Liverpool secured another three points against Maribor to put them in a good position in Champions League Group E.
Liverpool 3-0 Maribor
Champions League, Anfield
November 1, 2017
Goals: Salah 49′, Can 64′, Sturridge 90′
Liverpool attempted 27 crosses in the first half as they struggled to break Maribor down through the middle.
The opposition’s 5-4-1 formation left the centre of the park clogged up and force Klopp’s side out wide, and from there they lumped it into the box in the hope something would happen.
The persistence with this tactic eventually paid off at the start of the second half when Alexander-Arnold swung one in for Mohamed Salah who managed to get a foot on the ball and divert it into the back of the net.
This opened the opposition up and left more space through the middle, so there were fewer crosses in the second period, but if the first-half barrage was planned, it has to be said that it eventually worked.
Alexander-Arnold commented on this after the game: “We noticed during the first half that a lot of our chances came from crosses, so at half time we all agreed to keep on doing it and it paid off quite early on in the second half.”
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) November 2, 2017
Oxlade-Chamberlain starts at Anfield
Liverpool’s summer signing’s only start for the club so far came in the League Cup, but here he was given his first taste of Anfield from the beginning of a match.
He was lively if not effective as the game got underway, seeing a shot deflected over the bar and losing the ball a couple of times down the left.
He switched with Salah for the latter half of the first period and looked more comfortable, putting a cross in for Roberto Firmino which almost led to a goal.
He remained on the pitch for the entire game and though there were some encouraging signs he’s not quite there yet.
Those signs suggest it will eventually work out for him under Jurgen Klopp, but he needs a few more games like this to settle into match sharpness, rather than just learning his manager’s system in training.
After Salah’s saved penalty against Huddersfield there were calls for James Milner to resume the spot-kick duties he had last season – where he scored seven in a row before missing at home to Southampton in May.
When Liverpool were awarded a penalty following a clear foul on Firmino after some superb skill from the Brazilian, the vice-captain stepped up to take charge and make sure of the win.
However, rather than double his side’s lead he saw his effort well saved by Maribor stopper Jasmin Handanovic. The 39-year-old had made an excellent save from a deflected Firmino header earlier in the game, and starred again in this duel with Milner, diving to his left at full stretch to palm the ball onto the post.
It was Liverpool’s fourth consecutive penalty not scored at Anfield, with Firmino missing against Sevilla and Salah against Huddersfield. Overall, it’s five missed from the last seven, with Divock Origi missing at Plymouth in January too.
Klopp could stick with Milner as his main man for this task, but it might be something the whole team will be working on in training, especially with the prospect of penalty shootouts in Europe and domestically in the second half of the season.
Midfield two combine
The centre of midfield has been an issue for Klopp’s side this season, with most of the players being used in these positions going through rough patches at some point.
Milner has come back into the centre of the park lately and while he hasn’t been outstanding he’s offered some kind of consistency. The manager knows what he’ll get from Milner — both good and bad — and he uses him in a position which makes the most of his engine and attitude.
Contract issues linger over the German’s head each time he puts on the red shirt and each performance, no matter how good, is caveated with the prospect of him moving to Juventus when his contract expires in June.
However, while he’s still at Anfield he can be a great asset in helping Liverpool progress until Naby Keita arrives next summer.
The linkup between Can and Milner for the second goal was the smoothest piece of play not involving Philippe Coutinho seen in the club’s engine room for some time, and the finish was more convincing than many of Can’s team-mates’ efforts this campaign.
The pair have confirmed their place in the current best eleven and should start regularly if fit.
One win away from the knockout rounds
After Spartak Moscow’s defeat in Seville, Liverpool now need to beat the Russians at home to progress to the knockout stages, where things begin to get interesting.
Before then they travel to Spain for what will be their biggest test in this group, where they’ll be looking to qualify from top spot.
They’re currently one point ahead of Eduardo Berizzo’s Sevilla side, and beating them on their own patch would be a statement ahead of the big tests to come further down the line, and may also give them an easier draw in the next round.
However, qualification is the most important thing, and regardless of their result at the Ramon Sánchez Pizjuan, Liverpool will go through if they beat Spartak at Anfield in December.