Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continued his fine form in front of goal by getting the winner as Liverpool saw off Genk 2-1 in the Champions League on Tuesday, meaning the Reds usurp Napoli at the top of Group E.
It was far from a vintage display from Jurgen Klopp’s men, who for a period looked to be in danger of dropping points after Mbwana Samatta’s fine header, but the impressive Oxlade-Chamberlain justified his selection with the winning goal that ensured Liverpool capitalised on Napoli’s 1-1 draw with Salzburg.
Georginio Wijnaldum opened the scoring early on with a clever finish, but Liverpool lacked a clinical edge for the remainder of the first half and were pegged back by Samatta five minutes before the interval.
Still, Liverpool were dominant after the break and restored their lead with 53 minutes on the clock – Oxlade-Chamberlain getting his fourth goal in as many games to potentially put himself in contention for a start against Manchester City at the weekend.
A purposeful beginning had Liverpool leading after just 14 minutes, with Wijnaldum doing well to prod the ball into the top-left corner from close range despite it landing awkwardly in front of him.
The Reds wasted numerous chances to increase their advantage, Naby Keita drawing a fine save from Gaetan Coucke before Mohamed Salah and James Milner both missed the target.
And Samatta made them pay just before half-time, steering home a powerful header from Bryan Heynen’s corner after Fabinho allowed him a free run at the ball.
But Liverpool showed renewed focus after the restart and Oxlade-Chamberlain made a decisive impact, taking a touch and then shooting left-footed on the turn after receiving Salah’s pass, picking out the bottom-right corner.
Genk should have levelled late on when Heynen was released into the left side of the box, but Alisson palmed away his strike and the hosts held on despite the visitors’ late pressure.
What does it mean? Liverpool take charge
Napoli slumping to a surprise draw at home to Salzburg means Liverpool will be confident of going on to finish top of the group.
Tuesday’s performance was by no means a classic, yet it highlighted Klopp’s strength in depth as he shuffled his pack and they were able to claim the win that puts them in control.
Ox in the box
Starting in attack in the place of Sadio Mane, Oxlade-Chamberlain was a real positive for the Reds. His build-up play was effective and he looked arguably the biggest danger to Genk, deservedly scoring in the second half.
Defensive concerns present again
While Genk were by no means a constant threat, it can be argued Liverpool allowed them to look dangerous. The Reds appeared particularly shaky when defending set-piece situations, with the visitors’ goal coming from a corner. As such, it was the eighth successive game across all competitions in which they have conceded, their worst run under Klopp.
Key Opta facts
– Liverpool remain unbeaten in their last 24 home matches in European competition (W18 D6 L0). Their last defeat was against Real Madrid in October 2014 (0-3).
– Genk have played more matches in the history of the European Cup/Champions League without winning than any other club (16 – W0 D8 L8).
– Mohamed Salah has been directly involved in 68 goals in 59 appearances for Liverpool at Anfield across all competitions (50 goals and 18 assists).
– Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has scored four goals in his last four games for Liverpool – as many as in his previous 45 appearances for the Reds across all competitions.
– Three of Georginio Wijnaldum’s last four goals for Liverpool have come in the Champions League at Anfield (also netting a brace against Barcelona in May).
Liverpool host Manchester City on Sunday in a match that could have significant consequences in the Premier League title race, while Genk host Gent the same day.