Another European night at Anfield to open another European campaign with a mouth-watering fixture for the media and football fans alike with Liverpool facing a front 3 costing over £400m in Neymar, Mbappe and Cavani. The last time the French side travelled to Anfield, they were defending a 3 goal lead from the 1st leg of a semi final in the now defunct Cup Winners Cup. Despite Robbie Fowler scoring early on and Mark Wright registering his final goal in a Liverpool shirt 11 minutes from time, the French side held on to progress to the final where a Ronaldo penalty gave the trophy to Barcelona.
Fast forward 21 years and as the roads almost come to a standstill as kick off time looms and a frantic messages come from my friend who is attending with me due to buses being severely delayed up to the point where he tells me he’s managed to hitch a lift in a van, only for the communication to then fall silent. I witnessed some amazing games in the tournament last season and fully expect to witness many more this season. As I began walking up Utting Avenue, the rain began to intermittently fall. After a walk along Anfield road and seeing Mighty Red outside of the corner of the Anfield Road & Main Stand, I heard from my friend and he was finally there and it was finally time to enter the stadium for another European night. The queues were starting to build by this point so the heavy downpour was the last thing anybody wanted. After what seemed like an age, I got in and made a beeline for a position to watch one of the many screens on the concourse for the end of the Inter Milan and Tottenham game seeing the Italians claim victory and then heading to my seat for the Champions League this season on Row 9 of the Kop.
You’ll Never Walk Alone resounded in truly loud fashion before the players took to the field when the music we love to hear playing over the tannoy began. The Champions League anthem. Then a chorus of pantomime boos as PSG elected to make Liverpool attack the Kop in the first half. The game kicked off and Liverpool, as expected, came flying out of the traps and it seemed almost as if it was inevitable that they would open the scoring early on. A succession of corners and chances and when I turned to look at the time played, there had only been 8 minutes on the clock and that included the referee having to already warn the PSG players about holding Daniel Sturridge.
You’d have been forgiven for thinking that the star players of the French side had been left in the Capital as they struggled to impose themselves on the game as the whistles and jeers from the raucous Anfield crowd contributed to error strewn balls from players within the opposition. The deadlock was finally broken when Trent Alexander-Arnold floated a ball from the right, narrowly missing Sadio Mane, but the ball reached Andy Robertson who with his first touch sent an inviting ball into the area and Daniel Sturridge planted a header past Areola to the delight of Anfield and there was no let up there as Liverpool immediately hunted for a 2nd goal and a bit of breathing space and it wasn’t too long before we got it as Wijnaldum was fouled in the area and the referee awarded a penalty which the cool and composed James Milner converted for 2-0.
Thoughts were already turning towards getting to half time with the clean sheet intact and there was fury brewing around me as Trent Alexander-Arnold appeared to be fouled near the corner flag but play continued and an unfortunate deflection off Robertson allowed Meunier to smash home. It was a good finish but all around me, there was questions as to why the foul hadn’t been given. I haven’t seen it back yet and it is all about perspective so it could be that it looked different from the opposite end of the pitch. It would be the case in the 2nd half with the disallowed goal.
Half time came and Liverpool had the advantage. It was positive and the threat from the big money forward line that had been spoken about by so many sections of the media had been kept incredibly quiet. On the way from Anfield, there were people saying that the PSG goal shouldn’t have stood for Cavani being offside but again without being able to see it back, I can’t say if it was or wasn’t. The most telling contribution of the half for Neymar had been getting done up like a kipper when Mane’s fancy footwork tricked him, which will no doubt spark a number of memes, i guess the surprising bit was not seeing the Brazilian roll away in embarrassment.
In the 2nd half, it looked as if Liverpool had regained a 2 goal advantage when Salah, largely quiet for the match put the ball in the net and as Anfield and the players celebrated, the PSG goalkeeper lay prone on the floor. I thought it was a reaction to being beaten yet again but then the referee indicated that the goal would be disallowed and from that point on, the boos for Areola intensified, any touch of the ball greeted by what felt like a louder and louder boo.
Then the ultimate of frustrations as with less than 10 minutes on the clock, Liverpool’s good work and command on the game looked to be thrown away as Mbappe smashed a strike into the Kop end goal, celebrating towards the Main Stand, from a move that had begun by a poor pass from Salah who would soon be leaving the field for Shaqiri to come on. It had looked fortuitous that the ball had fallen kindly for Mbappe but when you’re in those positions you have to score and for the highly rated forward, he took it very well.
Roberto Firmino had been dropped to the bench following the eye injury sustained on the weekend and it was only fair that he would be the man to settle the game, the man to win the game. In perfect irony, the man who had just been celebrating an equaliser like he’d won the game, Mbappe, conceded posession and Firmino used his clever footwork that we’ve seen time and time again, including in European competition (think Villarreal and Soldado), to create the space and angle to score in added on time and get the perfect start to the European campaign.
As the ref’s whistle blew, the choruses of Allez, Allez, Allez reverberated around the ground and as the players applauded the fans, James Milner approached the Kop, joining in with the claps of the supporters. Jordan Henderson, who is an easy target for some sections of the fanbase, had a great performance as did Andy Robertson and it was the pair of them who were the last to leave the Anfield turf before supporters filtered out and into the concourse where choruses broke out of “Bring on your Internazionale…”
Napoli away is the next venue on the European adventure for Liverpool before a potentially unique Anfield atmosphere awaits on Matchday 3 when Red Star Belgrade, the 1991 European Cup winners, visit with their supporters unable to enter the stadium due to sanctions from UEFA.