Having successfully maintained their unbeaten Premier League season for 13 rounds, it was time for Liverpool to try and get their European campaign back on track too. Sitting second in the Champions League Group C, it would seem like it never left the track, but the defeat to Red Star in Belgrade left Klopp’s men facing a tough fight against Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli in the last two rounds to secure passage to the knockout stages, starting with the Ligue 1 champions at the Parc Des Princes.
A win would have been enough to see the Reds go through and knock PSG out, while any other result would have taken the matter to the last round and a likely Anfield thriller against Napoli.
Jurgen Klopp had a couple of scares regarding the fitness of a few players, namely Sadio Mane and Joe Gomez. However, both were passed fit and ready to play. The absentees for the Paris adventure, apart from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, were Adam Lallana with a muscle injury, Divock Origi and Kamil Grabara through illness, and Dominic Solanke with a groin problem.
Thomas Tuchel in the PSG dugout is well-acquainted with the works of Klopp by now, having succeeded him at Borussia Dortmund in 2015 and overseeing the current Bundesliga leaders’ exit from the 2015/16 Europa League at the hands of Klopp’s Liverpool. Both of them also managed Mainz 05.
His two biggest stars, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, were absent for their Ligue 1 win over Toulouse on Saturday, apparently due to injuries sustained on international duty. However, it stands to reason not to rule out the possibility that the manager simply rested them for the Liverpool showdown. Be that as it may, they both ‘recovered’ and were ready to play, and Tuchel had a full squad at his disposal.
The First Half
Both teams gave a clear indication of their plans for this game by entering the opposition box within a minute, with Alisson charging out to stop Cavani and Firmino judged to have fouled Thiago Silva at the other end. In the third minute Mbappe charged forward too but failed to get his shot anywhere near the target, and Mo Salah led a quick counterattack and was stopped by Kehrer. Di Maria came close with a half-volley from 20 yards, but Alisson was alert again, and after the ensuing corner Silva was ruled offside inside the six yards. It was a very lively opening.
PSG started turning the screw very soon, and Liverpool dropped deeper to defend and look for counterattacking opportunities. With 10 minutes gone, Mbappe also had a go from just outside the box, but his shot was too lame to trouble the Brazil international in Liverpool’s goal.
But in the 13th minute, van Dijk was a bit too gentle with trying to clear a cross from Mbappe, and the ball reached Bernat who took the opportunity to score from around 12 yards.
It’s fair to say the Reds did not respond well to going down. They seemed well shaken and showed nerves, just what you don’t need in a game like this. Wijnaldum picked up a booking for a foul on Neymar after 17 minutes, and took out Silva less than 60 seconds later.
Liverpool pressed high up the pitch, but the home team looked comfortable playing out from the back until the 22nd minute, when Kimpembe went a bit too far and lost the ball under pressure from Mane and Milner. Then Milner employed Salah just inside the box, but the Egyptian missed the near bottom corner he was aiming at. Three minutes later, Veratti will have considered himself very lucky with just a yellow card for a very late tackle on Gomez.
Liverpool slowly started gaining composure and winning space more easily, but they lacked some decisiveness and quality passes in the final third, while PSG defended well.
However, the Reds were now the team turning the screw, and often won possession quickly. But on the half-hour mark, the Neymar-Mbappe-Cavani trio caused them a lot of trouble at the back again and Alisson was forced to pick the ball out of Cavani’s feet, before saving Neymar’s cheeky attempt at a lob.
The home team were extremely well organized in their own half. They were very good in closing spaces down and leaving no pockets for the Reds to exploit. And in the 37th minute, they struck again with lightning speed.
Neymar played a one-two with Mbappe and released the young winger down the touchline, with Gomez out of position and Henderson and Lovren unable to keep up. Mbappe again pulled it back for Cavani and Alisson did well again, but this time Neymar was close enough to tap it in.
Another setback and another sloppy period followed for Liverpool. Their passing was very poor, and that was perhaps the biggest factor helping PSG feel quite unchallenged at the back. After his booking and the subsequent verbal cautioning by the referee, Wijnaldum was invisible, while Milner and Henderson just couldn’t weigh up a pass properly.
But in the last minute of the half, Mane took the ball and charged forward. He entered the box and got swept off his feet by a sliding tackle of Di Maria. Funnily enough, the referee first pointed towards the corner flag, but eventually he stood corrected by the goal-side assistant and gave a penalty. After a brief protest from the home players, James Milner stepped up.
