Liverpool 3 AC Milan 2
The Kop issued a reminder of Istanbul before kick-off with a banner that read: “25/05/05 – There are places I remember”. And, if AC Milan had not been traumatised enough by the events of 16 years ago, Liverpool delivered another on the pitch with three goals, another comeback and a valuable Champions League victory. There are high expectations for Group B and the opener exceeded them.
Jürgen Klopp’s side recovered from the shock of trailing at half-time to take maximum points courtesy of Jordan Henderson’s immaculate half-volley. Milan impressed once they recovered from an early siege but ultimately greater European experience in the Liverpool ranks told as they regained control of the tie.
Milan had waited seven long years for a taste of Champions League football and initially received a brutal lesson in how Europe’s elite competition has developed in their absence. They ended the first half delivering one of their own, turning the game on its head in the space of three dramatic minutes having spent the opening 42 firmly on the back foot.
"We better not waste time," said Klopp when assessing how to approach a demanding group packed with European pedigree. Liverpool, as usual, followed their manager's advice and but for a rare penalty miss from Mohamed Salah would have established a comfortable lead before the Italians had managed to exchange passes inside their opponent's half.
Liverpool flew into Milan straight from Salah’s kick-off, as though feeding off the Anfield atmosphere that was sorely missed during last season’s forgettable Champions League campaign behind closed doors.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson caused all manner of problems with their trademark runs from full back and met surprisingly little resistance from the visitors' compact defence.
Salah was another prominent thorn in a Milan side that faced a severe test of the resolute defending that has underpinned their re-emergence. Another factor in Liverpool’s commanding start was less predictable, however. It was the lesser-spotted Divock Origi.
Klopp had to rotate at some point and having helped keep three clean sheets in four matches on his return from injury Virgil van Dijk was rested along with Sadio Mané.
Even so, there were eyebrows raised at the inclusion of Origi, who may have etched his name into Liverpool folklore in the Champions League but had been nowhere near featuring for Klopp’s team in the early weeks of the season. Or in the final months of last season for that matter.
The Belgium striker made an encouraging start, linking well with Diogo Jota and bringing midfielders into play, but showed his rustiness in front of goal when steering Robertson's telling cross wide from the first real chance of the game. Jota and Joël Matip also went close before Liverpool deservedly but fortuitously edged ahead.
Alexander-Arnold instigated the breakthrough with a routine pass out to Salah and then a surging run towards the Milan defence. Salah’s return was inch-perfect, taking several Milan players out of the equation, and the Liverpool defender raced into the area before attempting to square across the face of Mike Maignan’s goal. The former Chelsea defender Fikayo Tomori flew in to intercept only to deflect Alexander-Arnold’s cross up and over his already committed goalkeeper.
Liverpool were presented with a glorious opportunity to double their advantage when Robertson’s volley struck the raised arm of Ismaël Bennacer inside the penalty area. The Polish referee immediately pointed to the spot, without recourse to VAR, booked the impressive Milan midfielder and ignored the angry protests that followed. Salah drove his penalty down the centre of the goal, too close to Maignan who pushed the effort away and also foiled Jota from the follow-up.
Liverpool were so dominant and dangerous – racking up 13 shots in the opening half-hour alone – that the miss felt almost inconsequential. A second would surely come.
Yet it assumed an unlikely significance when Milan struck twice in the closing minutes of a half in which they had barely constructed an attack of note. Sharp, incisive passing opened up the right of Liverpool’s defence on both occasions. The equaliser arrived from a flowing move out of defence that ended with Rafael Leão’s first-time ball finding Ante Rebic unmarked inside the Liverpool penalty area. The Milan striker instantly tucked his shot beyond the exposed Alisson.
Within three minutes the visitors were ahead. Leão weaved his way down the Milan left before finding Rebic in a similar position to his goal. This time Rebic drew Alisson and squared to Theo Hernández, who had joined the attack from left back and saw his anticipated tap-in stopped on the line by Robertson. Brahim Díaz, however, followed up for a simple finish. The look of incredulity across the Liverpool bench was understandable, and shared by everyone else inside the stadium bar the joyous corner from Milan.
Simon Kjær thought he had added a third shortly after the restart when Henderson missed an attempted clearance at the near post and the Denmark captain converted at the back. A correct offside flag curtailed the celebrations.
Liverpool levelled moments later thanks to a delightful exchange between Salah and Origi. The Egypt international, receiving Fabinho’s ball and holding off his marker, found his strike partner and immediately darted into the area. Origi scooped the return over the Milan defence for Salah to convert with an improvised finish.
The third was even better and followed a period of sustained home pressure that resulted in a corner for Alexander-Arnold. Bennacer headed clear at the near post but only as far as Henderson who, catching the ball on the half volley, swept a superb shot inside Maignan’s bottom corner from the edge of the area. – Guardian