A Mohamed Salah brace and goals from Sadio Mané and Andrew Robertson saw Liverpool clinch a 4-3 win over Red Bull Salzburg in an Anfield goal bonanza.
The defending champions raced into a three goal lead, thanks to goals from Mane, Robertson and Salah. But the Jesse Marsch coached Austrian side managed to claw the game back to 3-3 through goals from Hwang Hee Chan, Takumi Minamino and substitute Erling Haland.
Salah broke the visitors hearts late on, however, with a powerfully taken goal to give Liverpool the first win of their title defence, in a game more resembling basketball than football.
Knowing Napoli dropped points to Genk in the early game, Jurgen Klopp’s team knew they had an opportunity to make up ground on the Italian’s in Group E and started accordingly.
Birthday boy Roberto Firmino spurned a great chance to make it one nil after six minutes. Trent Alexander’s probing pass split the Salzburg defence, before Jérôme Onguéné’s touch took the balk off the Brazilians toe.
The visitors defensive resolve didn’t last much longer, however, as Mané and Firmino combined beautifully for the Senegalese to open the scoring.
Mané found Firmino with a pass from the left hand side with the Brazilian returning the favour with a deft flick. Bearing down on goal, Liverpool’s number 10 showed composure in spades to delicately stroke the ball home against his former club.
The European Champions continued to turn the screw and were rewarded once again with a beautiful move started and ended by Andrew Robertson.
The Scot ran infield and fed the ball to Henderson who in turn passed to Salah. The Egyptian laid it back to Henderson, whose pacy first time pass round Alexander Arnold. The right back’s low cross was then stabbed past Stankovic for a supremely crafted team goal.
As coach Marsch promised before the game, Salzburg were attacking and only Adrian denied them a goal. Hwang Hee Chan, kept onside by Alexander Arnold, had his shot parried away by the Spanish keeper.
Hwang’s chance stirred a reaction from the Reds and Mohamed Salah, who seemed overly keen to score a goal previously, notched the hosts third goal after 36 minutes.
Firmino’s tame header from Mané’s cross ought to have been dealt with better by Stankovic. The keeper pushed the ball back into the six yard box and Salah, sniffing the rebound opportunity, prodded home from close range.
The visitors were admirably brave in their approach and it yielded a goal in the 39th minute. Hwang, their most potent outlet in the first half, rifled home after selling Virgil van Dijk a dummy.
Left back Andreas Ulmer robbed Jordan Henderson of the ball just inside Liverpool’s half. From there, the ball was worked quickly to the Korean and, with a swivel of his hips, van Dijk bought his feint before he slammed past Adrian from just inside the box.
The Austrian arm of the Red Bull football empire almost started the second half with a goal. Zambian striker, Patson Daka, closed down Adrian and the deflection drifted narrowly wide of the left hand post.
The second period was becoming increasingly end to end. Georginio Wijnaldum should have scored at one end, after being found by Mané; and, at the other end, a slack Dominik Szoboszlai touch cost the visitors a chance.
Chan, who was proving to be a thorn in Liverpool’s side, then laid on the hosts second. A quickly taken free kick caught Klopp’s men asleep, and Hwang’s cross found Takumi Minamino for the Japanese international to brilliantly volley into the bottom left corner.
Salzburg had the wind in their sails and continued to push for goals.
Szoboszlai narrowly fired wide when he was wrongly flagged offside, as the visitors keep coming.
After several attempts, the Austrians finally equalized when Minamino squared across the face of goal for substitute Håland to equalize after being three goals in arrears.
Ruining the Salzburg fairytale, Liverpool regained their lead in the 68th minute when Salah, sent through on goal by Firmino’s header, finished powerfully.
Fabinho used his telescopic legs to good effect by pilfering the ball near to Salzburg’s goal. The ricochet found its way to Firmino and his deft header found Salah to smash home.
The final time whistle sounded at a relieved Anfield with Liverpool claiming their first group win but knowing they will have to improve if they are to go deep in this season’s competition.
Liverpool team: Adrian; Alexander Arnold, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Henderson; Salah, Firmino, Mané.
Substitutions: Milner for Henderson, Origi for Wijnaldum, Keita for Salah.