Liverpool edged past Danish minnows FC Midtjylland on Tuesday to maintain their 100 per cent start in the Champions League – but made hard work of proceedings at Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp opted to make several changes to his favoured lineup, before being forced into two more by half-time as Fabinho and Jordan Henderson were replaced.
After a disappointing and tepid first-half display, Diogo Jota managed to put Liverpool ahead with a simple tap-in for the 10,000th goal in the club’s history following good work from Xherdan Shaqiri and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Roberto Firmino then missed a glorious chance to finish things off, sidefooting over from just yards out which almost cost Liverpool, as Anders Dreyer’s chip over Alisson went inches wide at the other end in the dying minutes.
But Mohamed Salah sealed the victory in injury-time after drawing a foul in the box when clean through before coverting the subsequent spot kick.
Here are the talking points.
1. Liverpool’s defensive crisis worsens
With Virgil van Dijk already ruled out for what looks to be the season, and Joel Matip also sidelined, Klopp was already thread bare for fit and available defenders.
And just half an hour in he went from two senior options to one, as Fabinho limped off after pulling up sharply before immediately signalling to the bench.
Youngster Rhys Williams came on in his place for only his fourth first-team appearance, but he is far from an ideal solution going forward.
Matip may be fit for Saturday’s clash with West Ham, but the 29-year-old has only completed 90 minutes just once in the last year, leaving Liverpool potentially facing a worrying defensive crisis.
2. Front three rotation fails to pay off
After his gamble to substitute all three members of his potent strikeforce against Ajax paid off, Klopp opted to leave Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah all on the bench this time.
Sadly it didn’t quite have the same desired results.
Liverpool struggled to mount a serious threat in the first half with Divock Origi, Takumi Minamino and Diogo Jota leading the line.
In fact, by half-time they’d failed to register a single shot on target – the first time Liverpool had failed to do so at Anfield in all competitions in 51 matches (the last time was against Man City in October 2018).
While Jota eventually broke the deadlock, Klopp had seen enough from his trio, turning to Salah and Mane to replace the disappointing Minamino and Origi after an hour.
3. Henderson not an injury concern
They’re dropping like flies at Anfield – and Jurgen Klopp must be wondering who’s next.
After Fabinho became the latest casualty just half an hour in, Reds’ captain Jordan Henderson was then replaced at half-time.
Fortunately for Liverpool, Henderson’s substitution was pre-planned.
The midfielder did take a hefty whack in the first half, but Klopp said after the match: “We had to make the change at half time with Jordan Henderson – he said I’m fine but in these moments you have to be responsible and the plan before the game was to give him around 45 minutes so he would be okay for [Saturday’s match vs] West Ham.
“It was a hard game to play. But winning 2-0 is completely fine so that’s it – let’s carry on.”
4. Safe as Alisson
A good goalkeeper is worth his weight in gold. Alisson is probably worth double. At least to Liverpool that is.
The Brazilian just oozes calm, and his presence behind Liverpool’s defence puts the rest of his colleagues at ease.
It was down to their No.1 that Liverpool did not go behind after just two minutes, as Alisson made a solid one-on-one save to deny Anders Dreyer.
That proved to be his biggest contribution, until he almost provided an assist for Salah with a sublime long ball over the top which just ran away from the Egyptian.
Alisson’s work was not done there however, as in the dying minutes he did just enough to close the angle on Dreyer, whose shot could only hit the side netting before Salah wrapped up the points.
Liverpool look a lot stronger with him back.
5. Shaq back in the frame?
Just a few weeks ago Xherdan Shaqiri looked set to leave Liverpool after struggling to make a mark over the past two seasons.
The Swiss midfielder only mustered 10 appearances in total last term as injuries hampered his campaign.
But Shaqiri has worked his way back into Klopp’s plans, and followed up his cameo against Ajax with another lively showing.
His reverse pass to Alexander-Arnold to help set up the goal was superb, and in general he was a bundle of energy looking to make things happen.
Perhaps there’s hope for him at Anfield yet.