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Debuts, records broken & focus on the title – 5 talking points from Midtjylland 1-1 Liverpool

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A much-changed Liverpool were held to a 1-1 draw by Midtjylland in a final Champions League group game marred by VAR, with the focus now firmly on the Premier League.

Midtjylland 1-1 Liverpool

Champions League Group Stage (6), MCH Arena
December 9, 2020

Goals: Scholz pen 62′; Salah 1′


The impact of a record-breaking goal

HERNING, DENMARK - Wednesday, December 9, 2020: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (C) celebrates after scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between FC Midtjylland and Liverpool FC at the Herning Arena. (Pic by Lars Møller/Propaganda)

It took Mohamed Salah just 55 seconds to bundle in the first goal of the game, and it was a record-breaking one for the Egyptian King on two counts.

Firstly, it lifted him above Steven Gerrard as the club’s all-time leading goalscorer in the Champions League, and more relevant to the game, it became the fastest goal Liverpool have scored in the competition.

Breaking the deadlock in the first minute gave the Reds breathing space in a game that, regardless of the lack of stakes, was one Jurgen Klopp was eager to win, and it allowed them to control proceedings.

This changed after the break, but nevertheless, the goal played into the hands of Klopp’s side as they looked to play things at half-pace in order to preserve fitness.

And a word for Salah – he is still not as highly regarded as his talent and achievements deserve. One of the club’s greatest-ever strikers.

 

Clarkson’s productive debut

HERNING, DENMARK - Wednesday, December 9, 2020: Liverpool's Leighton Clarkson during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between FC Midtjylland and Liverpool FC at the Herning Arena. (Pic by Lars Møller/Propaganda)

Ahead of the game, Klopp hailed the club’s youngsters and how they have managed to almost seamlessly step into the side and perform in the absence of a number of his key players.

“We lost top, top, top, top-class players to injury and, of course, one door closes and another opens up,” he said. “But then you still need the right kids or players to use the chance.”

The latest to be given an opportunity was Champions League debutant Leighton Clarkson, whose inclusion allowed Gini Wijnaldum a much-needed rest as he took up duties in the No. 6 role.

Largely, it was a comfortable night for the 19-year-old, who showed no signs of being daunted by the occasion and played a number of promising balls through to Klopp’s forwards.

There may be reservations over his lack of height as a No. 6 – he is more Joe Allen than Fabinho – but Clarkson settled in quickly and made a strong case for a continued role in Liverpool‘s expanded squad this season.

 

A useful, historic substitution

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, November 25, 2020: Liverpool's substitute Billy Koumetio during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and Atalanta BC at Anfield. Atalanta won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Starting as the senior centre-back ahead of Joel Matip, Fabinho provided further proof that he is not only a world-class midfielder, but also a world-class centre-back.

The Brazilian’s positioning gives him the edge in his new role, while his reading of the game was no better exemplified with another goal-line clearance to keep out Sory Kaba before the break.

Then half-time arrived, and Klopp opted to introduce Billy Koumetio, who became the club’s youngest-ever Champions League player.

Koumetio is a young player who has a long way to go in terms of his development, and the absence of Fabinho after the break had a big impact as the Reds’ two teenage centre-backs were at sixes and sevens early into the second half.

But it will be a formative experience for the 18-year-old, who will not have been included solely to break a record – Klopp clearly has faith in his No. 89.

More important for the short term, of course, is that Fabinho only played 45 minutes and Matip was rested entirely.

 

One step forward, two steps back for Kostas

HERNING, DENMARK - Wednesday, December 9, 2020: Liverpool's Kostas Tsimikas (L) and FC Midtjylland's Sory Kaba during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between FC Midtjylland and Liverpool FC at the Herning Arena. (Pic by Lars Møller/Propaganda)

Having been overlooked of late, Kostas Tsimikas was given another chance to impress with his third start of the season – and his second in the Champions League.

It was arguably the Greek’s best outing yet; he was purposeful going forward and made a number of timely interventions at the back, particularly in the second half as the eldest of a makeshift back line.

But then a late challenge forced Tsimikas off, as Andy Robertson kept up his record of featuring in every Premier League and Champions League game of the season – likely against Klopp’s best intentions.

With the group stage now over and the Premier League taking priority between now and February, there may not be many more meaningful openings for Liverpool‘s new left-back in the months ahead, with this injury yet another setback.

Robertson was one of four key players sent on in the second half, with Jordan Henderson, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino also utilised despite there being nothing to play for in Group D.

 

Two uninterrupted months for the title charge

HERNING, DENMARK - Wednesday, December 9, 2020: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the pre-match warm-up before the UEFA Champions League Group D match between FC Midtjylland and Liverpool FC at the Herning Arena. (Pic by Lars Møller/Propaganda)

With the group stage now over, Liverpool can put the Champions League to one side now until mid-February, when the last 16 gets underway.

That they were able to progress from Group D so comfortably given their injury situation is testament to the depth and mentality of Klopp’s squad, and this can be considered a crucial landmark.

Between now and the resumption of the Champions League come at least 13 more games in the Premier League – along with the FA Cup third-round trip to Aston Villa on January 8 – which represents just over a third of the entire fixture list.

Thirty-six points are at stake, and if the Reds are to follow up their first title in 30 years with another they will be required to pick up the majority of those.

A relatively straightforward challenge, on paper, comes first, with an away clash with Fulham on Sunday, and after making eight changes in Denmark, the first-choice XI should return against a side who have picked up just seven points so far.

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