Liverpool’s European campaign resumed in the knock-outs just as it finished in the group stage: In Italy, scoring twice, at the San Siro, beating a Milan side.
Inter Milan 0-2 Liverpool
San Siro, Champions League last-16 first leg
16 February, 2022
Goals: Firmino 75′, Salah 83′
A big call and show of faith
Not even four years later, the lad who was then a fan with his dad, is now a starting central midfielder in the Champions League.
This was his debut of any kind in Europe, and all this after fewer than 10 top-flight appearances domestically.
That’s how highly he’s rated at the club; that’s how highly he’s rated by Jurgen Klopp.
And what a setting for it: the San Siro, one of the most famous grounds in the world – which is soon to be demolished!
Subbed on the hour, as was always expected, he’ll have learned a lot from this outing.
A world class duo
A little known fact: the San Siro was repossessed in 2022 and is now the property of one Fabinho Henrique Tavares. For 45 minutes, this was his playground and everyone else was allowed the ball only at his invitation.
The Brazilian was totally monstrous, halting any early attempts from Inter to break through the centre or play out through the thirds, making his tackles and interceptions but also truly top class on the ball.
There’s no question it was a big, big call for Klopp to remove him on the hour, even with Inter on top at that stage.
Alongside him Thiago was similarly imperious both on and off the ball – the notable point is that when they both play in midfield, the Reds simply don’t get beaten.
Subs work to perfection
All those options! Klopp has big calls to make every game now and he went with the ‘new’ apparent first-choice trio: Mane, Salah and Jota.
Hard to say it was a decision that worked, as such: they fared fine for the most part in the first half, creating a few decent openings and working hard off the ball, but without going too close to scoring.
It only lasted 45 minutes too, before the boss brought Bobby Firmino on at the break – then Luis Diaz followed on the hour.
More speed, more aggression, more of an outlet seemed to be the need, with Inter’s power and big switches tough to continually bypass.
Perhaps here the key takeaway is one Klopp has been hinting at: there isn’t just one key for the door.
We have to get away from thinking about a ‘first XI’, a preferred pairing or trio, a must-start name on the team sheet. We have finally got five genuine starting-calibre options and other alternatives besides, and it can be any of them who find the way through – even if that comes when the boss calls them off the bench.
Klopp’s subs have been an improving theme of late, earlier when needed and having a much better impact; four of them before the hour here and they all had a huge impact.
It doesn’t come much better than these efforts, with one scoring and another having a big impact in altering the flow of the game.
Interesting timing from big ole’ Ibou Konate to put in a mega shift in a massive match just as Joel Matip seems to have stumbled once or twice with his own form.
The No5 was brilliant in Milan, making lots of big clearances and a couple of crucial blocks, while also showing several times his capabilities in stepping out of the defensive line in possession.
Alongside him, Virgil was somewhere near his very best.
The turbo boosters got put to good effect in the first half a few times, while he also wasn’t shy about bellowing at teammates who weren’t quite up to scratch defensively – Trent’s ears are probably still ringing.
A fantastic pairing on the night and a much-appreciated clean sheet as a reward.
Second leg and next it’s Norwich
So back to Anfield we’ll go and given our form there, hopes will be high that we’re heading into the last eight.
Before then, though, there’s a lot to get through for the Reds – including two games against Norwich and a cup final.
The first one against the Canaries is in the league and at the weekend, back to Anfield where we’ve won 11 of the last 12 in all competitions and are unbeaten all season long.
Everyone will be needed and by the time that game comes along, we’ll hopefully be a point or two closer to Man City – and have a trophy in the bank. On we roll.