Player ratings: Liverpool 4-3 RB Salzburg

Robertson-and-Alexander-Arnold-celebrate
I warned in my last ratings thread that Salzburg were not to be taken lightly but first half they looked a bit star struck and my warning seemed a bit foolish as we simply blew them away, with some of the best football you could hope to see. Second half they rallied though and what a game it ended up being. Never has the old cliché ‘game of two halves’ been more prevalent and it makes it quite difficult to score the team, as each half was like a different game. Anyway, without further ado...

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Adrian (6.5) - Virtual spectator first half, dealt with a routine save comfortably and didn’t have too much to do all night. Not much he could’ve done about the goals but scored half a point less for almost playing the ball against a Salzburg player and into his own net. It’s no secret that I hate this kind of thing from goalkeepers. He wasn’t even under pressure and in the end, it could’ve proved costly. Still, what an Indian summer Adrian has had in his career. Six months ago, if you’d told him he’d be playing Champions League this season, he’d have laughed. Pleased for him though, as he seems a thoroughly decent chap. Let’s get him a PL winners medal too.

TAA (7) - Nobody typified last night’s ‘sublime to ridiculous’ display more than Trent. Put some wonderful deliveries in, got the assist for Robbo’s goal and should have had another after showing the same quick thinking he did in his now iconic assist for Origi against Barca, spotting Mane near post and putting in a similar type of delivery which was screaming to be nodded home, only for Mane to miss it altogether. For his brilliant moments however, he played some comically bad passes and was caught out of position again and again as Salzburg rallied. Has a habit of getting drawn inside when teams are counter attacking us and it leaves acres of space on his side. Still, considering his age, this kid really is a marvel and I see no limit to his potential.

Gomez (6) - Showed good pace and strength a couple of times and made a brilliant challenge when a Salzburg attacker found himself with the ball at his feet, around the penalty spot. Looked very rusty at times though and more worryingly, nervous. The first twenty minutes of the second half when their second goal went in, he looked really nervous and it started spreading to his team mates. We have to make allowances for how little game time he’s had over the last year however. He’s understandably rusty and the fact Matip has nailed down first choice at the moment, does put more pressure on him when he does play. I’m not worried about Joe though, he’s a top player and will be again. Just needs to be patient and work hard just now.

Van Dijk (6.5) - I couldn’t believe my eyes as Virgil was absolutely done like a kipper by Hwang in the build up to their first. I’ve literally never seen the like with him. Suspect positionally for their third goal too but scored an extra half point for something I noticed just before we scored our fourth and ultimately, the winner. We had a corner which was cleared, Virgil won the ball back, tried to take on his man, won a throw and ran himself to take it quickly. It doesn’t sound like much and seeing it in the written word, sounds trivial but when you watch it, there was real urgency in what he did, it seemed to spread to his team mates and moments later we scored. I thought at the time that that’s what leaders do. There’s more to leading than screaming and shouting and Virgil led the team by example in that incident. Far from his best display however.

Robertson (9) - What a Performance from Robbo. I’ve been saying all season that Robbo will add goals to his game this year, there was the first and it was enough for him to earn man of the match for me. First half, he was absolutely sensational. Peter Crouch was open mouthed at half time in the BT studio, labelling Robbo’s display ‘world class’ and there can be no doubt. Started the move for his goal in trademark Robbo style, beating his man and surging forward and the run he made to get on the end of Trent’s cross, was one Ian Rush would have been proud of. The thing is, he’s an absolutely brilliant defender as well. They had an incident in the first half similar to their third goal, only from the other side. Difference this time was Robbo read it and as it landed at the forwards feet, Robbo ran in from his blind side to nick it off him. I was watching him last night thinking that for all his attacking attributes, is their a better defensive left back in world football right now? Absolutely brilliant player, the most complete fullback in the world and I think he’d still be my favourite player, even if he wasn’t Scottish.

Fabinho (7) - Was brilliant first half, utterly dominated whichever member of the Salzburg team happened to be on his radar at the time and looked to be doing it in second gear. Once their second went in however, the normally composed Brazilian started flapping like a one-winged budgie. His passes were going astray, he was caught in possession and started looking really flustered. Settled down again when Milner came on and we switched to a double pivot but more on that later.

Henderson (7) - Another who was brilliant first half, winning back possession and spraying the ball about nicely. Our midfield totally lost control for the first twenty minutes of the second half though and Hendo was part of that as well. Subbed fairly early second half, probably with one eye on Leicester.

Wijnaldum (6) - Gini was busy in the first half, his play neat and tidy but this was another game he played on the fringes. Such a frustrating player as he can be so good at times but he doesn’t influence games the way his talent suggests he should. Subbed shortly after Hendo, as we changed formation.