The Second Half
Even with their lead cut in half before the break, PSG looked rather confident. Mbappe earned a free-kick wide on the left a minute after the restart, Neymar sent it in and Marquinhos put it in the net from close range, but the linesman’s flag was rightly raised.
Marquinhos was at the centre of attention again immediately afterwards as he cut out a dangerous pass for Firmino at the other end after a good combination involving Wijnaldum and Milner. Liverpool pressed hard in all areas of the pitch, but the skill and nifty combinations of Neymar and Mbappe kept giving them problems. The pair of them displayed extreme skills in controlling the ball in small spaces which often helped them cut through the narrowest of tunnels.
In the 55th minute, Robertson and Mane got the Parisians hanging by a thread, but some spectacular defending from Thiago Silva thwarted them at the last second. A minute later, Salah and Firmino almost punished another shaky piece of play from Kimpembe.
Right before the hour-mark, Salah wasted a good opportunity and then Firmino failed to direct a good cross by Robertson on target. Mbappe could have done a lot better on a counterattack a minute later, but he overcomplicated it and lost the ball.
With 65 minutes gone, Tuchel decided to shake a few things up and replaced Cavani and Di Maria with Dani Alves and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, and then Wijnaldum made way for Naby Keita for Liverpool.
PSG almost scored the third a few minutes later as Marquinhos rose high and slammed a header on target from a corner, but Alisson made a good save.
With 20 minutes remaining, Daniel Sturridge came on for Firmino.
Then Liverpool pushed forward. With Silva staying on the ground but out of bounds, they combined nice and long only for Robertson to have his cross harmlessly deflected into the hands of Buffon.
But PSG aren’t Burnley or West Brom, and they were never going to just drop deep and park the bus. They defended aggressively all over the pitch, and Veratti and Keita fought some hard battles against each other. Even Neymar worked relentlessly, often chasing the Reds’ defenders and even pressuring Alisson.
In the 78th minute, Milner made way for Xherdan Shaqiri.
Two minutes later, some great work by Mbappe in the middle enabled his team to move forward quickly and Neymar to eventually have a run at van Dijk, but the Dutchman was too much for him.
It was obvious at this point Liverpool would attack all the way and PSG would be looking to hit on the counter. The Reds pushed up the pitch and won several set-pieces, but the French team defended well and then hit quickly again. Mbappe charged into the box and took on Robertson, but the former Hull City left-back was immaculate.
That was Mbappe’s last contribution to the game as he left the pitch to make way for Adrien Rabiot in what was a very clear tactical substitution by Tuchel.
Bernat ruined a potentially dangerous attack at one end before Marquinhos and Silva stopped Salah at the other with a joint effort three minutes from time. A minute later Veratti was once again lucky to avoid getting sent off after deliberately taking out Shaqiri to stop a counterattack.
With just 60 seconds remaining, Salah earned a free-kick in a position too far to shoot from and Shaqiri went for Lovren on the far post, but the Croatian centre-back committed a foul. Then it was van Dijk’s turn to give away a foul in a similar area at the other end, picking up a booking in the process, and Neymar made Alisson work to save his shot. Robertson was next in the referee’s book as he threw Neymar down to the ground in frustration.
There was only one thing on the minds of Liverpool players towards the end of the five-minute stoppage time – to hoof the ball forward, but the home team defended with a strong desire to win. In the end, they deserved it.
There’s really not much to comment on after a game like this. It wasn’t very different from what we’ve seen from Liverpool this season so far – unconvincing performances, though it was much better than the one in Belgrade. But while such performances often still produced good results, in this game the opposition was simply too good for that to happen.
PSG was the better team. Their stellar names woke up and proved their class this time, and yet, a pang of regret still remains, for a simple reason: for all the quality of the home team, the Reds could have gotten a better result and snatched at least a point at the Parc Des Princes, were they just a little more focused in several situations. Some will argue that it would have been different had Shaqiri played from the start, but the Swiss international did nothing to back that up in the 12 (+5) minutes he was on the pitch. Keita did bring in some energy, but the French team’s midfield had it in plenty too, especially after the introduction of Rabiot in addition to the rock-solid Veratti.
For Klopp and his men, there’s nothing left other than to look forward. Their Champions League campaign will now go to the wire when they welcome Napoli to Anfield on December 11.
The Italian team beat Red Star Belgrade in Naples by 3-1 and lead the group with nine points. Red Star are out of the competition.
But looking at one game at a time, it’s Everton in the Merseyside Derby next, on Sunday.
We Walk On.