Europa League Opener
This was the first game of the Reds’ 2023/24 Europa League campaign, with a trip to Austria to kick off their Thursday night journey. The home side recorded a crowd of 19,080 in attendance, which was a bouncing and excited arena for football. I am sure there was an awful lot of intrigue as to who Jürgen Klopp would pick for the battle, given the increased fixture schedule coming up. Below is the initial line-up that our German manager opted for.
The Starting Eleven
Caoimhin Kelleher Stefan Bajčetić Virgil van Dijk (c) Ibrahima Konaté Kostas Tsimikas Wataru Endō Harvey Elliott Ryan Gravenberch Ben Doak Darwin Núñez Luis Díaz
Wataru Endō – Alexis Mac Allister (61 mins) Ben Doak – Dominik Szoboszlai (61 mins) Stefan Bajčetić – Joe Gomez (61 mins) Mohamed Salah – Ryan Gravenberch (75 mins) Joël Matip – Ibrahima Konaté – (81 mins)
LASK 1 – 0 Liverpool Florian Flecker (Sascha Horvath) 14 mins
LASK 1 – 1 Liverpool Darwin Núñez (penalty) 56 mins
LASK 1 – 2 Liverpool Luis Díaz (Ryan Gravenberch) 63 mins
LASK 1 – 3 Liverpool Mohamed Salah (Darwin Núñez) 88 mins
The First Half
It is now almost inevitable that this Liverpool 2.0 will maintain a trait of its predecessor, which is to concede first and send the fanbase into a bout of despair. Luckily, there were many caveats as to why the visitors started so poorly, with so much of the team foreign to one another. I wrote recently how this competition could be the perfect setting for certain players to bed in, given the modest level of opposition. The Austrian crowd was amazing and cheered their home team into a deserved 1-0 lead, as a thunderous strike flew past our second-choice keeper. Without the steady and diligent work of our captain, VVD, the Reds may have entered their humble half-time dressing room with a heavier deficit, given how weakly Klopp’s men were performing. Darwin really should have levelled the score (before the break), as his close-range header was cleared by a good save. The likes of Wataru Endō, Harvey Elliott, Ben Doak, and Kostas, struggled in those opening 45 minutes, as the desire to impress seemed to override the patterns of play that were needed. Tactical discipline and the option of simplicity can often be forgotten when the chances to impress arise.
📊 Ryan Gravenberch vs LASK
Most recoveries: 9
Most chances created: 4
Most fouled player: 4
Big numbers from the big man 🇳🇱 pic.twitter.com/uc4PGKChly
— Anfield Watch (@AnfieldWatch) September 22, 2023
The Second Half
On resumption of the second half, it was a surprise to see no changes made during the break. In hindsight, confidence was awarded to the squad, with the view that the preordained allocation of game time was probably in effect. After a 56th penalty was ferociously dispatched by our number 9, the raft of changes appeared and the game became about killing off an impressive LASK team.
Opportunities will arise with all fringe players, especially those who are perhaps unsettled with their sporadic setting. The calm and confidence that fills the likes of Virgil and Dominik, is due to their presence in the manager’s elite group of players. Despite having solid performances from the bench recently, Harvey seemed unsure and unable to unearth his usual rhythm. Our Japan captain looked painfully out of his depth, whereas Doak is 17 years old and not everything will fall his way. In this game, we saw a solid hybrid interpretation by young Spaniard, Stefan Bajčetić. The shaky moments aside, it was a good showing by a youngster that had been injured for so long. Kostas was far too excited at starting a game and seemed unable to remember his starting position. The bright spark in midfield was undoubtedly Ryan Gravenberch, with a full debut allowing the 6ft 3inch man a chance for footballing redemption. His manner, penetration, ability to pick a pass, and level of skill, were there for all to see. The cross and assist for the Reds’ second goal was excellent, which makes for the perfect full debut. The ceiling for this young man appears limitless, therefore, I cannot wait to see what comes next.
Liverpool so far this season:
vs Bournemouth: Go 1-0 down, win 3-1 ✅
vs Newcastle: 1-0 down at HT, win 2-1 ✅
vs Wolves: 1-0 down at HT, win 3-1 ✅
vs LASK: 1-0 down at HT, win 3-1 ✅
Liverpool proving to be the comeback kings 🔴👑 pic.twitter.com/83VHr4AD2O
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) September 21, 2023
This matchup was everything that the coaching staff needed, before the real and unforgiving schedule takes hold. With a rest and recovery period for key players, it enabled fresh legs for the weekend and minutes into bodies that most needed them. Whenever a team makes eleven changes to a side, there will always be long periods of inconsistency. The notion that patterns of play and interaction can flow in such circumstances is folly, as this encounter was more an opportunity to do what was needed (for the squad), before taking the points on offer.
Success is always about making the correct choices and ensuring bases are covered. This 2.0 Liverpool side is emerging and still yet to find its new identity. What we are seeing is a good few mistakes, yet we are also witnessing both the manager and players working to rectify and grow from such mishaps. I am happy with what I viewed, as the promise of Gravenberch was a wonderful sight and the signs of excellence arrived when they were needed. The tactical nature of these games will always be interesting and at times frustrating, yet when you have that substitutes bench to call upon, it certainly makes for an entertaining European night.