It’d be wrong to suggest this isn’t one of the toughest groups of the competition; Napoli and PSG present two scintillating trips while Red Star Belgrade are hardly pushovers having won the Serbian league last season. Under the floodlights, bouncing to the tune of ‘Allez Allez Allez’, Liverpool stepped out prepped and ready for a new Champions League campaign with a collective sense of ‘bring it on’ rather than a fearful demeanour.
There’s been nothing frenetic about Liverpool’s start to the campaign. Five wins from five, they’ve opted for a concentrated and disciplined approach rather than the ‘all guns blazing’ ethos of last season. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We’re top of the league and have only conceded two goals after all.
Europe though would require a step up.
And that’s exactly what Liverpool did.
They stepped up. On the big stage. A statement win.
Roberto Firmino’s eye injury saw him drop to the bench while injuries to Dominic Solanke and Divock Origi’s for the Under-23s left Daniel Sturridge as the only available striking option for Klopp – his first start of the season.
Rusty off the bench against Spurs, he would need to be ruthless here.
It took just thirty minutes for the dust to settle and the wriggly arms to come out. Andy Robertson displayed his impeccable delivery once again, curling a sumptuous cross into the box, with the smallest of movements allowing Sturridge between the two static centre-backs to power his header past the ‘keeper.
Old reliable from the spot, James Milner, grabbed a second soon after when Gini Wijnaldum was tripped up by the inexperienced Juan Bernat inside the box to send Liverpool into the ascendency less than four months on from Kyiv’s heartbreak.
There would be twists and turns after Thomas Meunier’s rather fortuitous effort five minutes from half-time sent pulses racing. A goal that should’ve been ruled offside after Cavani impeded Van Dijk, it was a warning shot across the bow for Liverpool.
The second half took a similar turn to the weekend game against Spurs. There were chances, lots of them, but none were sent crashing into the back of the net. Sturridge should’ve grabbed a second from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross while Salah had a goal ruled out for a foul on Areola.
Naturally, at this level, Liverpool would be made to pay for being wasteful.
A loose pass from Mohamed Salah put the team on the back foot, enabling Neymar to waltz past Milner and Van Dijk and put it on a plate for Mbappe, who had largely been kept quiet. Another sub-par game from the Egyptian will be a slight worry but he still possesses the quality to turn a game on its head, and I fully expect him to kick into gear soon.
Then came one-eyed Bobby.
The walking wounded after Vertonghen’s probing on Saturday; his introduction took Liverpool up a gear to grab a much deserved three points at the death. Van Dijk switched the ball out wide to Firmino on the edge of the box, who wriggled his way onto his right foot before powering it beyond the ‘keeper and producing a celebration that matched the quality of the strike.
Our Bobby. Doing bits. With one eye.
Sure, it wasn’t vintage Liverpool in that there was no five-goal frenzy or buoyant synergy between the front-three, but showing grit to fight back at the death, the team look well prepared for another surge. Yes, it should’ve been a far more comfortable victory than it was. Yes, the second goal was a sloppy one to concede. And yes, there are that still need some work.
But, dominant, dogged and dangerous on the attack with three points on the board, this was a statement to Europe.
A 3-2 win and a draw for Napoli, you couldn’t have asked for a better start.