Liverpool experienced some turbulent times in the early part of the season due to unfortunate injuries and missed opportunities in the league that put them in a tough spot looking up at City in first place, but the Champions League was quite the bright spot in the Reds’ season to date. Jurgen’s boys took the continent by storm with a perfect 6 wins out of 6 group stage matches that put an end to the Reds’ road woes in Europe from previous seasons. Then with the turn of the calendar bringing Liverpool’s best January performances under Klopp plus a surprise major transfer window addition, the return of the Champions League brought a wave of excitement at what the Reds could accomplish with a bolstered and finally fully healthy squad.
While though many expected fireworks at the San Siro against the reigning Italian champions, the first half was…not that. To be fair, there was plenty of energetic running, but this resulted in a rather disjointed opening 45 minutes than the track meet Liverpool have put on in recent seasons. Aside from a glancing Mane header that he could and should have scored and a sneaky Calhanoglu shot that got past Alisson but clattered off the crossbar, neither side could find the breakthrough to take hold of the match. No shots on target and an xG under 1 for both sides told the story of a game that was crying out for a spark.
Enter the man to whom if you pass the ball, he will score. While Jurgen held firm with his stated intent to start players based on form and not reputation when he fielded a lineup with Konate, Elliott, & Jota instead of regulars Matip, Henderson, & Firmino, the German was also adamant about using his newly deep bench instead of hoarding his substitutes like Mike Ashley with every quid he can get his hands on. Bobby came on for Diogo at the break and immediately improved Liverpool’s pressing and cohesion. Then after Inter found some success going forward in the early part of the 2nd half, Jurgen once again rolled out the subs with a line change involving Hendo, Diaz, and Naby on for Fabinho, Mane, and young Harvey. The fresh legs proved decisive as Naby was great on the ball and progressing forward while Luis injected pace and energy into the match.
But the first sub was the best sub as Robbo took a corner instead of a struggling Trent and fired in a heat-seeking in-swinging corner that found the Brazilian for a brilliant flick on into the far corner of the net. As chants of Si Señor rang out across the San Siro, Inter shoulders sagged, and Liverpool found even more life. Like sharks smelling blood in the water, the Reds surged forward and willed in a second goal thanks to some scrappy play in the box and yet another goal from the Egyptian King. A set piece goal and waiting for the top player in the world to do what he does best: that’s been Liverpool’s recipe for much of the season.
Ultimately, it was not the most scintillating performance you will see from one of Europe’s top sides, but it was exactly what Liverpool need to continue their epic quest for a quadruple. Another win, another match where the manager’s tactics worked a trick, and another match where Liverpool’s newfound depth proved too much for the opposition. If they are to compete on all fronts and give the supporters some memories to last a lifetime, the Reds must continue to maximize the wealth of talent at their disposal. Experienced veterans like Firmino still have a role to play while emerging stars, such as Konate and Diaz, can bring new elements to the side when something different is needed. It remains to be seen if Klopp’s machinations will bring about the expected explosion of goals or if Liverpool will save the fireworks for the trophy lift celebrations. As long silverware is involved, the supporters should be plenty happy.