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Jurgen Klopp pulls off conjuring act on Liverpool’s night of familiar chaos

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Sitting in the Upper Main Stand, it was a familiar feeling as Liverpool sealed a chaotic 3-2 win over AC Milan, on a welcome return of European nights.

Old friends and familiar footballing chaos.

It was good to catch up with AC Milan on Wednesday night, as Liverpool and our 2005 and 2007 Champions League final opponents threw out a bit of a mad one, you know, just for old time’s sake, like.

Deliciously fast out of the blocks, this felt like Liverpool were keen to show Milan that the footballing world has turned considerably in the last 16 years – back to an era when Serie A still had at least a partial claim to being the best league in the world, and in his role as an antihero, Djimi Traore was an unexpected Champions League winning left-back.

Liverpool were utterly incessant in the first 42 minutes, especially the opening 30 of those, during which Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson put the ball into the Milan penalty area 15 times.

Milan were disorientated, pinned back and liable to the most basic of unforced errors.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, September 15, 2021: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrates scoring the 1st goal during the UEFA Champions League Group B Matchday 1 game between Liverpool FC and AC Milan at Anfield. (Pic by Paul Currie/Propaganda)

What the majestic Paolo Maldini, watching on from the comfy seats of the Main Stand, made of it all can only be speculated, but I dare say his next conversation with Franco Baresi will be a withering one.

A goal provoked by Alexander-Arnold, and a surprisingly awarded penalty which was even more surprisingly missed by Mohamed Salah, and the visitors were offered that frustrating open window we seem to offer opponents too regularly, in which to procure themselves a way into a game that should already be over as a contest.

Jurgen Klopp’s players were so dominant that they even broke the ball.

Tentatively, Milan probed us, before unleashing a first-half punchline that we never saw coming, as Ante Rebic and Brahim Diaz grabbed a couple of goals within not much more than a minute-and-a-half, shortly before the interval.

It all rendered Anfield a little bit stunned, something that was added to by the sight of Simon Kjaer putting the ball in the Liverpool net at the beginning of the second half, albeit swiftly disallowed.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, September 15, 2021: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring to make it 2-2 during the UEFA Champions League Group B Matchday 1 game between Liverpool FC and AC Milan at Anfield. (Pic by Paul Currie/Propaganda)

Within a blink of an eye, Liverpool were level, Salah putting the ball in the Milan net with a degree of the unorthodox, in a situation where he felt he might have been offside.

VAR has inadvertently invented a new type of goal: the unassuming one.

I’ve seen a small handful of these, where the player converts an opportunity with a relaxed shrug of the shoulders, convinced VAR will rule it out, only for it to be a valid goal.

They are goals which are scored with the pressure off, almost as if on a training pitch, as opposed to the goalscorer being of the mind that he is confronted with a pivotal pressurised moment, and onside in a Champions League match, where there is the prospect that the chance might instead be snatched at and missed.

It was beautifully crafted by shock starter Divock Origi with a wonderful ball forward.

Given that I’d been preoccupied pre-match with navigating my way beyond the NFC ticketing system and through the turnstiles, I hadn’t even checked the team news prior to the lineups being announced shortly before kickoff.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, September 15, 2021: AC Milan's Alexis Saelemaekers and Liverpool's Divock Origi during the UEFA Champions League Group B Matchday 1 game between Liverpool FC and AC Milan at Anfield. (Pic by Paul Currie/Propaganda)

Not paying enough attention, when I heard Sadio Mane’s name amongst the substitutes, I vaguely thought to myself that Peter McDowell had made a bit of a mistake there, in naming him on the pitch and on the bench.

Divock, though. The perfect contemporary Liverpool antihero.

He was imperious for the first 15 minutes of both halves and departed the pitch around the hour mark due to cramp.

With very little football to his name since winning the Premier League, this had to have felt like rolling in for the first week back at school and then being told it’s cross-country running for PE. I had sympathy cramp on the walk back to my car.

Jordan Henderson, a man who looks like he’s in the mood for something special to happen this season, drove in a majestic winner. Anfield erupted, on a wondrously atmospheric night when we reconnected with the pure energy that our European occasions provide.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, September 15, 2021: Liverpool's Jordan Henderson celebrates scoring the 3rd goal during the UEFA Champions League Group B Matchday 1 game between Liverpool FC and AC Milan at Anfield. (Pic by Paul Currie/Propaganda)

Prior to the game, Milan’s supporters seemed in awe of the grandeur on display and, to be fair, I think we did too, perhaps realising that we were being handed back something we maybe took for granted before a continuing global pandemic enveloped us.

With Milan having spent the last seven seasons out of the Champions League, this was a game that had the defined feeling of facing an ambitious but startled newly promoted Premier League team.

This could easily have been that mad 4-3 against Leeds last season.

Prior to the game, I had anticipated that our opponents would be highly motivated and potentially dangerous, only for us to railroad them for 42 minutes, and then for the evening to settle into something more akin to what I’d expected, yet it still came as something of a shock.

A complex and multi-layered 90 minutes of football.

Klopp was bold, Joe Gomez was handed his first start since a serious injury of his own, while Virgil van Dijk was kept on the bench, keeping Thiago and Mane company, with the latter two being brought into play during the second half.

To Porto we go next in the Champions League, where another win would give us the perfect springboard to go into the double-header against Diego Simone’s Atletico Madrid, and to potentially stretch for the last 16 in a pleasantly sedate manner, whereas a setback would blow Group B apart.

In what will be a difficult group, this was an opener of stylish football, offset by a couple of sucker punches, and a retro comeback, all while squad management was in operation. Quite the conjuring act really.

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