Goals from Diogo Jota and Mohamed Salah sealed a 2-0 win for Liverpool over Midtjylland at Anfield in Group D of the Champions.
After making five changes from the victory over Sheffield United — with only the back five and Jota retained — a performance devoid of any fluency still yielded a win, which was sealed by substitute Salah’s penalty.
The slow start to proceedings from the hosts wasn’t surprising, given the rhythm sapping number of personnel changes from the Reds. It was the visitors — who were routed 4-0 in their opener at home to Atalanta that started brighter with Ander Dreyer shooting straight at Alisson after a long punt from the back sent him in behind the Liverpool rearguard.
In case Jurgen Klopp didn’t have enough of a headache at centre half, Fabinho — appearing to hold his hamstring — was withdrawn to be replaced by Rhys Williams as an all-round wretched half reach its end with little to speak of bar a few badly timed Midtjylland tackles.
Clearly, in a pre-planned move, Georginio Wijnaldum replaced Henderson at half time but there must have been the temptation to substitute several more, given the meek first-half display from the hosts.
The Dutchman brought a calm to proceedings and Liverpool — although it is hard to envision them being worse — improved thereafter.
After a lackluster first 55 minutes, which failed to lead to a shot on goal, the Reds scored with their first attack of any conviction.
Xherdan Shaqiri’s beautiful against the grain reverse ball set Alexander-Arnold free in the box and the full back’s inviting cross was tapped into the net by the well-positioned Jota.
The cavalry were called on the hour mark, as Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané came on for Minamino and Origi, players whose performances would be charitably tagged as ineffective.
Roberto Firmino also joined the fray late — replacing goal scorer Jota — but missed a golden chance to kill the game when he skied Alexander Arnold’s pullback in the box.
The Brazilians profligacy was almost immediately punished when Dreyer — after skipping past Gomez — narrowly clipped the ball wide.
Alexander Arnold was proving the Reds only real source of creativity and it was his sumptuous through ball to Salah that sealed the win. Racing through on goal, the Egyptian was fouled by full-back Paulinho. And with composure, Salah sent the keeper the wrong way from the spot for 2-0.
Similar to last weeks win at the Amsterdam Arena, the victory was not a thing of beauty, but Liverpool — whose only real worry will be the extent of Fabinho’s injury — won’t care as Ajax’s 2-2 draw in Bergamo against Atalanta means the English Champions outright top the group.
Liverpool team: Alisson; Alexander Arnold, Fabinho, Gomez, Robertson; Henderson, Milner; Shaqiri, Minamino, Jota; Origi.
Replacements: Salah for Origi, Mane for Minamino, Firmino for Jota, Williams for Fabinho, Wijnaldum for Henderson.