“Consistency” was the word Jurgen Klopp kept returning to as he previewed Liverpool’s hosting of Maribor, opponents still damaged by their 7-0 annihilation in the reverse Champions League fixture.
Having ousted an incredibly obstructive Huddersfield side 3-0 on the weekend, the Reds boss wanted to see regularity in his team’s results and performances.
That was delivered under the lights at Anfield in quite a literal way. The first half against the Slovenians was a mirror of Saturday’s top-flight encounter, in which David Wagner prioritised stifling Liverpool. Maribor, too, had succeeded in frustrating the hosts in the opening 45 minutes, allowing them to have 83.5 per cent possession, but little time or space to use it effectively.
As was the case against Huddersfield, despite the approach of their opponents, Klopp’s men did not show enough incision or invention to crack the deep-defending conundrum until the second half.
Mohamed Salah netted his 10th goal for Liverpool in only his 16th appearance with an intelligent flick from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross on 49 minutes and just as it transpired against the Terriers, the Reds were enlivened by the opener.
The consistency stretched as far as the Merseysiders missing another penalty too – this time Jasmin Handanovic with a fine save to push James Milner’s effort onto the post – as well as the encounter also ending 3-0.
Ten minutes later, the midfielder engaged in a neat exchange with Emre Can, who applied a brilliant right-foot finish from outside the box.
Daniel Sturridge, who was on the scoresheet on the weekend, made it two in two to finally secure his first Champions League goal for Liverpool with fine control off Alberto Moreno’s cross and a powered blast in with his left.
It was not an easy evening for Klopp’s men, but it was rewarding nonetheless as they were unrelenting. The manager had to deal with another early injury – Dejan Lovren had to replaced ahead of kick-off against the Terriers, and in the European tie, Gini Wijnaldum hobbled off on 17 minutes with an ankle issue.
“It was similar to the last game, to be honest,” Klopp said. “At half-time, we told the boys we had to stay patient. It’s not allowed to be frustrated about different things, because there were a little few signs that we were not that spot-on anymore.
“Second half, a fantastic goal; good timing, a good cross but good timing of Mo as well, coming into the box and being in the centre. The second goal was fantastic play, speeding up even in a small space, playing a one-two and then taking a shot.
“Third goal after a set-piece. I’m pleased, especially with the result and the reaction. The game was not our best game we’ve ever played but before the game we knew the maximum points we could get was eight after the game. Three goals, good; clean sheet, good; eight points, perfect.”
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was bright on his first Champions League start for the club and only the second in all competitions since his deadline-day switch from Arsenal, and while he featured in attack, he’ll be more than capable of playing as a No.8 in the absence of the Dutchman, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana.
“If you start a Champions League game, you should not be far away from starting a Premier League game, I would say. It was good; he offered a lot in the first half but we did not use it often enough,” Klopp explained.
“He showed a lot and I loved his counter-pressing situations. I’m not sure he did this a lot of times in his life already, so it is really nice to see that. For players with speed, it is not too easy in a game like this but I saw a lot of good things of him and I am fine with the performance, of course.”
Alexander-Arnold and Moreno were excellent to further increase the competition for the full-back positions, with Joe Gomez pushing the former close but Andy Robertson having to be more patient for opportunities.
Source: Melissa Reddy| Sporting News