Reds Star Against Belgrade
Liverpool returned to their rightful place atop of Champions League Group C after dispatching Red Star Belgrade in style under the Anfield floodlights.
The victory was nice, but what had the fans talking was the all round outstanding performances from every player. It was a display reminiscent of last year’s brilliance.
Bobby Firmino’s deflected shot broke the deadlock, before Mo Salah confidently finished an excellent team move to make it two. Salah scored from the spot for his second after Mane won a penalty. Mane then missed his own chance to score a penalty, but made up for it by sliding in for the fourth and final goal of the evening.
Alisson – 7:
Not much can be said about Alisson’s game as he did little more than try and keep warm all night. His focus never waned on the rare occasions he was called into action though.
He managed to start a number of counter-attacks with some slick throws to unleash the likes of Andy Robertson down the flank. This could be yet another arrow in Liverpool’s quiver.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – 7.5:
Trent had another strong showing, combining intelligent passing and crossing with calm and considered defending. TAA’s contribution to our sublime defence shouldn’t be underestimated.
He could’ve claimed an assist as it was his cross that led to Mane’s missed penalty. Although, this would’ve been negated by his accidental, and comical, blocking of a Firmino shot in the first-half.
Virgil van Dijk – 7:
VVD, like Alisson, was rarely troubled by the Serbians, such was Liverpool’s stranglehold on the game. His aerial dominance was as exceptional as ever, ensuring no sloppy goals would be conceded.
The most impressive part of his performance was the way he was able to not only play out from the back, but slice through Red Star players and drive forward into the midfield.
Joe Gomez – 8.5:
Joe’s demonstrating no signs of slowing down. He was unbeatable in the air and on the ground, in particular, he showed great pace to steal the ball from Branko Jovicic on the counter, without needing to slide in.
You have to wonder where this Liverpool defence would be without young Gomez. Of course VVD is one of the league’s best and his leadership is highly valuable, but Joe’s consistency and unrelenting improvement is truly staggering.
Andy Robertson – 8:
Robbo was given the freedom to venture forward more frequently than in recent games as Jurgen Klopp knew his team could put this opposition to the sword without needing to sit back and defend a lead.
The Scot was able to move into space regularly, and his crosses were mostly on point. In fact, it was his low cross to Bobby that secured the all-important first goal of the game.
Fabinho – 8.5
This was the Fabinho Liverpool fans knew we’d bought. The big Brazilian was an utter wall in front of Liverpool’s defence, making their job even easier.
He was equally impressive on the ball by keeping it simple, but also casually picking out intelligent passes or dribbling out of danger as if it were the simplest task in the world. Surely he should be rewarded with a start against Cardiff.
Gini Wijnaldum – 7.5:
Gini is occasionally criticised for drifting in and out of games. That judgement couldn’t be more wrong in this game though, he was like a metronome throughout.
One of the biggest positives from this match is one that’s been overlooked. Gini and Fabinho worked brilliantly together despite little to no game time together in a midfield two. Their competency is what allowed Liverpool to play with four attacking players, and could be the key to developing those combinations further.
Xherdan Shaqiri – (Man of the Match) 8.5:
What a night for our Swiss star. This was almost certainly Shaq’s best game in Red to date, and the fact that Klopp pulled him off early to receive the full praise of the Anfield crowd is an indication that the manager wants him fresh to start against Cardiff.
Shaqiri bossed it in his first Champions League start, he was at the heart of just about every Liverpool attack. He could’ve had a hat-trick of assists in the first-half if his teammates finishing was as fine as Shaqiri’s passing. Ultimately, he had to settle for just the one after his lovely ball for Mo’s first.
Mo Salah – 8:
Mo was probably the only person wearing red that wasn’t absolutely beaming when he scored both of his goals. Mo probably feels, like a lot of others do, that this is only the beginning of his return to the heights of elite goalscorers.
Speaking of which, Salah overtook Brazilian Ronaldo’s Champions League goal tally with his brace, taking his total to 16. An accolade worthy of the player who simultaneously became the fastest player to reach 50 goals for Liverpool.
Sadio Mane – 7.5:
Mane was also on form, but was arguably the least effective out of the ‘New Fab Four’. His biggest contribution was winning the penalty, although it was a bit soft and the Kop would’ve been furious had the decision gone the other way.
As usual, he was dangerous on the counter but this time he was unable to make it count until stabbing home a selfless pass from Bobby to round out the night for the Reds.
Bobby Firmino – 8:
A slight deflection helped Bobby’s shot on its way, but his first touch and the power behind the ball suggested it was destined for the back of the net in any case.
Bobby, while starting as the striker, spent the vast majority of the game in the number 10 role, behind Mo Salah, and flanked by Shaqiri and Mane. This is almost certainly the way forward if Klopp wishes to start all four of them.
Adam Lallana (on for Shaqiri 68′) – 6.5:
His touches and turns were as smooth as ever, and Daniel Sturridge put him through on goal late on in the match, but unfortunately, he ran out of steam and was forced off the ball.
Daniel Sturridge (on for Salah 73′) – 8:
Sturridge came on for Mo when he was on a hat-trick, but the striker created more than enough chances to make up for it. His pinpoint passing and shooting is becoming a real asset off the bench.
Alberto Moreno (on for Robertson 82′) – N/A:
No time to make an impact.
Simon Mignolet, Dejan Lovren, James Milner, and Divock Origi.
Jurgen Klopp – 9.5:
Our manager had a number of decisions to weigh up before the match including player selection, tactics, and formations. On the evidence provided, he nailed those decisions, which is all you can ask of a manager.
Klopp’s probably the only Reds fan that hasn’t overreacted at any stage to our poor form, regardless of his usual animated shouting from the sidelines. It’s clear that his ability to keep the squad calm and focused is paying dividends.
One very minor bone of contention was the decision to have Origi on the bench. His time’s clearly up at the club, and considering Studge was there in case we needed a goal, it would’ve been great to see someone like Curtis Jones given a chance to be in contention for a few precious minutes of Champions League football.
The New Fab Four
The signs had been showing for what felt like an age that a result like this was only around the corner, all we needed was a bit of luck to kick start the confidence that would be necessary to regain our swagger.
Bobby’s deflected goal did just that, and despite all four players missing varying degrees of chances, they should all walk away satisfied with their performances and more sure of themselves that they can still rip any team to shreds.
However, this fabulous combination wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if it weren’t for the excellence of the two holding midfielders behind them.
As I alluded to above, Gini and Fabinho’s partnership is undoubtedly the key to this new system. The fact that they’re both so adept at breaking up play and restarting attacking moves is crucial.
Of course they received help from the likes of Bobby and Shaq dropping back and pressing Red Star’s players, but their ability to hold down the midfield as a duo with ease is highly encouraging.
This result doesn’t mean we have to, or even should, use this system every game, but it’s certainly a potent option that we can use when appropriate.
Onward and Upward
PSG’s late draw against Napoli ensured that Liverpool are now ahead on the table by one point at the halfway mark of the group stage. A win in the next game, away to Red Star, would have to make Liverpool even firmer favourites to progress.
Next up though, it’s Cardiff in the league. This is a must win game for the simple fact that there’s almost no chance that Manchester City would drop points at home against Neil Warnock’s side.
Naturally, Klopp will have one eye on the following fixture, away to Arsenal; this game is a must win for different reasons. Not only are they a top-four rival, but both City and Chelsea have beaten them already. Both results came before Arsenal clicked into gear under Unai Emery, but the table doesn’t reflect that, so dropped points in this game could have an added meaning in the title race.