Liverpool eased to a 4-1 victory in Genk on Wednesday night to end their poor run of form on the road in the Champions League group stages.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored from outside the box in both halves to stave off Genk’s threat on the counter-attack.
And Liverpool’s front three clicked into gear in the latter stages when Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane twice combined to put the visitors out of sight, though Genk pulled one back in the dying embers through Stephen Odey.
Here are three winners and three losers from the contest.
Winner: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Klopp often likes to deploy a midfield three comprised of Fabinho, Georginio Wijnaldum and captain Jordan Henderson. But Liverpool were in need of a bit more attacking drive while trailing against Manchester United on Sunday, and so on came Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The 26-year-old did exactly what was needed at Old Trafford and was rewarded with a start against Genk, a game in which Klopp clearly believed his attacking qualities were required from the off. Fittingly, Oxlade-Chamberlain made a rapid start, putting Liverpool ahead inside two minutes.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's game by numbers vs. Genk:
100% take-ons completed
2 shots on target
2 tackles made
A brilliant night's work. 👌 pic.twitter.com/Kghg7IEL3o
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 23, 2019
When Klopp does decide to drop one of his holding midfielders for a more offensive player, Oxlade-Chamberlain will want to remain at the front of the queue. He did his chances of staying in the forefront of Klopp’s mind no harm at all here with a brilliantly taken opener and a stunning second with the outside of his foot. He will surely start against Tottenham this weekend.
Loser: Mbwana Samatta
Mbwana Samatta is the first Tanzanian footballer to play in the Champions League, so it must have been a special moment for the striker, his family and his country when he was included in the starting line-up against European champions Liverpool.
The occasion became even more special when Samatta rose above James Milner to send a powerful header past Alisson Becker to draw Genk level. But joy soon turned to despair as the goal was disallowed. At first, it looked as if Samatta had been penalised for climbing on Milner, but it was actually down to Junya Ito being offside in the build-up.
It was difficult for Genk and Samatta to take given the quality of the header and the significance of the moment. What’s more, Ito was only marginally on the wrong side of Virgil van Dijk before crossing it onto Samatta’s head.
Winner: Naby Keita
Much like Oxlade Chamberlain, Naby Keita’s place in the starting line-up hasn’t always been guaranteed under Klopp because of injuries and other mitigating factors. But he too staked a claim to start against Spurs on Sunday.
Keita was at the top of the charts in multiple areas. He completed the most passes (110) and take-ons (3) as well as winning the most tackles (3). The midfielder also made at least five more ball recoveries (12) than any other player on the pitch.
Finally looking fully fit, Keita will be pushing Liverpool’s more established midfielders for regular game time now if he produces more displays like this.
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Loser: Joe Gomez
Many Liverpool fans are finding Joe Gomez’s lack of starts impossible to understand. Joel Matip and Trent Alexander-Arnold were both left at home for this one, giving Gomez the opportunity to deputise in one of two positions. But Klopp instead went with Dejan Lovren at centre-back and James Milner at right-back.
It must be particularly frustrating for Gomez to watch Milner, an ageing midfielder, getting the nod as a full-back. Indeed, Milner was too easily beaten in the air for Samatta’s aforementioned disallowed goal, a situation Gomez would have been more comfortable with.
It remains unclear why Klopp doesn’t currently trust Gomez to play regularly given the 22-year-old enjoyed an impressive run in the team before getting injured last season. He eventually made it on, replacing Andy Robertson with Milner going out to the left, but didn’t make much of an impression.
If their young centre-backs are anything to go by, the Colimbian national team have a bright future – at least defensively. Premier League duo Davinson Sanchez of Tottenham and Yerry Mina of Everton currently hold down places in the Colombia XI, but a certain Genk pair may be pushing them soon.
Carlos Cuesta and Jhon Lucumi were mostly excellent against Liverpool, who only managed to score from outside the box because of the pair’s dominance until the final 15 minutes. They are 20 and 21 respectively but showed a maturity beyond their years in dealing with Liverpool’s attack, which had to wait until the 77th minute to get their goal though Mane.
Genk eventually began to look stretched at the back, but what defence wouldn’t against Mane, Salah and Firmino. Overall, Cuesta and Lucumi suggested they have big futures, like so many Genk players of old.
Loser: Genk’s qualification hopes
With Napoli beating Salzburg, Genk’s chances of making it to the knockout stages are looking increasingly slim. Being drawn in the same group as Liverpool and Napoli meant the Belgian side were never likely to reach the Round of 16, but they will be disappointed having collected just one point from their first three games.
Erling Braut Håland is the first player in Champions League history to score six goals in his first three #UCL games.
Simply sensational. pic.twitter.com/jzuSqZVPDt
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 23, 2019
Their best chance of playing European football after Christmas now looks like the Europa League. Beating Salzburg at home is a must in that regard, but with Erling Braut Haaland showing no signs of slowing down for the Austrians – he scored twice against Napoli tonight – even that might be a stretch for Genk.