Liverpool edged through an intense Champions League encounter this evening, sealing a 4-3 victory over Red Bull Salzburg at Anfield.
Kopites would have been buoyed by earlier news of Napoli’s goalless draw against Genk, and that euphoria would soon enhance as ex-Salzburg winger Sadio Mane broke the deadlock on Merseyside with less than 10 minutes on the clock.
That jubilant mood would continue to accelerate in tandem with Liverpool’s intensity as Jurgen Klopp’s men stayed in fifth gear and proceeded to put two more beyond Cican Stankovic’s net, first with one unexpected face in Andrew Robertson and then one in the very familiar face of Mohamed Salah.
Salzburg managed to pull one back through Hwang Hee-chan just before the restart, and they soon shocked the Anfield crowd as goals from Takumi Minamino and Erling Braut Håland completed a remarkable comeback, before Salah popped up to seal his brace and rescue three points.
Victory puts Liverpool a point behind Group E table-toppers Napoli, but what did we learn from Wednesday’s match?
1. Mane haunts old club to join record-breakers Gerrard and Salah
In opening the scoring against Salzburg, Sadio Mane bagged his 15th Champions League goal for Liverpool, joining an illustrious list of only thee players to have done so for the Reds, including teammate Mohamed Salah – who netted his 16th and 17th on Wednesday – and club legend Steven Gerrard, who amassed a 21-goal haul during his playing days.
In homage to his former employers, Mane opted against celebrating, with his precise finish coming just in front of the traveling Salzburg fans. It was a fitting moment for Mane, a poster boy for Die Mozartstadter’s fruitful scouting network, that he should score against the club where he truly learned his footballing education, highlighting just how far he has come since his those unheralded days at the Red Bull Arena.
Only three Liverpool players have scored 15 Champions League goals (excl. qualifying):
🔴 Steven Gerrard (21)
🔴 Mohamed Salah (15)
🔴 Sadio Mané (15)
Just waiting for a certain Brazilian to join. pic.twitter.com/L29yftbTuv
— Coral (@Coral) October 2, 2019
Mane’s ascent truly shines a light on the shrewd development policy upheld in Wals-Siezenheim, with colleague Naby Keita another alumnus of the Austrian outfit and another fine example of a player who has been refined and polished by Salzburg before going on to greater heights.
There remains some exceptional young talent on the Salzburg conveyor belt, with Amadou Haidara recently following in Keita’s path and joining RB Leipzig, and that was brought to prominence at Anfield as Håland got his name on the scoresheet.
2. Fabinho continues to grow
The headlines are often taken by Liverpool’s formidable front three, their insatiable full-backs, or Virgil van Dijk, but one man who has truly come into his own this season and is making a very strong case for being considered Klopp’s most important player is Fabinho.
The elegant enforcer performs his duties in noble fashion: quietly dominating the middle of the park, anchoring the midfield and consistently procuring the ball. He isn’t tasked with surging forward and making things happen in the final third, but rather functioning as a sort of metronome, setting the tempo and sweeping up play when out of possession.
The very best make the job look simple, but there are only a select few who possess the requisite attributes to truly flourish as a tempo-setter at the base of a midfield three. In Fabinho, Liverpool have a player capable of doing the dirty work when necessary, but also someone who has a propensity to create.
Wednesday evening highlighted those attributes, particularly in the first half, and partly in the second when Liverpool came under increasing pressure, as well as with Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson deciding to desert him for large parts.
He made tactical fouls when required and relieved pressure constantly as Salzburg ramped up their intensity, all while essentially working on his own. And let’s not forget his upfield pass to Salah in the first half – it would have been one of the assists of the season had Salah not blazed wide.
3. Joe Gomez fails to seize opportunity
Since returning from a broken leg sustained last December, Joe Gomez has struggled to supplant Joel Matip in the heart of Liverpool’s backline, but against Salzburg the England international was presented the perfect opportunity to stake a claim as Van Dijk’s centre-back partner.
Unfortunately for Gomez he struggled to keep up with the pace of the match as Salzburg breached Adrian’s net on three occasions, with the young defender proving susceptible at the back on more than one occasion.
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Prior to Salzburg’s first goal Gomez’s unease was noticeable, with Hwang Hee-chan getting the better of him on numerous occasions when Salzburg went long. He did have one or two key moments in the match, but it’s hard to envisage that this Liverpool side would have conceded three goals to Salzburg and looked that nervous at the back had Matip been in the starting XI.
4. Håland hype palpable
Erling Braut Håland, the son of former Premier League player Alf-Inge Håland; scorer of nine goals against Honduras U-20s in the summer; scorer of a hat-trick on his Champions League debut a fortnight ago, conformed to stereotype at Anfield by finding the back of the net within four minutes of taking to the field.
The teenage marksman had been a doubt prior to the match as a result of illness but was able to shake it off and make the bench. However, with Salzburg three down in only the 36th minute, this almost felt like a write-off, but those words don’t seem apply to this exciting and free-scoring Die Mozartstadter side.
Erling Braut Håland’s first four shots in his #UCL career:
Unbelievable scenes at Anfield. pic.twitter.com/CR7hovrvRB
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 2, 2019
As Salzburg battled back to make it 3-2, Jesse Marsch turned to his main man, Håland, and less than four minutes later, the turnaround was complete, with the unorthodox No. 9 showcasing his innate positional sense to tuck home from yards out after Takumi Minamino picked him out.
In recent weeks Håland has been linked to Liverpool’s eternal adversaries Manchester United, and with good reason: the Red Devils are in dire need of a competent and potent centre forward, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has previously managed his young compatriot at Molde, with Håland himself name-checking the current United boss as a man who has heavily influenced his career – this will set the Old Trafford goosebumps into overdrive.
5. Sensational Salzburg could be this year’s dark horse
When Liverpool were drawn into Group E with Napoli, Genk and Red Bull Salzburg many Merseysiders would have breathed a huge sigh of relief, as their three opponents proved relatively routine on paper – bar Napoli – that is, at least compared to last campaign’s ‘group of death’.
However, with Napoli beating Liverpool in their curtain raiser, and then dropping points to Genk on Wednesday, this group has been blown wide open and now presents one of the more competitive matchups across the competition.
RB Salzburg are the first team to score three goals against Liverpool at Anfield in the #UCL since Real Madrid in 2014.
What a game. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/49JZkvMnlL
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 2, 2019
But what has unravelled over these past two matchweeks has been anything but a mere fluke, rather, Salzburg look genuinely capable of causing a storm in the upper reaches of Group E, and progressing to the knockout phases at the expense of either Liverpool or Napoli.
The next match between Carlo Ancelotti’s side and Salzburg could be the game to watch on matchweek three; sure, Die Mozartstadter conceded four at Anfield, but what they demonstrated was more than just a iron-willed heart to claw themselves back into the game, but also a tactical intelligence against the European champions, and an insatiable attacking threat.
Lets not forget the glowing appraisal Klopp also gave Salzburg prior to this match as well, describing the club as Liverpool’s ‘younger brother’ as a result of their high-octane football and similar philosophy.