Liverpool 1 Can 37'
Rubin Kazan 1 Devic 15'
There has been an inevitability to watching Liverpool play since their title run of 13/14. A quiet resignation to history repeating itself; to sloppy goals conceded from defensive mistakes; to shots hitting posts; to leads being far more tenuous than they should be. A resignation that has worn the fanbase down and that eventually led to the end of Brendan Rodgers' reign.
It is interesting then, that even if the end result and game-defining moments of tonight's game seemed eerily familiar, hitting all the usual notes, the energy seemed different; the songs were louder, the players were relentless to the end, and the fans left the stadium hopeful rather than subdued. It is the kind of change one expected Jürgen Klopp to ring in, and that one hopes will lead to an improvement in results sooner rather than later.
Liverpool came out with a familiar XI in a new 4-3-3 formation, with Divock Origi leading the line ahead of Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana, Emre Can, James Milner and Joe Allen, the only change from Saturday's draw with Tottenham, rounding out midfield, and Alberto Moreno, Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel and Nathaniel Clyne forming the backline.
The intense pressing and subsequent sloppy passing from last weekend was also on display, and the home side struggled to create good opportunities early on, even though they dominated possession and quickly won the ball back when it was lost.
Kazan scored against the run of play on fifteen minutes, as the midfield relaxed their press for a moment, allowing Oleg Kuzmin to hit a ball over the top, where a clearly fatigued Clyne was bullied by Marko Devic, who elegantly knocked the ball past Mignolet.
The Reds continued to press high and win the ball back, leading to a number of half chances, mainly by way of shots from outside the box. Simon Mignolet pulled off one of his vintage saves on thirty minutes, after a rare Kazan foray into the home side's box lead to a volleyed shot that stung the Belgian goalkeeper's gloves.
Kazan would go down to ten men minutes later, as Kuzmin brought down a bullrushing Can and received a soft second yellow. On the ensuing free kick, Coutinho's whipped cross was knocked down by Origi, and the loose ball smashed home from two yards by the industrious Can.
What followed was an hour of one-way traffic, as Kazan sat back to defend their point, and the home side amassed 72% possession and 33 shots, but were unable to score a second goal, partly due to some excellent keeping from the veteran Ryzhikov, but mostly because of an inability to put those shots on goal, with 27 finishes either blocked or missing the target.
Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino would return from injury and look every bit like players that have spent a month on the sidelines, the former being the sharper of the two, hitting the post and generally making a nuisance of himself in the opposition box. It wasn't to be, though, and the game ended with the teams sharing the spoils.
It is going to take time before this team can play the kind of football its manager wants it to, but the changes in intensity and belief are clear for all to see. Emre Can in particular seems to be transformed, and covered massive amounts of ground on the day, proving himself crucial to the Liverpool press. Lallana was feisty and at the center of most of what the home side created on offense. Mamadou Sakho and Alberto Moreno again kept their side of the defense under lock and key, and Lucas played the holding role to perfection when he came on for Allen at half time.
On the other hand, Clyne is clearly showing signs of wear and tear after playing nearly every minute of the campaign so far in the most physically demanding position on the pitch, Origi was mostly anonymous, and Klopp is going to have to bring the shock collar out soon if Coutinho keeps taking and missing shots every 10 minutes.
The campaign continues on Sunday as Southampton come to Anfield, and one will hope that quality follows in the wake of the effort the players are putting in, and that results aren't far behind.