Oxlade-Chamberlain haunts Genk yet again at Anfield
Jürgen Klopp’s side far from their best against Belgians
Ally Mbwana Samatta heads home Genk’s goal during the Champions League Group E match against Liverpool at Anfield. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Liverpool 2 Genk 1
It will not rank among the most exhilarating European nights of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool career but he will savour victory over Genk regardless. The European champions are in touching distance of the knock-out stages once again and, given the workload ahead, they will appreciate the opportunity to get the job done early.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continued in the same scoring vein he showed in Belgium with a fine winner. Genk equalised Georginio Wijnaldum’s early strike through Mbwana Samatta and threatened to level late on only for Alisson to deny Bryan Heynen with an important stop.
Liverpool are unbeaten in 24 home matches in European competition and victory at Anfield over Napoli next time out will guarantee progress before the trip to Salzburg. With much-publicised congestion to follow that Champions League trip Liverpool will wish to avoid another demanding away fixture in Austria.
Felice Mazzu, the Genk manager, had brought his entire squad to Anfield to experience a game against “the best team in the world at the moment”. They did not encounter much evidence of that but for Liverpool this was an assignment achieved with a little fuss.
Klopp’s selection dilemmas are not confined to who to play at Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup on December 17th and the semi-final of the Club World Cup in Qatar less than 24 hours later. With Sunday’s hugely significant contest against Manchester City in mind, the Liverpool manager opted for six changes to the team who fought to the very end to defeat Aston Villa on Saturday.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was among the fresh legs brought in for the visit of the Belgium champions. Surprisingly it was in the Roberto Firmino role and he adapted well to the task of linking midfield with an attack completed by Mohamed Salah and Divock Origi.
Genk adopted a more conservative approach than during their 4-1 defeat against Liverpool two weeks ago. Mazzu’s side suffered their fifth domestic defeat of the season at lowly Eupen at the weekend. That reverse, coupled with a punishing start to their European campaign, prompted a five-man defence at Anfield as the Genk manager sought to restore confidence and solidity in his ranks.
Liverpool tested that aim from the first whistle with a controlled performance and they delivered an early blow through Wijnaldum.
Liverpool prospered down Genk’s right flank with James Milner almost as potent creatively as the man he replaced at left ack, Andy Robertson. Origi, who started his career at Genk, was involved in the breakthrough when he released Milner into space down the left. There was an appeal for offside but the veteran had timed his run to perfection. A low cross driven across the goalmouth struck both Carlos Cuesta and fellow defender Sébastian Dewaest before dropping into the run of Wijnaldum, who hooked the ball into the roof of the net from close range.
The European champions maintained the pressure and dominance of possession but lacked a clinical touch in the first half. Gaëetan Coucke saved well with his legs from Naby Keïta after a surging run by Oxlade-Chamberlain gave the midfielder a clear shot inside the area. Oxlade-Chamberlain had another effort blocked on the edge of the penalty area and Salah and Origi dragged decent opportunities wide of Coucke’s left-hand post when free inside the box.
Genk had offered nothing as an attacking threat for the opening 40 minutes. Almost inevitably, they equalised from their first meaningful attack. Trent Alexander-Arnold showed good awareness to prevent Samatta connecting with an inviting cross from Joakim Maehle by flicking the ball out for a corner. From the resulting delivery by Heynen, Samatta timed his run between Oxlade-Chamberlain and Milner expertly to send a thumping header past Alisson at the near post.
Genk were in raptures, supporters and coaching staff alike, and suddenly threatened again through Heynen’s low drive that sailed narrowly wide. Virgil van Dijk was close to ending the visitors’ fun as quickly as it had erupted with a glancing header from a miscued shot by Alexander-Arnold moments before the break. Shortly afterwards, Liverpool were back in the ascendancy courtesy of another fine goal against Genk by Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The England international struck an impressive double in Belgium, his first goals for Liverpool in 18 months, and haunted Mazzu’s men once again when found inside the area by Salah’s intelligent layoff.
Oxlade-Chamberlain shaped to turn with his back to goal, Maehle bought it and looked on aghast as the midfielder used the space he had created for himself to drive a low finish beyond Coucke.
Salah could and should have made it three with his 20th European goal for Liverpool but shot tamely at the Genk goalkeeper having worked his way through the visiting defence. – Guardian