Raph Honigstein is one of the most respected writers in modern football. The above tweet was referencing the opinion by some fools that will go unnamed that the group stage of the Champions League was a waste and that there should just be longer playoffs for the “lesser clubs” and the usual suspects should make it into the knockout rounds automatically, similarly to how most domestic cup competitions are conducted. Well, today should put the lie to that for most Liverpool (and Barca and Napoli) fans. Salzburg came to Anfield and gave us everything we could ask for. Despite Liverpool going up 3-0 after 36 minutes, they had it tied up after an hour and it looked like we were going to be facing a real issue at Anfield for the first time since Napoli pushed us to a 1-0 win. But talent finally won out and so did we. So, there it is. With Napoli’s draw vs Genk, they’re still on top of the group and we’ve fallen to third on goal totals (Salzburg has 9(!) to our 4), but two games against Genk should help us redress that to some degree. Don’t be overly surprised if the real competition for winning the group turns out to be the Austrians, though, and the game in Mozart’s hometown becomes quite the moment right in the middle of our ridiculously hectic December.
If it’s anything like today’s game, it’ll be quite the thrill, qualification implications or not.
Caley Graphics’ comment on the above tweeted image was “That was fun as shit.” Yes. Yes, it was. After a fashion. The moments after we’d surrendered a three goal lead weren’t quite as “fun” as one would think, given that we’d seen this happen against Sevilla a couple years ago and had improved our defense with a giant Dutchman since then, but it was still a bit more enthralling than the outright rout that the first 35 minutes were indicating. At that point, it seemed that both Liverpool and Salzburg were playing with the assumption that the game was in the bag, with Salah and the Reds barely celebrating the third goal that seemed to put the game away and Salzburg moving listlessly for the first time. But Hwang Hee-Chan getting it past Virg with some nice movement and scoring their first before the half lit a fire that manager Jesse Marsch apparently used during the break, as Salzburg came out determined to prove that they were still in the game. Hendo had given up a turnover on the right touchline that led to Hee-Chan’s goal and, just like against Spurs two seasons ago, a quick free kick in the offensive half caught a slow-to-react LFC and led to the second. The third was just a complete defensive breakdown that hasn’t been seen for some time. But, due credit to Salzburg, they came and played their game from beginning to end and, as the Austrian table is showing, that game is pretty damn good.
The upsides. Bob celebrated his birthday with a couple assists and his usual constant presence in between the boxes, winning headers, delivering good passes, and stealing balls on the touchlines. The glue is still the glue, yo. Similarly, Fabinho controlled the middle of the pitch, continuing to be the calming, controlled presence that we’ve now come to expect. Also, Gini was 43/43 passing on the night; quietly secure and competent wherever he happens to be. Add in a brilliant give-and-go between Mané and Firmino for the first goal and an excellent cross from Trent to Robbo for the latter’s first goal in a year-and-a-half, alongside Salah’s brace (the second of which came off a perfect soft header from Bob) and you can find a lot of high points. Another one of those was Joe Gomez winning 6 of 6 tackles…
The downsides. … which is also an issue, since our centerbacks are usually celebrated for not having to make tackles because they’re already in position to deal with offensive threats. There’s no debating that Matip’s positioning is one of his strongest aspects as a defender. Rarely does he have to hurry to cut off someone trying to make a move past him. Gomez is not quite as adept in that respect, but makes up for it with his excellent speed. But speed means you’re chasing someone down, which he was doing quite a bit and just like someone who hasn’t played regularly since last December. Add that to the fact that Salzburg’s movement caused no end of trouble for our passing game, with both Robbo and Trent giving up some unusually easy balls, and you can suss out the reasons for some of the defensive breakdowns. Still, with Jamie Vardy and our old gaffer arriving on Sunday, it’s something to keep in mind for the next couple days’ training.
And, all of that said, we had two easy ones (Salah alone against the keeper, Mané missing a wide open corner from Trent) that would have made the win that much more secure. That’s football.
Elsewhere. Genk proved that they’re here to make trouble by holding Napoli to a 0-0 draw. Inter and Barca proved Raph Honigstein right again with a 2-1 barnburner of a win by the Catalans at the Camp Nou. And Lyon got what I’d consider an upset with a 2-0 win at Leipzig. The CL is on in full force and it’s great.
Coming up next: Vardy from the Midlands and an old friend. Time to remind him what the Anfield experience is really like.