Was this the night the ‘real’ Liverpool returned?
Anfield was struck by a power cut a couple of hours before kick-off, but there were plenty of shining stars on the field as the Reds swept past Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League. Their 4-0 victory was as straightforward as it sounds.
Having seen his side struggle for fluency for much of the season, this will have been a welcome sight for Jurgen Klopp. Modest opposition, granted, but Liverpool made light work of the Serbian champions.
Paris Saint-Germain’s 2-2 draw at home to Napoli adds an extra layer of intrigue to the Group C picture, but either way Liverpool, who visit Belgrade in a fortnight, are in prime position to reach the last 16, and will have designs on going far beyond that for sure.
This was a good night indeed, a night when Mohamed Salah reached yet another landmark. The Egyptian’s two goals take him to 50 in a red shirt. He has reached that milestone in just 65 games, faster than anyone else in the club’s history by some distance.
Suddenly, Salah has six goals for the season, and questions over his scoring can be parked. He is on the right track, and so are Liverpool. This was their ninth win from 13 games in all competitions, and achieved with plenty to spare.
Klopp could also reflect on the promise of Xherdan Shaqiri and Fabinho, both of whom impressed on their first Champions League starts for the club. Shaqiri played a big role in Liverpool’s first two goals, while Fabinho grew into the game strongly after an uneasy start. The Brazilian’s tenacity, physicality and passing ability was notable.
As for Shaqiri, he was given a standing ovation when replaced by Adam Lallana midway through the second half. He deserved it; the Swiss star is making a big impact at Anfield, his touch, work-rate and creativity standing out. At £13 million ($16.7m) he already looks a bargain. Liverpool’s squad looks as strong as it has for a long time.
Klopp was able to make five changes here without diluting his team’s quality, bringing in Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Gini Wijnaldum, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino to the side which had won turgidly at Huddersfield on Saturday.
Firmino is the only man to play in all 31 of Liverpool’s European games under Klopp, and it was he who got the ball rolling in this one after 20 minutes. His finish owed a little to fortune, taking a nick off a Red Star defender en route to the net, but the football which preceded it was pleasing, with Shaqiri playing a central role.
Despite being jeered by the handful of Red Star fans who had sneaked their way into The Sir Kenny Dalglish Stand, he tracked back 20 yards to win possession in midfield, collected the ball again and fed Andy Robertson with a perfectly-judged pass. Robertson’s pull-back was smart, and Firmino did the rest. The Brazilian, with 13 goals, is now Liverpool’s third-highest scorer in the European Cup, behind only Steven Gerrard and Ian Rush.
Salah had missed a couple of early opportunities, but made no mistake on the stroke of half-time, collecting Shaqiri’s superb first-time lay-off before lashing home right-footed. It drew him level with the great Ronaldo on 14 Champions League goals. Salah reached that number nine games quicker than the Brazilian, incidentally.
He added another after the break too, smashing home from the penalty spot after Mane had won a soft decision from referee Daniel Siebert.
Mane missed a spot-kick of his own soon after – or rather, Red Star ‘keeper Milan Borjan brilliantly denied him – but the Senegal star was not about to finish the night without finding the net, prodding home Liverpool’s fourth from a Daniel Sturridge pass. What did we say about strength in depth?
Ominously, this was the first time Mane, Salah and Firmino had scored in the same game this season - they did so on eight occasions last time out. Cardiff City, the Reds' next opponents, will have been watching with a grimace.
In a week when Manchester United and Tottenham stuttered, Liverpool reaffirmed their status as Champions League challengers. Going one better than last season will be difficult, of course, but on this evidence Klopp's men are in the argument at the very least.
And here, they looked a lot more like their old selves.