Liverpool put the finishing touches on their group campaign against AC Milan and did so in winning fashion for the sixth time, with the strength in depth taking centre stage.
In the end, the Reds made light work of the ‘Group of Death’ and left it to Atletico Madrid, Porto and AC Milan to battle it out amongst themselves for the final spot.
The latter barely showed their teeth against Liverpool on their home turf, however, with Klopp’s men instead bringing the intensity and the goals to see out the group stage with a 100 percent record.
The night showcased the talent that has largely been left to be patient for their opportunity this season and now the last 16 draw is firmly on the horizon.
The squad depth on show…
JOHN: It was one of those where everyone impressed for the Reds. But a special mention must go to Ibrahima Konate.
He is evidently very talented, but his Liverpool career to date has been understandably stop-start — an excellent showing versus United was followed by a shaky display against Brighton — given his age and the fact he hasn’t had much opportunity to build a pairing in defence.
But he was superb in Milan. Physically, he dominated Zlatan Ibrahimovic — which is no mean feat — and his decision making was superb. He dropped when needed and nipped in for the ball at opportune moments, backing himself to make the right call.
He used the ball economically and — along with Nat Phillips, who was also good — fully showed Liverpool’s ridiculous depth in the heart of their defence.
JOANNA: Can’t help but agree with you there, John. It was a really assured performance in what was a much-changed backline.
He took control, continued to step out of the line at the right moment and it fills you with plenty of excitement for what he is capable of, he is still only 22.
Konate is one of a handful who have had that stop-start experience but with games flying at Liverpool in the coming weeks this was a welcome confidence booster that Klopp has an abundance of options at hand that can perform when needed.
I do however think Origi, Ox and Minamino have really stepped up to show that they can come in for the “regular” team.
JOHN: I agree with the Morton shout, he can be very proud with his showing.
He was neat and tidy in possession, positionally savvy and at times could be seen organising and cajoling his teammates, which is so impressive for a teenage player in a key position with sparse experience.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, continuing a rich vein of form, was excellent. He is a rhythm player, so it’s no coincidence that we’re seeing him close to back to his best after an injury-free run.
He terrorized Milan with his direct play and physicality. When he’s on song, he’s a wild card in the Reds’ midfield that gives them a dimension that no one else can quite bring.
And what an effort 18 points from 18 is!
ELLI: It really is an amazing feat, and something we never dreamed of, especially given the strength of the rest of the group.
Liverpool tends to give us heart attacks and close shaves over the years during the group phases so to win every game, and the last one with a ‘weakened’ side is amazing.
JOANNA: It really was nice not to have those final day heart palpitations!
It’s a tremendous effort and that no other English team have done so previously shows just how significant it is, but within the run, they’ve had to overturn deficits, keep their foot down and remain hungry as Klopp would say.
They’ve ticked each and every box and with an XI that constantly changed. Bring on the last 16 I say!
JOHN: Setting an English record for a 100 percent Champions League group stage record is mightily impressive and another feather in the Reds’ considerable decorated European football cap. But the most important element has been their performances.
They have rotated heavily throughout the group stage and the level of performance — with the exception of Atletico away, which they won regardless — has been generally excellent.
It shows there is a squad depth that Liverpool are regularly accused of lacking and, one thing is for sure, no one will want to draw Jurgen Klopp‘s team next Monday.
And who do you want Liverpool to face in the last 16?
JOANNA: I think it may be a case of who would want to face Liverpool? Very few, if any, that’s for sure.
At this stage, it could be one of PSG, Barcelona/Benfica, Inter, Sporting, Villarreal/Atalanta, Juventus and then Group G is still very much open.
I’d like to steer clear of PSG at this stage but a Sporting or Inter would peak my interest, but I’m confident regardless and especially with Anfield hosting the second leg.
ELLI: I agree with you there Joanna, I’d like to avoid PSG as much as possible, especially given the strength of their side, regardless of how they’re playing.
I think another Italian side might be suitable though, given that we’ve just beaten their league leaders with a predominantly B team.
JOHN: There are some potentially difficult tasks there — not least against PSG, as mentioned — but, at this stage, the Reds should fear nobody.