Liverpool again turn on second-half style to defeat Maribor
Attending his first ever game at Anfield, Kris Gourlay reports as Liverpool eventually strolled to a comfortable Champions League over Maribor to put them ever closer to a first knockout appearance in eight years.
Liverpool maintained their unbeaten start to the Champions League in a game that was somewhat identical to their last. The Reds saw off Maribor with a 3-0 victory and just like on Saturday against Huddersfield, the second-half saw the opposition’s wall broken down and penetrated with three well-worked goals.
Overall, Klopp can have few complaints. Three goals and a clean sheet is exactly what he would have hoped for, but an injury to Gini Wijnaldum, who was forced off after just 17 minutes casted a shadow over the performance as the injury crisis at the club continues to worsen. The Liverpool boss will be pretty pleased with his team’s performance, albeit playing their last two games without regular first team members Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne, Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane.
Afterwards Klopp praised his team’s patience and experience in dealing with an overly defensive Slovenian side. Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan played much of the game in Maribor’s half as Loris Karius watched on, a bored spectator.
In a match that was my first at Anfield, constant sideways and backwards passing, as well as no urgency in the play, made me fear for the worst. Right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold tried his best to put Maribor under pressure with a few inviting balls into the box, but with Liverpool’s lack of height and power, they were to no avail as Firmino, Can and Salah all failed to hit the target with chances.
Whatever Klopp barked at his players at half-time must have worked as they came racing out of the blocks and were finally rewarded for their persistence when Salah, who else, directed an Alexander-Arnold ball into the net after 49 minutes, a deserved lead and the Egyptian’s tenth goal for the club.
Just four minutes later and Liverpool were awarded a penalty as a piece of sublime skill by Firmino led to him being dragged down in the box. A certified goal for most teams, but with Firmino and Salah all missing their recent penalties, there was always going to be doubt. James Milner picked up the ball to applause from the crowd and up he stepped, but yep, you guessed it, a great save by the keeper down to his left. The guy sat next to me said “It’s like Déjà vu”, referring to the game against Sevilla when Firmino missed a penalty to put Liverpool 3-1 up and the game ended up finishing 2-2.
Liverpool continued to put Maribor under pressure, as they knew the Slovenian side couldn’t afford to just sit back. It led to more and more opportunities with Salah missing a great chance after heading Moreno’s pinpoint cross over the bar.
Eventually Liverpool got their second as great combination play by Milner and Emre Can ended in the German converting from just outside the box to all-but seal the three points for Liverpool. Daniel Sturridge came on for Salah for the last 20 minutes and added his name to the scoresheet in the dying moments with a quick finish from Moreno’s cross to score only his first Champions League goal for the club.
So, it wasn’t quite 7-0 but it was never going to be, and a win against Sevilla would see Klopp’s men qualify for the last 16 of the competition with a game to spare. Liverpool’s next game sees them take on West Ham and hopefully Sadio Mane will return to the squad. With Lallana, Clyne, Wijnaldum and Coutinho set to be absent once again, I can only think that with a fully fit squad, Liverpool would be sitting a lot more comfortably in the league, but you can’t always dwell on ifs and buts.