Firmino-inspired Liverpool win battle of world's best attacks in Champions League classic

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The Brazilian came off the bench to fire home a last-gasp winner in a five-goal thriller as the Reds' attacking machine outscored PSG's at Anfield

Thiago Silva had billed this as the battle of the world’s two best attacks.

And after 90 breathless, enthralling minutes at Anfield, we can understand what he meant.

Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain didn’t disappoint as they served up a Champions League classic. First group game? This felt like a semi-final, such was the noise, such was the quality.

Such was the drama.

Liverpool’s European Cup love affair left them broken-hearted in May but here, in September, they are ready to go all-in once more.

One game gone, and Champions League fever is back on Merseyside, in a big way.

They all say it when they visit. They all talk about the atmosphere and how it won’t affect them, how they have world class players with strong mentalities and how they’re used to intimidating places. It won’t be any different here, they say.

They lie.

James Milner Daniel Sturridge Liverpool 2018-19

“Power of Anfield,” read the sign which greeted the players upon their arrival. It’s a new installation for this season, and a fitting one too.

They’ve all felt it. Real Madrid and Barcelona. Chelsea and Manchester City. Roma, Arsenal, United, Mourinho, Guardiola, Ferguson, Wenger. They all know what it can do, how it can blur the senses, affect even the best and the brightest and the toughest. Hell, Thomas Tuchel knows better than anyone. He came here with Dortmund two-and-a-half years ago and had his mind bent.

Deja vu, you might say. Tuchel was back, and history repeated itself. Paris Saint-Germain, new money, were Liverpool's latest victims. The French champions suffered, just like the others.

This, according to Jurgen Klopp, is a team “built to win the Champions League” but it had no answer to what the Reds threw at them here. Klopp’s side took them to the fairground, dragged them onto the waltzers and wouldn’t let them off.

Once, PSG rallied, off the ropes to land a sucker punch. Twice they managed it, Kylian Mbappe seemingly stealing an unlikely draw in front of the Kop with just seven minutes remaining.

Close, but no cigar. Not here, not tonight. Liverpool had one last blow to land. Roberto Firmino, summoned off the bench, was the man to deliver it. Dead eye. What a strike, what a noise.

What a place.

We shouldn’t really be surprised any more. Anfield will always deliver nights like these. And this team, with this manager, will always deliver performances like this. Whatever they put in the water at Melwood needs bottling. Klopp has these players fired up like you wouldn't believe. Hungry? They're ravenous.

Since the start of last season, Liverpool have scored at least 10 more goals than any other team in the Champions League. Their three here took them to 46 in that time, a remarkable record by anyone’s standards.

Daniel Sturridge Liverpool 2018-19

PSG came armed. They had Neymar, they had Mbappe, they had Edinson Cavani. Angel Di Maria was in midfield, Thiago Silva in defence. Built to win the Champions League, remember. A team of big names, rather than a big-name team.

Their fans came to enjoy themselves, and to be heard. Anfield is used to loud European nights, and here they had the noisiest of guests. The travelling Parisiens did their team proud. They made themselves heard amid the din of the home supporters. Fair play to them.

They were treated to a marvellous spectacle, Liverpool flying out the blocks, PSG desperately seeking calm and control, happy to threaten on the counter when they could. As Tuchel said: "At Anfield, it is not a game for tactics, it is about confidence, mental strength."

The opening 45 minutes flew by, a blur of corners, shots, crosses, thunderous challenges and primal roars. Neymar was flattened by James Milner, then by Jordan Henderson. Trent Alexander-Arnold, 19 years of age, glided across the field. Alongside him Joe Gomez, 21, kept Cavani pocketed.

Daniel Sturridge made his mark. Drafted in due to Firmino’s eye injury, he made his first Champions League start for the club, his first for anyone in six years. Klopp kept him for emergencies such as this, and he didn’t let his manager down. His header, half an hour in, brought the roof off. Andy Robertson delivered the cross, another assist for the left-back, who is becoming one of the finest around.

Milner, magnificent throughout, doubled the lead from the penalty spot soon after. Liverpool looked ready to make it a bloodbath. Thomas Meunier dragged PSG back into the contest out of nowhere, a finish Neymar, Mbappe or Cavani would have drooled over.

Kylian Mbappe PSG Paris Saint-Germain 2018-19

Liverpool should have clinched it sooner, dominating the second half without finding the killer touch. When they did, Salah’s goal was rightly disallowed for a foul by Sturridge.

Then came Mbappe, one chance, one goal. The kind of class you come up against in this competition. Nothing you can do about that, is there?

Not unless you’re Firmino, that is. Had this game been yesterday, he would not have played. Now, with perfect timing, Klopp’s star pupil, his go-to man, arrived on the scene. "I'm ready," he told his manager.

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He was. Composure in a crowd, an unerring finish into the far corner, a celebration that will be copied the world over.

Liverpool are on the march again.

 

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