Salah double helps get Liverpool back in European groove
Firmino and Mané also on target against Red Star Belgrade
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah scores his second of the game from the penalty spot in the Champions League Group C match against Red Star Belgrade at Anfield. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Liverpool 4 Red Star Belgrade 0
The pre-match instruction had been pretty simple from Jürgen Klopp following defeat in Naples. “We have to show that we still know how it goes,” he said. Back to emphatic winning ways in the Champions League, back on top of the group and Mohamed Salah back among the goals too; Liverpool do not forget that easily.
Salah scored twice in a convincing defeat of Red Star Belgrade to make it a remarkable 50 goals in 65 appearances for Liverpool. It is also six for the season now for the Egypt international. Other strikers would love to struggle as he has done this season.
Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané were also on the scoresheet as Klopp’s team recorded a second successive home win in the group stage. It could have been more had Mané converted a penalty moments before he did score. Not that Liverpool were complaining – Napoli’s draw at Paris Saint Germain ensured victory took them to the top of Group C with the return at Red Star next.
Klopp found comfort in more than the scoreline. Fabinho impressed in the heart of Liverpool’s midfield after an uncertain start while Xherdan Shaqiri was a bundle of creative instinct that helped break Red Star’s shape and discipline as they succumbed to another heavy away European defeat.
Red Star’s previous outing was a 6-1 defeat at Paris Saint Germain that is under investigation by French police amid allegations of match-fixing. They are allegations that Red Star vehemently deny.
Of more immediate concern at Anfield was not only stifling Liverpool but doing so without the encouragement of their vociferous supporters. Officially, at least. Uefa banned the Serbians from selling tickets to their first two away matches in the group stage following a pitch invasion following their playoff win against RB Salzburg. It meant a full house in Liverpool’s favour, although not an intimidating atmosphere as far as the visitors were concerned.
Red Star were comfortable in the 20 minutes before Firmino opened the scoring at the end of an incisive Liverpool attack; attacking as well as defending in numbers. They should have taken the lead when Lorenzo Ebecilio’s corner found Srdan Babic unmarked in the penalty area but, with the home defence static, the centre half volleyed wastefully over. The miss assumed greater significance minutes later.
Liverpool needed time to find the sharpness in their passing and movement that would unsettle the visiting rearguard. A change in personnel and formation from Klopp may have been a contributing factor. The hosts started with Salah at the spearhead of their attack with Mané, playing with his broken thumb in a protective cast, Firmino and Shaqiri roving behind. There was also a rare start for the summer signing Fabinho with Jordan Henderson and Naby Keïta both sidelined by hamstring injuries.
Fabinho grew in tandem with the confidence in Liverpool’s performance. The Brazil international was caught waiting for possession twice in the first half but otherwise settled comfortably on only his second start since a €50 million switch from Monaco. His distribution, strength and energy in central midfield made for an encouraging contribution, although naturally it was the quartet in front of him who truly stood out with their flicks, back-heels and mesmerising linkup play.
Firmino and Salah both had early opportunities to break Red Star’s resistance, the former striking Trent Alexander-Arnold instead of Milan Borjan’s goal with an angled shot and the latter being foiled by the goalkeeper when released by Shaqiri’s lob over Milos Degenek.
The breakthrough was pristine in its creation and execution. Shaqiri was the instigator, as was the case on Saturday at Huddersfield, releasing Andy Robertson down the left with a perfectly weighted pass behind the right back Filip Stojkovic. Robertson provided a wonderful cutback from the byline into the run from deep of Firmino. Liverpool’s No 9 took one touch inside Nenad Krsticic before driving his 14th Champions League goal for the club down the centre of Borjan’s exposed goal.
The goal invigorated Liverpool’s display. Firmino almost released Mané with an exquisite flick seconds after his opener and Robertson sliced a good chance wide following a flowing move between Shaqiri, Salah and the Senegal international.
A second seemed only a matter of time, and it duly arrived on the cusp of half-time with Shaqiri involved once again. When Red Star only half-cleared Georginio Wijnaldum’s ball back into the midfielder’s path he returned a superb pass through their defence to the Switzerland international. Shaqiri applied a deft touch on to Salah and the Egyptian drove an unstoppable finish beyond Borjan from close range.
Salah’s second of the night stemmed from a more questionable source early in the second half. Referee Daniel Siebert was initially unmoved by half-hearted penalty claims when Mané went to ground attempting to get on the outside of Stojkovic. His additional assistant on the far side of the Kop goal identified an arm from the Red Star captain catching the striker at throat-height. Siebert eventually pointed to the spot and, while the visitors raged at a decision that was hardly a gamechanger, Salah lined up a penalty that was swept emphatically down the middle of Borjan’s goal. His half century of Liverpool goals was also his 14th in the Champions League.
Mané missed the opportunity to follow Salah’s lead from the spot when, after Ebecilio had headed a free-kick against his own arm inside the area, Borjan tipped his penalty superbly on to the crossbar. Mané was unable to convert the rebound but moments later, after substitute Daniel Sturridge had released him inside the area, the striker prodded beyond the keeper from close range. - Guardian