Liverpool got back to winning ways in the Champions League with a dominant and convincing 4-0 victory at home to Red Star Belgrade.
Liverpool 4-0 Red Star Belgrade
Champions League Group Stage, Anfield
October 24, 2018
Goals: Firmino 20′, Salah 45′, pen 51′, Mane 80′.
Attack Back on Track
They had been threatening; here the Reds made good on their potential in the final third with all the front three on target in the same game for the first time this season.
It didn’t quite come off against Huddersfield at the weekend, or in one or two games beforehand, but Red Star could have been picking the ball out of their net on eight occasions with ease.
Roberto Firmino, Mo Salah and then Sadio Mane all got themselves on the scoresheet, with Salah hitting his 50th for the Reds in just 65 games – a quite phenomenal strike rate and 12 games quicker than any other player in the club’s history.
The interplay was good, there was lots of movement on show and they all looked keen to get shots away whenever possible, and the final pass was much better in terms of both decision-making and execution.
We should also note: Daniel Sturridge came on, claimed an assist and should have had another, but for some wayward Adam Lallana end product.
Liverpool’s attack is back.
Fabinho’s Impressive Step & Gini Continues to Grow
There have been plenty of calls for this pairing to start matches for Liverpool of late, and Jurgen Klopp finally turned to Fabinho and Gini Wijnaldum—playing very much as a double pivot, not two of three.
On his full Champions League debut for the Reds, Fabinho was excellent.
He won the ball back with regularity, his passing was largely good after the opening 10 minutes and his ability to drive forward at pace was on show too.
Dan Kennett noted that the No. 3 won 18 of 24 duels in the centre of the park, showing his worth as a ball-winner above all else.
Alongside him, Wijnaldum was also exemplary.
The Dutchman was a roving, menacing nuisance, winning and distributing the ball in equal measure in another dominant performance from him at Anfield.
They may well be the duo to displace right now and the next midfield selection could show much of Klopp’s thinking as to who is the undisputed ‘first choice.’
Klopp Mixing Matters
While Klopp mixed his systems somewhat at the weekend, flitting between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 at different stages of the match, Wednesday night was a much more structured 4-2-3-1 right from kick-off.
Roberto Firmino reprised his old role of playing just off a main striker, Salah in this case, while Xherdan Shaqiri impressed enormously as a ball-winner, schemer, creative hub and general livewire from the right wing.
It shows good tactical cohesion from the attacking players regardless of their base starting position, as well as an awareness to do the hard work required off the ball—particularly Shaqiri and Firmino.
And it also gives the Reds confidence that, in games where matters are not going to plan, they have an alternative to switch up the tactical approach and get dangerous players into different areas of the pitch.
For the first time in quite a while, this Liverpool side represented the tactical layout of Klopp’s old Dortmund side in Europe.
Reds’ Depth on Show
Liverpool won at the weekend, making three changes to the starting lineup from the previous game. They then won against Red Star, making a further five alterations to the XI.
The Reds’ depth is being utilised much more regularly now, the squad options not only showing their worth but also pushing for regular involvement.
Fabinho, as noted above, put a real case forward for league inclusion. Shaqiri is perhaps the most in-form attacker in the side right now.
Joe Gomez has excelled on the right and in the centre of defence, Sturridge was again impressive… and neither of James Milner or Jordan Henderson were even involved here.
Now the squad is coming to the fore, and it’s a great one.
Top of the Group at a Critical Point
A late, late equaliser for PSG rescued a point for them at home to Napoli, 2-2 in the group’s other match on Wednesday.
That, plus the Anfield victory for Klopp and Co, leaves the Reds top on six points, with Napoli on five, PSG four, Red Star one.
Fast forward to game week four in a fortnight and the critical nature of an away win for Liverpool in Belgrade becomes apparent: PSG have dropped points to both rival sides and Napoli failed to win in Serbia.
A win in Belgrade will keep Liverpool top, but also give the Reds the edge in direct comparison results against both the other bigger sides in the group.
It’s a tough group, but the Reds are going well and a win next time out could leave one foot in the last 16.