Liverpool advanced to the last sixteen of the UEFA Champions League as Group E winners after a 2-0 victory away to Salzburg tonight.
Two goals in two second half minutes from Naby Keita and Mohamed Salah sufficed for the defending Champions in a game where the final score flattered Jesse Marsch’s hosts.
Salzburg had an opportunity to progress themselves with a win and this informed their early tactics as they went for the jugular from the kick off.
Takumi Minamino, Erling Braut Håland and Hwang Hee-chan were all prominent early on as the hosts tried to impose their attacking game on their illustrious opposition.
Manufacturing a raft of half chances, the Austrian champions worked Alisson on five occasions in the first half but created no clear cut chances of note.
Liverpool, meanwhile, could have been out of sight on another occasion with Salah, in particular, guilty of missing several good chances. One opportunity, on the cusp of half time, summed up the Egyptian’s half.
Excellent work from the impressive Keita manufactured space for Salah in his favoured right hand channel. Ordinarily, the number 11 would ripple the net with a slow slid finish but he completely fluffed his lines when one on one with keeper Cican Stanković.
The Keita Salah tandem that bore goalscoring fruit away to Bournemouth in the Reds last Premier League outing almost came up trumps again but the Guinean, after being sent in behind by the forwards reverse ball, had his effort smothered by Stanković.
The home team were committed to their attacking convictions, but Liverpool will have been frustrated to have gone into the interval at 0-0, given they created the far better and bigger chances.
The Reds started the second half with a menacing intent and, on another night, Salah might have scored twice in quick succession.
A Roberto Firmino pass sent the Egyptian icon behind the Salzburg defence and only good awareness and agility off his line from Stanković prevented him from being rounded. Moments later, from an angled Mane pass — reminiscent to the one he assisted Divock Origi with in the recent Merseyside derby — sent Salah through but he fired wildly over the bar.
Salzburg’s resolve would not last much longer, however, and the European Champions deservedly broke the deadlock in the 57th minute.
A sweeping cross field ball from Trent Alexander Arnold found Andy Robertson on the left flank. The Scotsman’s touch and pass sent Mane hurtling down the left flank and the Senegalese forward, from the byline, clipped a wonderful cross into the box. Stanković, rushing off his line, misjudged the flight of the ball and Keita nodded the cross into an empty net.
The goal was a fitting reward for Keita, whose ball progression and ambitious dribbling had been a brilliant source of attacking momentum throughout the game, who followed up his performance against Bournemouth with another excellent showing.
No more than 90 seconds later, Liverpool doubled their lead and the game was effectively over. Jordan Henderson, who reverted back to the number 6 midfield role and contributed to the win with a strong showing, clipped a ball over the Austrians defence and into the right hand channel.
Panicked by the prospect of a one versus one with Salah, Cameroonian defender Jérôme Onguéné nervously attempted a header back to the advanced Stanković, leaving the keeper high and dry.
From the most difficult of angles and on his weaker foot, Salah clipped the ball into the empty net, making amends for his earlier misses in the most spectacular way.
Liverpool managed the game brilliantly from there on in, missing several good opportunities on the counter — with Mane and Salah guilty — with Salzburg pushing men forward.
An excellent result and performance from Jurgen Klopp’s men who will once again be the team people want to avoid in Friday’s draw.
The only blight of the performance was the second half substitution of Dejan Lovren with what looked to be an injury which could, if it keeps the Croat out of action, leave the Reds with only two fit centre halves.
Liverpool team: Alisson, Alexander Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Keita, Wijnaldum, Mane, Firmino, Salah.
Substitutions: Milner for Firmino, Origi for Keita, Gomez for Lovren.
Subs not used: Jones, Adrian, Shaqiri, Oxlade Chamberlain.