Liverpool battled valiantly in Milan to clinch an importance first leg 2-0 victory over Inter in the Champions League round-of-16.
After a cagey opening 45 minutes at the San Siro, Jurgen Klopp rolled the dice on the hour mark with a triple substitution that changed the complexion of the tie.
The travelling Merseysiders, galvanised by the introduction of Luis Diaz, Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita, broke the deadlock in the 75th minute through half-time substitute Roberto Firmino, before Mohamed Salah doubled Liverpool’s advantage in the dying embers.
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Inter were, at times, controlling the middle of the park, with Hakan Calhanoglu, Arturo Vidal and Marcelo Brozovic forming a strong trident that looked to stifle Liverpool’s own, forcing Jurgen Klopp to completely reshuffle his midfield, taking off Fabinho, Harvey Elliot and Thiago.
Before the match, Henderson lavished praise on Fabinho, describing him as the ‘best No. 6’ in football, and the early signs of the game attested to the Liverpool’s skipper’s assertion, with the Brazilian finishing the opening 45 minutes having made 10 ball recoveries — the only player to complete double digits in the first half.
Henderson told BT Sport: “For me, he is the best in the world in that position. When I’m in the No. 8, to have him behind you is an incredible feeling.”
Fabinho made 10 ball recoveries in the first half against Inter, more than any other player in the opening 45 minute of tonight's #UCL games.
Sweeping everything up. 🧹 pic.twitter.com/IByyQlv73a
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 16, 2022
However, with Inter’s midfield engine really ramping up the pressure, there were signs Fabinho was having issues influencing the game and dictating the tempos as he usually does with that authoritative and calming presence of his — a 79.17% passing accuracy underpins a slight sloppiness in possession.
When Henderson replaced him on the hour mark, he was walking into the shoes of a man — only an hour or so prior — he described as the “world’s best”, placing an unenviable burden on his shoulders to wrestle back some control and turn the game on its head.
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Ever the silent workhorse, Henderson’s industrious and enterprising antics were key in swinging the balance. Just 15 minutes after his introduction — as well as Klopp’s other three changes — Liverpool found the breakthrough, and shortly after they were in dreamland through Salah.
During his short existence on the pitch, Henderson finished with a pass accuracy of 90.91% (the fifth-best on the night), and brought a leadership quality that just calmed the nerves in the Liverpool camp. A true captain’s performance — and one that outclassed the “world’s best”.