Liverpool once again proved that they will be one of the teams to beat in this season’s Champions League with the 3-2 victory over Paris Saint Germain.
The French champions arrived at Anfield with a squad packed full of top class talent, from the most expensive player in the history of the game in Neymar back to defensive heavyweight Thiago Silva. Manager Thomas Tuchel has the kind of squad most managers can only dream of. But the Ligue 1 giants were sent packing, in the end, by a dominant Liverpool side which showed that they are again going to be a force to be reckoned with on the continental stage – perhaps even more so than last season thanks to the addition of depth over the Summer transfer window.
Eyebrows were raised when the starting lineup manager Jurgen Klopp had selected for the game was announced. Some were a touch surprised to see the name of Jordan Henderson in the eleven – despite the England international being captain of the club. Many more were not expecting to see the name of Daniel Sturridge on the teamsheet. But the pair of them delivered on what was a typically loud European night at Anfield. The visiting supporters owed much to the atmosphere, despite throwing objects at Liverpool players late on, with their constant chanting and tribal drumming. They will feel disappointed that their team could not come remotely close to that kind of intensity.
Brazil superstar Neymar showed only fleeting interest in taking part in the contest – and absolutely no desire when it came to tracking back to support left-back Juan Bernat. The defender had a torrid evening up against Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Centre-back Virgil Van Dijk effortlessly sprayed pass after pass out to the duo on the right flank of the Liverpool team and Neymar did absolutely nothing to provide cover for the Spaniard signed from Bayern Munich this Summer. Salah will feel disappointed that he could not register a goal in the game, although he did have one chalked off in the second-half, after having so much freedom to play. The Egypt international will also be angry with himself for a few misplaced passes late in the game – the last of which was punished by Kylian Mbappe’s equalising goal.
Despite Liverpool’s dominance of the match, the final scoreline was only 3-2. That was down to a combination of poor finishing and passing from the Reds and some poor officiating. When Thomas Meunier scored PSG’s first goal shortly before the half-time break, Uruguay international Edinson Cavani was stood in an offside position and was influencing play. The referee went on to disallowed Salah’s second half strike, which would have made it 3-1, after some delay. He got offered no assistance from either of his assistants in the PSG half of the pitch and appeared to make his decision after observing goalkeepr Alphonse Areola rolling around in ‘agony’ on the turf. Whether or not you believe that Sturridge had fouled the French international, the referee should not be making calls based on such things.
PSG looked every bit a star-studded side with no competition domestically. They can turn it on briefly in Ligue 1 and sweep aside almost all of the other sides in the division. They cannot do the same in European competition. They played a lethargic and laboured brand of football that does not befit such an expensively assembled side which has been set the mission of lifting Europe’s premier prize. Recently appointed manager Tuchel is in a difficult position with regards to maintaining harmony in his squad. Neymar will not take kindly to be given orders to start tracking back, but he will need to do so if they have any serious ambition to win this competition. Cavani and Mbappe didn’t do a great deal more and the inclusion of Angel Di Maria in the midfield trio did little to help Marquinhos, who was being played out of position, and Adrien Rabiot – who has been linked with a move to Anfield recently. The France international will have done himself no favours in that respect, having been shown up by Henderson, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum. The big-spending Parisian’s continue to look a set of individuals struggling to gel together on the biggest stage – but they will no doubt present a stiffer test when the teams meet at the Parc des Princes.
They turned up with a game plan which seemed set out to try and frustrate a Liverpool side who like to hit teams on the break. But the lack of support their midfield and defence received from the attacking quartet allowed the Reds to hit them quickly on the counter. Sturridge will feel that he wasted a great headed chance at 2-1 and is also likely to consider his miscontrol before Salah’s disallowed goal another opportunity spurned. Salah and Mane both had chances to score after good work cutting into the box and could have also provided openings for others. But Klopp’s side still managed to score three goals in a game where several chances weren’t taken. It is a good omen – even if Roberto Firmino needed to come off the bench late on to snatch a winner for his side.
Coming back from such a position is also another indicator that this side is growing in confidence, belief and maturity. Many other Liverpool teams from down the years would have felt they’d blown it when Mbappe strode past Milner and Van Dijk to level the game at 2-2. But this Liverpool side doesn’t give up and they got what they deserved when the Brazil international jinked his way through the PSG defence before drilling his shot into the corner of the net. It was a very popular goal with the Anfield faithful after the twenty-six year old came close to being ruled out following his eye injury against Spurs. He hadn’t trained on Monday and so was only ready to be named on the bench. It worked out well as both he and understudy Sturridge found the net during the game.
Naby Keita was another player relegated to the bench for this one and he will be desperate to get involved after experiencing his first European night at Anfield since joining the club. Xherdan Shaqiri and Fabinho were given first appearances in contintental football, albeit briefly in the case of the Brazilian, and will be hungry for a lot more. That kind of strength in depth is vital to any club who want to challenge domestically and abroad. They will need to play incredibly well to hold down places in a Liverpool midfield which has looked rejuvenated in 2018. Milner is enjoying one of the best spells of form in his entire career and Wijnaldum looks like he will be hard to shake from the ‘number 6’ role in the side. The increased level of competition presented by the new signings looks to have inspired new levels of performance from the duo.
Klopp could not have asked for much more than three points and a buoyant victory over the group favourites. It might see people reassess where Liverpool sit in the pecking order of European heavyweights. Most supporters already know.