lokonga easing Elliott off the ball as he looked to shoot from Gakpo’s flick-on – and smarter as the hosts resorted to firing in long-range shots.

Elliott’s radar was off from two breakaways as his passes to Gakpo were three feet short and two yards too long as the final ball continued to elude them and frustrations threatened to boil over with Klopp exploding in rage at a fan near the front of the main stand, presumably for his negative reaction to a third mis-placed Elliott pass.

Luis Diaz scores Liverpool’s third
Luis Diaz scores Liverpool's third Luis Diaz scores Liverpool’s third (Peter Byrne/PA)

The early omens in the second half were not much better as Diaz fired straight at Teden Mengi but when Gakpo’s near-post shot was turned behind Van Dijk powered home a header from Alexis Mac Allister’s 56th-minute corner.

Two minutes later it was Gakpo producing a brilliant leap to launch Conor Bradley’s cross past Kaminski, who had brilliantly saved Bradley’s deflected shot with his legs.

The Luton goalkeeper did even better to repel another powerful Van Dijk header as Liverpool turned the screw, with substitute Andy Robertson charging forward to tee up Diaz for the third.

In doing so he became the fifth Liverpool player to reach double figures, which is the best of any team in Europe’s top five leagues, with Elliott grabbing his second of the season late on as Luton remained in the bottom three.