Salah (7) - You may think a 7 is a bit harsh here, considering his match winning contribution but I’ve scored him two points higher for the goals. Other than that, he was absolutely horrendous. I can’t think of a player in world football that loses possession as frequently as Salah, his ball retention is absolutely atrocious, his first touch is unpredictable at best and his short passing is terrible. When I hear stories linking him with Barca and Madrid, I really wonder if their fans and players would accept the sheer number of basic mistakes Salah makes, every single game when we’re in possession. What he is world class at however, is his in game intelligence, positioning and runs in behind and Jurgen has developed a system to maximise that, so for all his frustrating play last night, he did what Salah does and popped up with two goals, his second a vital winner. As long as he keeps doing that, I’ll be happy but if the goals dry up, he’s not offering much else.

Firmino (8) - Two assists and it was his header that the keeper spilled for Salah’s first. The Salzburg players just couldn’t get a grip of him, you could see they’d never come up against anything like the unique role Bobby plays in our team. Firmino leaves defenders and midfielders looking at each other, not sure who should be picking him up, he creates space for himself and then his vision and intelligence take over to pick the right pass. The weight of pass for Mane’s goal was absolutely perfect and he was a thorn in Salzburg’s side all night, right up until he provided the assist for Salah’s winner.

Mane (8) - Scored an absolutely brilliant goal inside ten minutes. Twice prior to his goal, he’d found himself one on one with the defender and I was imploring him to take him on. The third time he did and it led to a picture perfect opening goal - Mane once again scoring our first goal, as he so often does. Terrorised Salzburg first half but found himself more isolated in the second half, as the team imploded.

Subs:

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Milner (7) - Provided exactly what we needed when he came on and the team seemed to calm down a bit with his arrival. You know what you’re getting from Milner - experience, a whole load of hard graft and physicality and a cool head. Helped us take control back in midfield.

Origi (6) - Keen as mustard and injected some energy into the team when he came on.

Keita (N/A) - Met some old pals.

Klopp-watch (10) - You might be surprised by Klopp’s score but I believe Klopp won us that game last night and I’ll explain why. The majestic display we put in first half was hand crafted by Klopp. The speed, the movement and the second goal, one fullback assisting the other, epitomised everything that is great about a Jurgen Klopp team and I think he’ll take greater satisfaction from that goal than almost any other in his career. Where he won it for us though, was second half. A manager can do very little about his team losing a three goal lead in twenty minutes to far inferior opposition. The blame for that is firmly at the feet of the players. Klopp though, recognised what was going on and made the necessary changes to turn the tide back in our favour.

They’d just levelled and we were all over the place. First sub - Milner. I’m sure many were expecting an attacker and he probably wasn’t a popular choice but it was what we needed. Gini made way for Origi and we changed to 4-2-3-1 with two sitting midfielders. Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that Fabinho plays the lone DM midfield role better than anyone but for twenty minutes in the second half, his head had gone. It’s worth remembering that Fabinho was playing RB not so long ago and he learned to play the DM role in a system with two sitting midfielders. He looked instantly more comfortable with Milner beside him, calmed down and we took back control of the game. Origi at the other end injected some much needed pace and energy and got our forward line moving again and we scored what would be the winner shortly after. Take a bow Jurgen.

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Summary:

I thought performances like that were behind us but there was only one word for what we witnessed last night. Complacency. It’s been creeping into our game for weeks, as it often does with teams who get used to wining. They think they just need to turn up to win and that is often the case, as it was in the first half last night but you can’t just expect the opposition to just roll over then, especially when it’s a bit of a once in a lifetime game for the opposition. I really hope it’s the kick up the backside we needed and will focus the minds of the players. They were very nearly badly humiliated last night and I hope it’s a lesson.

Some of the football though... We were absolutely sensational first half. Slick one touch passing, skill, movement, speed, aggression... Everything you want from your team and the opposition more than played their part with some brilliant goals of their own. I think they’d somewhat punched  themselves out with their comeback however. Once we scored the fourth, they didn’t seem to have the energy for a final push and we saw the game out comfortably in the end but for twenty minutes of the second half, they tore us apart.

Still, crisis averted and our campaign is up and running. It’s the return of Rodgers this weekend then and it will be interesting to see the reception he gets. I suspect he’ll get a warm welcome, he gave us a brilliant season and no doubt always did his best for the club, even if he isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

That’s it for now then troops, hopefully Saturday’s game will be less nail-biting but it jut wouldn’t be Liverpool otherwise, would it? Walk on.
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