Liverpool Through the Looking Glass

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Liverpool 3
Maribor 0

If consistency is what Liverpool lack, then they certainly showed some this week. The 3-0 win over Huddersfield on Saturday was followed by a spookily similar display and result against Maribor on Wednesday night in the champions league.

Both saw lacklustre first halves, missed penalties, three goals, clean sheets, Daniel Sturridge on the scoresheet and a palpably relieved Anfield.

It was clear from the outset that Maribor were not going to repeat their performance of two weeks previously when they were battered 7-0 at home. This time they sensibly chose to pack their defence with everyone legally allowed and succeeded in frustrating the Reds in the first-half at least.

Three at the back became five with four in close proximity, leaving their striker the only one not in their penalty box although even he ventured in when needed.

Klopp chose to make five changes to the side that beat Huddersfield at the weekend. Joe Gomez made way for fellow youngster, Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back. Captain, Jordan Henderson, was rested for Emre Can, whilst Lovren sat out through injury replaced by Klavan.

As expected, Loris Karius came in for Simon Mignolet but more surprisingly, Daniel Sturridge, who scored a lovely goal against Huddersfield, was benched for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The ex-Gunner seems to slowly be creeping into the starting eleven albeit through the injury misfortunes of others, giving Klopp the ecstasy of having options. Something that Liverpool haven’t recently been privileged with.

The only real highlight of the first-half was a show of elastic brilliance by thirty-nine year old Maribor goalkeeper, Jasmin Handanović. Alexander-Arnold sent a perfect ball onto Firmino’s head but Handanović’s outstretched left arm pushed the ball onto the bar and over. The veteran was far from done but Liverpool would have more of a say as the night progressed.

Four minutes into the second-half, the game sparked into life when Alexander-Arnold again provided a cross into the box, but this time Mohamed Salah made sure the teenager’s efforts weren’t wasted.

An unorthodox left foot/leg combination saw the ball fly past Handanović who could do nothing about this one. Salah took his goal tally to ten for the season securing his place as Liverpool’s talisman. Not bad for someone who can’t finish.

Three minutes later, Firmino thoroughly embarrassed defender, Aleksander Rajčević, with an ostentatious piece of skill in the box which left the Slovenian with no choice but to bring Firmino down conceding a penalty. However, Liverpool’s penalty pains continued when James Milner’s effort was superbly saved by the grey-haired Handanović as Liverpool now wonder what exactly they have to do to score one.

But the Anfield faithful’s nervousness didn’t last long, when Can and Milner teamed up magnificently executing a cute one-two outside the box in stunning fashion.

Can thundered the ball past the goalkeeper to double Liverpool’s lead and with Maribor looking inactive upfront, sealed the deal. Sturridge did finally make the field in the seventy-fourth minute and didn’t leave it without making his own contribution. A last minute lovely control and finish just outside the six-yard box added more weight to the argument that he should be starting more games, especially with Mané out.

Some quick thinking by Milner and Moreno from a corner kick (yes, you read that right) caught the Maribor defence napping which left Sturridge unmarked and ready and willing to punish them for their rather flagrant disrespect of him.

The result sees Liverpool top of their champions league group by a point after Sevilla beat Spartak Moscow in Spain. And in a group that is still tight, the Reds far superior goal difference could prove vital should it be required. Something severely lacking in the league.

Two match days remain with Liverpool travelling to Sevilla in a fortnight’s time and Spartak Moscow visiting Anfield in December. One win sees Liverpool through to the knockout stages but you can be certain Klopp, nor the players, will not want to leave it until the last game to ensure qualification for the first time since 2008/9.

The only downside from the game on Wednesday night involved Gini Wijnaldum who had to be substituted after seventeen minutes when he hurt his ankle. Klopp anxiously awaits a diagnosis but if it keeps Wijnaldum out of international duty, the boss certainly won’t mind him recuperating at home.

And with Mané, Lallana and Coutinho set to return after the upcoming international break, the German should have an array of talent at his disposal over the impending busy period.

The last two games have shown that Liverpool are learning to bide their time in games where the opposition are difficult to break down; something they have struggled with in the past.

The unpredictable West Ham await on Saturday night at the London stadium and Liverpool will love nothing more than to go into the international break on a high.

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