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Rotation pays off on rousing return – 5 talking points from Liverpool 3-2 AC Milan

A rollercoaster ride of a game saw Liverpool return to Champions League action against a famous but surprisingly not-that-familiar an opponent, beating AC Milan 3-2.

Liverpool 3-2 AC Milan

Champions League Group Stage (1), Anfield
September 15, 2021

Goals: Tomori OG 9′, Salah 48′, Henderson 69′; Rebic 42′, Diaz 44′

Champions League nights with fans return

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, September 15, 2021: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scores 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)

Historic European football fixtures don’t get much bigger than Liverpool vs. AC Milan, and Anfield responded to the occasion.

The strange thing was, that this was the first time these two had met in the old stadium, which shows how the rarity of some of these European fixtures can add to their allure.

Anfield was loud under the lights, but it also felt like there was some left in the tank if needed further down the line.

Klopp encouraged the supporters’ involvement from the touchline, and when those on the pitch decided one of the balls wasn’t fit to play with, the Liverpool manager retrieved it and threw it into the crowd for someone to keep as a souvenir.

The old chants, songs and rhythmic claps all got an outing, and this support no doubt helped Liverpool come back from 2-1 down to win the game 3-2 in the second half.

The night was rounded off with some Klopp fist-pumps in front of the Kop.


Origi outta nowhere

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)

It was a surprise selection, to say the least, as Divock Origi came into the side for Sadio Mane.

What’s more, he operated through the middle rather than from the left where he was often used last season, with Diogo Jota playing in Mane’s role.

Even though some rotation may have been expected for this midweek game, few would have predicted the Belgian’s involvement from the start, especially considering the number of rumours linking him with a move away from the club in the summer and it being an obvious area for an upgrade.

To his credit, Origi started brightly, at least positionally, getting himself into some good areas and having a decent chance to score from an excellent Andy Robertson cross, but he didn’t get enough on the shot.

As the game went on he was one step behind Fikayo Tomori, with the Englishman outmuscling him and outpacing him, but he soon made a positive impact again, lifting a delicate ball over the defence for Mo Salah to score.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had been earmarked in pre-season for å backup role through the middle but, if the injury he sustained in the second half isn’t too serious, it appears Origi is well and truly still in the mix.


Defence planning

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 21, 2021: Liverpool's Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konaté during the pre-match warm-up before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Burnley FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As well as the Origi-Mane switch, the other major piece of rotation in the side was Joe Gomez coming in for Virgil van Dijk.

It was interesting that the Englishman came in on the left side of the defence.

If Klopp plans to have two players for each side as Van Dijk eases back into things following his serious injury, then this could indicate Gomez is his deputy and Joel Matip and Ibrahima Konate will fight it out for the right-sided role.

Of course, Gomez’s versatility – his ability to play either full-back role if needed as well as in the centre – could mean he’ll be used on either side, but it might make sense to ease Konate in alongside the imperious Van Dijk.

The Dutchman is missed for his leadership and organisational skills regardless of how the rest of the defence plays, but having him sit out the occasional game after such a serious injury last season is a wise decision.

It’s just down to Gomez and the others to step up in his absence.


How’s the squad depth looking?

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)

Liverpool’s 12-man bench was made up entirely of senior first-team players.

There might not be the chance to pick youth players given the UEFA Youth League game on the same day and others out on loan, so this was a full, senior-looking bench.

This shows the decisions Klopp has to make every week for his nine-man bench in Premier League games.

He’s a manager who likes a close-knit squad to make every player feel valuable, and motivated as a result, but at the moment he is having to leave some of these out of the squad altogether on league matchdays.

It shows there are players there, and regardless of the perceived quality of these players, they will all want to be playing football at some point.

Liverpool finished the game with a forward line of Mane, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Curtis Jones, while James Milner and Thiago also got runouts towards the end.


Back in three

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, September 15, 2021: A general view before the UEFA Champions League Group B Matchday 1 game between Liverpool FC and AC Milan at Anfield. (Pic by Paul Currie/Propaganda)

After some rest, and a day or so of preparation, Liverpool will soon be back at Anfield for a different challenge in the league against Crystal Palace.

With Mane and Thiago rested to some extent, you would expect them to come straight back into the side.

Van Dijk, too, should come back into the defence, but it remains to be seen whether Matip will be rotated similarly and if Konate will get his debut.

After easing into the league season and then an international break, the games will start to come thick and fast and the squad depth will really be tested.

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