Salah & Firmino exorcise ghosts of misses past as Liverpool come alive again

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Philippe Coutinho Mohamed Salah Liverpool 17102017
The Reds duo made amends for their recent profligacy by finally clicking during a historic 7-0 Champions League victory over Maribor

For centuries, the area around Stadion Ljudski vrt was used as a burial ground but, on Tuesday, it represented Liverpool’s attacking rebirth as they exorcised the ghosts of misses past.

Having registered 29 more shots than Sevilla and Spartak Moscow in their opening Champions League games only to infuriatingly draw both, a first Group E win arrived at Maribor wrapped in swagger and authority.

Liverpool celebrate v Maribor

Jurgen Klopp’s side had been stuck in a cycle of creating much but converting little, leading to weeks of frustration, what ifs, and calls for the club to recruit a genuine No.9.

Against the Slovenian champions, the man wearing that shirt swatted away such shouts with a performance packed with verve, characteristic intelligence and a ruthless edge.

Mohamed Salah, his partner in torturing Maribor’s rearguard, was equally relentless in ensuring this was the night it finally went ‘click, click, bang!’ in the final third for Liverpool.

The pair shared a laugh as they both pounced for the club’s fourth goal of the evening, but there will also have been a great sense of relief too, given both have been guilty of wasting good opportunities recently.

Roberto Firmino Mohamed Salah

Klopp had been convinced that the displays he witnessed during a run of just one victory in eight across all competitions meant that the Merseysiders would soon see reward for what they’d been “investing” in the fixtures.

Robbie Fowler had predicted as much too, telling Goal: “Going forward, the finishing hasn’t been what the club would’ve liked, but I’d be way more concerned if they weren’t creating chances because that tells me a lot more.

“Eventually, it will click for Liverpool and they will be converting more. It will definitely turn and a few goals will be struck against an opponent because there’s definitely the players capable of doing that and the qualities of pace, guile and intelligence.”

That happened here in the 12,702-seater arena, where the noise from the home ultras - Viole Maribor - and those swirling scarves in the away end was incessant.

By the 19th minute, the Reds were already 3-0 to the good before adding another ahead of the interval to become the first English club to score that many away from home in the tournament.

Mohamed Salah

The first was created by Salah’s pace and persistence as he beat Marko Suler to a loose ball and sped into the box before supplying Firmino, who sidefooted in.

Firmino 13/8 to score v Spurs

The pair combined again with the Egypt international being fed by the Brazilian and then sliding a pass through to James Milner, who was marking his first Champions League start of the season. The midfielder crossed towards Philippe Coutinho, who didn’t need to take a touch to smash in from 15 yards.

It was the fourth consecutive game on the road the playmaker has scored in, rendering him the only player to achieve that feat for Liverpool since Steven Gerrard in March 2014.

The Firmino-Salah combination struck again with the former turning provider after winning possession and playing in the winger. He closed down goalkeeper Jasmin Handanovic and curved the ball around him and in with his left foot.

Coutinho then slipped in Alberto Moreno and his low cross was attacked by Liverpool’s livewires-in-chief, with Salah getting a touch before Firmino for the fourth.

The 26-year-old wouldn’t be denied his second of the night, though, heading in Coutinho’s free-kick on 54 minutes to exacerbate Maribor’s nightmare.

Liverpool Maribor 17102017

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain opened his account for the club, after Daniel Sturridge unselfishly played him in, before Trent Alexander-Arnold’s effort from distance hit the arm of a sliding defender and flew past a wrong-footed Handanovic and into the net to make it 7-0 and a milestone as the biggest margin of victory for an English side away from home in Europe.

Naturally, a triumph like this will be marked by comments such as 'it's only Maribor', but it shouldn’t be forgotten that in their previous home match against a Premier League outfit on the continent, the Vijolice held Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea to a 1-1 draw in 2014-15.

In fact, the hosts offered a reminder of their unbeaten run against clubs from England on Monday night, but Liverpool never allowed them to exude confidence once the encounter kicked off.

It was imperative that Klopp's charges reversed their miserable trend in front of goal, while ensuring they didn't let in any again at the other end. 

To do it in such an assertive manner in an away Champions League tie sans Sadio Mane while Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne are still unavailable is deserving of plenty of credit regardless of the name of the opposition.

Liverpool Maribor celebrate

"We scored the first goal from a pressing situation and a few other goals were after a counter-pressing situation, so it helped a lot," Klopp explained post-match. 

"Then, how we finished these situations were also good. A lot in this season already [we have been] too alone in the box to make a cross or a pass, but were no relaxed enough to play the right pass. Tonight it was different. Always when we went let them play, they played immediately and were around our 18-yard box and that only showed how good they could be.

"But we never gave up in this game, especially in the second half. It was good - all-round a really, really good performance otherwise you cannot win 7-0 so we are really happy about that.

"I think, really, the boys deserved that because they really kept on going. It’s just good to work together but the only problem is that you always have to explain why you didn’t win. It's probably not the most difficult thing to explain, especially after our games because you see we create the chances but we did not use them. That's not enough for you, how you know, and then you put the finger on all the other problem we sometimes had."

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The challenge for Liverpool is to further augment this triumph by making sure it is only the start of their turnaround and not a rare occurence of being clinical when it counts.  

"We try to use the result now, but the next game is against Tottenham so it’s pretty likely it will not be a similar result," Klopp added.

"But no problem, we have four or five days to recover and prepare for the game, so that’s good and we are already looking forward to it."