The most remarkable thing about Sadio Mane’s injury-time winner for Liverpool at Aston Villa wasn’t the skill involved in its execution or the dramatic nature of its timing but how unsurprised many were when the ball nestled in the corner of the net.
The Villa fans and players understandably sank and their Liverpool equivalents went delirious, but neither could say they didn’t at least have an inkling it was coming.
This Liverpool side are, after all, resilient, relentless and the current kings of the late goal.
It was a title once held by Sir Alex Ferguson’s ludicrously successful Manchester United, whose perceived favouring by officials and ability to capitalise on the added time given to them was immortalised in the concept of ‘Fergie Time’.
Are we now in the era of ‘Kloppage Time’? And could it be a defining factor in what Liverpool are hoping will be a first league title since 1990?
Liverpool lead the way
Mane’s late header against Villa was the second decisive injury-time goal Liverpool have scored this season, with James Milner also turning a potential draw into a victory with his 95th-minute penalty in the home game with Leicester.
Extending this to points-earning goals scored in the 85th minute or later brings Andy Robertson’s equalising header at Villa Park and Adam Lallana’s leveller against Manchester United at Old Trafford into the mix.
These make Liverpool the 2019-20 Premier League’s leading side for important late strikes.
This shouldn’t be surprising. The Reds have form.
Last season, Divock Origi earned them a 1-1 draw with Everton with a 96th-minute Jordan Pickford-assisted equaliser at Anfield, Mane netted a crucial 93rd-minute goal to ensure a 4-3 victory at home against Crystal Palace and Toby Alderweireld’s 91st-minute own goal gave them a 2-1 win over Tottenham.
These all add to Liverpool’s impressive haul of injury-time winners over the Premier League’s 26-and-a-bit seasons, leaving them 10 goals better off than their nearest rival.
|Most 90 min+ winners in Premier League|
It is under Klopp, though, that they have really found their late groove.
After the German arrived at Anfield in October 2015, the Reds earned seven league points in his debut season alone with goals scored in the 90th minute or later and have continued to net decisive late strikes.
Klopp’s record with the Reds is actually superior to the manager most synonymous with important late goals. The German’s Liverpool side average 3.8 points a season earned from goals scored in the 90th minute or later, while Ferguson’s Manchester United averaged 1.67.
Crucially, though, Ferguson won the Premier League 13 times during his time at Old Trafford. For all their late goals, under Klopp and the seven managers before him, Liverpool have won none.
Why are Liverpool scoring so many late goals?
There are factors working in Klopp’s favour. More comprehensive and accurate timekeeping has led to an increase in added minutes over the Premier League’s 27 seasons, enabling an upturn in the percentage of goals scored in the 90th minute or later – from 1.7% in 1992-93 to 7.1% in 2018-19.
But the German has also nurtured in his squad the qualities that enable so many late goals. Defender Virgil van Dijk has spoken of his team’s nerveand an unflinching faith in their manager’s attacking gameplan. Lallana, meanwhile, claims the Reds have a “sixth sense”.
Speaking after the Villa game, Klopp had this to say: “It’s never that we think before a game that we only want to score once and that should be enough and then you concede one and we think, ‘Oh my God, we can only go for a draw now’ – we want to win football games.
“We don’t want to stretch luck too much, but the game at Aston Villa, for example, I didn’t think 100% that we would score but I was sure we would get moments if we stayed as composed as we were, as clear and as creative, as direct as we were in the second half, then we would have chances and we have to use them, obviously.
“That’s what the boys did in very decisive moments, that’s why we won the game, that’s why we’ve now scored twice late, against Tottenham late, Manchester United late and all of these things.”
Like Ferguson before him, Klopp has to deal with accusations of luck, but it is a factor the German welcomes, aware that fortune in a stadium on a Saturday is improved by what is done on the training ground through the week.
And he has an ally on this front in Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, who has more reason than most to be irked by Liverpool’s repeated late interventions.
“My son and my daughter, all the time when they [Liverpool] win in the last minutes, ask me how lucky, how lucky they are,” said the Spaniard recently.
“I say at the time, ‘It’s not lucky’. What Liverpool has done last season and this season many, many times is because they’ve this incredible quality and this incredible talent to fight until the end.
“That’s why I said to my players – not just my son and my daughter – that it is not lucky. If it happens once or twice in a life then, yes, but this many – maybe 10 or 12 or 13 times?”
Do late goals play a decisive role in title races?
On average, the team that wins the Premier League title earns 1.78 points from goals scored in the 90th minute onwards and 4.38 from goals scored in the 85th minute or later.
In just three of the 26 completed Premier League seasons has the side scoring the most or joint-most winners in the 90th minute or later ended as champions.
And on only four occasions in Premier League history has the points earned by goals scored in the 90th minute or later been equal to or greater than the winning margin between champions and second place. This increases to eight seasons when taking into account points earned from goals scored in the 85th minute onwards.
This is all fuel for the argument that talented, well-managed, successful sides tend to get their business done before the final five minutes, thus avoiding the need for late salvation.
However, in the most tightly contested title races, fine margins matter.
It is something Liverpool’s current nearest challengers Manchester City know full well. After all, they scored the most famous late goal in Premier League history when Sergio Aguero struck in the 94th minute to beat QPR and clinch the title on goal difference on a dramatic final day in 2012.
In the aftermath of that goal, the City fans sang “We won the league in Fergie Time” to mock fierce rivals United, who they had just pipped to the title.
Six months after Aguero’s goal against QPR, BBC News conducted some research into the notion of ‘Fergie Time’ and found that it did have some validity, not exclusively as an advantage to United but to all big clubs.
What Ferguson understood, though, was that the reality of ‘Fergie Time’ mattered less than the perception of it and the impact this had on his rivals.
In the tightest of contests, the psychological blow can often cause the most damage and, this season, Klopp and Liverpool are landing all the biggest hits.