Roberto Firmino scored a late, late winner to help Premier League high-flyers Liverpool edge past French champions Paris St Germain 3-2 at Anfield and begin their European campaign on a winning note. The high-octane match lived up to its billing with its fair share of goals, drama and controversy.
“SENSATIONAL! ROBERTO FIRMINO! 3-2!” 💥
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) September 18, 2018
FOX Sports Asia takes a look at some of the key takeaways for the Merseyside club from the heavyweight clash.
Anfield a European fortress again
Handed possibly the toughest mix of opponents in the UEFA Champions League, Liverpool seemed unperturbed pitching against a team their manager Jurgen Klopp described as “built to win the Champions League”. Feeding perhaps on their recent European exploits at Anfield, none of which can be described as anything less than magical, the expectation was nothing less.
A big chunk of the pre-match hype was around the supposed aura at Anfield and how it might make the Parisians crumble, and crumble they did. Liverpool seemed up for it from the word go and created exactly the sort of frenetic chaos they wanted. And the result? Two goals before the half-time whistle.
Pegged back by a goal from the visitors at the start of the second period, the home crowd refused to die down. Having had a Mohamed Salah goal ruled out for a foul by Daniel Sturridge, Kylian Mbappe’s goal to level things might have knocked the wind out of the sail of any other team, but not Liverpool.
— SportJunkie (@SportJunkie8) September 18, 2018
Egged on by the Kop, Firmino scored in the stoppage time to script another magical night at Anfield and sent the supporters into delirium. With Anfield their fortress, the Reds seem to be a European royalty once again.
Special and deserved winner for @LFC from Firmino. 👏👏
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) September 18, 2018
Salah underwhelms yet again
For all his exploits from the previous season, few could excuse Salah cheaply surrendering possession for PSG’s leveller on the night. The man who got them out of trouble time and again in recent times was the very one who got them into it this time. It was telling then, that Firminho’s equaliser came with Salah back on the bench.
Having already opened his account in the Premier League this season, the Egyptian has still looked way below his best, getting dispossessed five times on the night — more than Sturridge and Mane combined. While he could’ve made it 3-1 had Sturridge’s follow up on PSG custodian Alphonse Areola not been deemed illegal, he also scuffed chances that he normally might have buried.
During the time he was on the pitch, he only managed to complete a single dribble, again less than either of his strike partners. Any verdict only two months into the season will definitely be premature, but whether or not this points to a deeper malaise remains to be seen.
The curious case of James Milner
Much like Fitzgerald’s famous novel of a man ageing backwards, James Milner in his three years at the club seems to be growing younger. Having kept new signings Naby Keita and Fabinho largely out of the team, his early tackle on Neymar Jr roused the Kop and typified his attitude – nonchalantly self-assured.
For all the praise heaped onto the front three, Milner has silently cemented his place at the heart of Klopp’s midfield keeping Jordan Henderson out of the Spurs game at the weekend while Keita made way here. He finally had his moment when Gini Wijnaldum was tripped over by Juan Bernat inside the area, placing the resulting penalty into the bottom right corner.
Winning all but one of his five tackles, Milner is an apt image of Klopp’s selfless philosophy with the collective taking precedence over the individual.
Gary Linekar’s tweet after the win over Spurs sums it all up: “I once tweeted that I didn’t really know what @JamesMilner was on the football pitch. I do these days, and owe him an apology. He’s a terrific, versatile and intelligent footballer. My bad.”
Defensive frailties remain
What must not be lost in the midst of all the hype is that yet again, Liverpool so very nearly managed to bottle a two-goal cushion. Having dominated proceedings from start to end, the very fact that they conceded two goals from nothing must be a cause for worry.
It might easily have swung the other way had Neymar not been adjudged offside when through on goal early in the first half, despite being level with Virgil Van Dijk on the far side. While it’s a far cry from the disaster in Kiev a few months ago, if they are to win something this season, they must learn to temper gung-ho football with bundles of concentration.
For most parts of the season so far, although Van Dijk and co have looked to be up to the task, an iota of fragility remains.
Strength in depth
When Gary Neville suggested Liverpool’s focus is only on the Premier League and not on their European campaign, Klopp seemed both incensed and perplexed all at once. He refused to consider the possibility of fielding a weakened side in Europe and one can clearly see why.
Backed with heavy investment over the past two summers, this seems like a side genuinely capable of mounting a challenge on both fronts. Making only two changes from the weekend, Klopp clearly believes he has enough bench strength to make changes when his regulars tire down.
Daniel Sturridge is backpic.twitter.com/85RmYjNDam
— Rousing The Kop (@RousingTheKop) September 19, 2018
Sturridge filled up more than ably for Firmino, while Henderson returned to midfield with an equally assured performance. Such is the talent in their ranks that Fabinho is yet to start a game, not to mention Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana — both of whom are currently out injured.
With Neville reiterating his point on Klopp putting all his eggs in one basket over the past week, we can only wait and watch how things pan out at Anfield as the season progresses.