Ian Doyle provides commentary on Liverpool following their match at Anfield vs Rangers in the Champions League group round
A midfield switch pays off
It should possibly be viewed more as an inevitability than a surprise given Liverpool’s poor midfield choices this season.
However, when it became clear that Jurgen Klopp had decided to forgo his typical engine room entirely here, eyebrows were raised.
Instead of merely changing the system from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1, Fabinho—who was frighteningly out of sorts against Brighton and Hove Albion at the weekend—was benched in favor of Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara as the two center pillars of the formation.
Fabinho has little to complain about considering that his performance this season has fallen far short of the high bar he has constantly established over the past few years. And it has become evident that in order to shake Liverpool out of their early-season funk, a change in both system and players was necessary.
It succeeded. Before being replaced halfway through the second half with another player with an eye on the upcoming weekend trip to Premier League leaders Arsenal, Henderson, who was considerably more animated than at any other point this season, embraced the deeper role, bringing tempo to Liverpool’s play and spotting the rare threat Rangers posed.
While Rangers were passed into submission in the first half by Thiago, he also demonstrated a tremendous willingness to get his hands dirty in the second half.
If anything, Liverpool sticking with this lineup at the Emirates would be a significant surprise. But it is now possible.
Salah’s moment of truth
It won’t ever appear on a highlights video. But early in the first half of this game, a moment occurred that perfectly captured Liverpool’s emotional evening.
Mohamed Salah ran back to join the scrum as the ball was swirling about in midfield, and he eventually emerged with it before advancing back upfield.
But not before captain Jordan Henderson gave the Egyptian a loud round of applause for his conduct.
With a diligent performance, Salah dispelled any rumors that he hasn’t been as eager to work as normal this season.
Salah was given more room than usual and the freedom to run at the opposing wing-back Borna Barisic as a result of the reorganized attack and Rangers’ decision to deploy a five-man defense. In that conflict, one person emerged victorious.
Salah scored the goal his performance deserved when he coolly converted a penalty in the 53rd minute after Luis Diaz had fooled Rangers youngster Leon King into a foul. Salah had been among numerous Liverpool players denied goals by Allan McGregor in the first half.
The Egyptian has already scored five goals and provided four assists in 11 games this season. Only Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City can claim more goals scored this season for a Premier League team overall. It is obvious that news of Salah’s death has been significantly exaggerated.
Alisson and Trent show their value.
Due to Liverpool’s near total dominance of the game, Alisson Becker was in risk of getting bored.
However, much like the previous weekend, the Brazilian was given a chance to demonstrate how crucial he was as Rangers substitute Antonio Colak made a last-second point-blank stop to prevent a tense conclusion.
Additionally, it insured Brighton’s third clean sheet of the year, a much-needed salve to the wounds caused by their terrible defensive performance at the weekend.
Trent Alexander-Arnold endured the most suffering of any Liverpool player, despite Klopp’s assertion that the problems were more widespread than particularly personal.
But the right-back needed to play well in this situation. After his early free kick gave Liverpool a boost, Alexander-Arnold impressed with his forward play and, maybe more importantly, some strong and assured defending.
He needed this evening, and Liverpool did too.