In a breathless night of football, Liverpool beat Salzburg 0-2 in the Champions League.
The Reds secured qualification to the round of 16 with an impressive away win where they withstood a barrage of Salzburg attacks and missed a slew of chances before two minutes of goalkeeping madness saw them secure top spot in Group E. What did we learn?
1. Don’t forget about Salah
It seems that all this season has seen people lavishing praise on Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Sadio Mané and even Roberto Firmino. Each of them has had their turn in the spotlight with people speaking about them as Liverpool’s key man. It honestly seems like everyone has forgotten about Mohamed Salah.
Okay sure, the Egyptian hasn’t been at his sharp-shooting best – but you can never rule out a talent like Salah’s to show up just when the club need him to most. And true enough, tonight when Liverpool needed a goal to settle their nerves after Naby Keita had made it 0-1, who showed up but Salah?
The Egyptian had already missed a hatful of chances so far in the game, but he didn’t let that get to him. When he ran around Stankovic in the Salzburg goal he was so far wide you expected him to take a touch and play a pass infield for an easy assist. Instead he struck a right-footed shot from an absurdly acute angle and somehow guided it into the back of the net.
Don’t forget about Mohamed Salah. He’s not having his best season but he still has the class and the quality to turn out your lights.
2. Two minutes of madness
Cican Stankovic is not a goalkeeper many will have heard of, but for 55 minutes against Liverpool he showed why he deserves to be rated as one of the brighter stoppers in the continent. The Austrian was everywhere, covering every cross, collecting every shot with an almost insulting ease and even deading Mohamed Salah 1v1.
Then his aggressive style took a turn for the worse. His decision-making prior to the 57th minute was flawless, but when Sadio Mané skipped by his man and raced into the area (but very wide of the goal) Stankovic panicked. He raced out to try and block Mané even though the Senegalese posed no serious danger where he was heading.
By rushing out, Stankovic left his goal exposed. Mané knew this and so rather than try a trick or shoot he simply stood the ball up for Naby Keita and boom. Liverpool were ahead.
That was bad, but literally a minute later Liverpool broke with a long-ball and Mohamed Salah was heading down the right of the pitch. He was even moving away from goal. Still Stankovic rushed up, and once again Salah skipped by him and made it 2-0 (with an admittedly impressive finish).
In two minutes of madness the Austrian goalkeeper undid all of his and his team-mates good work and basically eliminated them from the Champions League.
3. Fear The Walking Wounded
With Fabinho and Joel Matip already out injured and with a brutal fixture list coming up in December, the last thing Liverpool needed was another injury. But of course you never really get what you want, and so of course Dejan Lovren went down with a knee problem early in the second-half. The Croat couldn’t continue and had to leave the field, being replaced by Joe Gomez.
Now Gomez is a fine player, in many ways a superior defender to Lovren. But as good as he is, he has his own history of injury problems and given he is now one of just two fit centre-backs for Liverpool things are looking very dicey indeed. The Reds have been soft in the middle all season, and now they’ve lost so many key men in that zone things will only get worse.
With the games coming thick and fast, this festive season could be a gruelling one for the injury-hit Reds.
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4. Let The Bidding Begin
Well that’s that: Erling Braut Haaland is out of the Champions League. The Norwegian striker has been the sensation of the tournament so far, upstaging everyone with his incredible 8 goal haul – including actual top-scorer Robert Lewandowski! Haaland’s devastating finishing ability and audacious attitude have had everyone salivating.
Tonight against Liverpool he was a constant menace, threatening them in behind with his electric movement. Tonight his finishing deserted him, but no one doubts that he’s the real deal. And all the interest in him is about to intensify now that he no longer has the lure of Champions League football keeping him in Salzburg.
Obviously Salzburg’s ability to develop players shouldn’t be discounted. The fact that both the scorer and creator of Liverpool’s first goal (Naby Keita and Sadio Mané) were both ex-Salzburg players is testament enough to their ability to improve young talent. But Haaland’s explosion has him primed for greater things already.
Clubs are interested, big clubs. Clubs whose budget dwarfs that of Salzburg’s. Manchester United are one potential suitor (and Haaland has played for coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before) who will be salivating now. With Haaland in the Europa League alongside The Red Devils, the increased money and stature United can offer should appeal more.
But it’s not just United either. Barcelona and Real Madrid are keeping tabs on him, as are Juventus. All of them will be more interested now he’s out, and especially if those rumours of him having a €17m release clause turn out to be true. Erling Braut Haaland is now officially on the market, let the bidding begin!
5. Here we go again
Liverpool are back in the knockout rounds of the Champions League for a third straight season. In the past two campaigns they’ve reached the final, winning it last year – so they’d no doubt be amongst the favourites to go all the way yet again. Although some may doubt them because only squeaked through in the last game.
Except that’s exactly what happened last year too.
Then they were playing Napoli at home and winning 1-0 thanks to a Mohamed Salah goal. And if that seems comfortable recall that Alisson had to make a massive last minute save to deny Napoli an equaliser that would send them through at Liverpool’s expense. They weren’t all that impressive in the group but when the knockout rounds came, the Reds came alive and powered their way to history.
So yes, Liverpool haven’t been all that good in the Champions League this season. They’ve been alright, very good in spots, and yes they squeaked through right at the end – but that’s exactly what happened last year. This is familiar ground for Liverpool, and you’d be a fool to bet against them doing exactly what they did last year once again.