A few weeks ago, this writer commented that the increased positivity around the club and improvement in general play under the new manager needed to translate into results as soon as possible in order to maintain momentum. Liverpool seem to be doing just that as they pick up their 3rd win on the trot, putting on a performance in Russia that deserved a wider margin of victory.
The visitors made four changes from the Chelsea match, with two-goal hero Philippe Coutinho dropping to the bench alongside Lucas Leiva, Martin Skrtel and Adam Lallana. Christian Benteke started as the lone striker in a 4231, supported by Jordon Ibe, Roberto Firmino and James Milner, with Joe Allen and Emre Can in the double pivot. Dejan Lovren made his second start under Klopp, moving to RCB to accommodate the indomitable Mamadou Sakho, and Alberto Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne continued to rack up minutes at fullback, being the club's only real options at the position.
The match started at a fairly slow pace, right up until Firmino nutmegged a defender and played a perfect pass through to Milner, who subsequently smashed the ball off the crossbar. From there on out, the first half was a 40 minute exhibition of the wonders of gegenpressing, as Liverpool kept winning the ball in the home team's half and driving at their goal. Rubin were barely allowed a sniff, completing a mere 15 passes in the final third in the entire first half, and only managing 2 shots.
The visitors' effectiveness as getting the ball back was not matched by their chance creation, however, and although they found themselves in possession of the ball in dangerous areas time and again, they would not create another big chance until injury time of the first half, as Ryzhikov barely saved a deflected shot from the fullback Clyne, and then palmed away his own rebound a foot in front of Can.
A minute into the second half, Alberto Moreno rushed the box and hammered a shot at goal, but it was taken intot he side netting by a deflection. A few minutes later, Liverpool would have their well-earned goal, as Roberto Firmino came deep, pulling a defender with him, then releasing an onrushing Ibe into that space with a delicious one-touch pass. The 19-year old made no mistake, unleashing a drive across the keeper and into the bottom corner from the top of the box, securing his first senior goal for Liverpool.
The goal forced Rubin to come out of their shell, which opened the game up for Liverpool, who had several excellent chances in the period that followed, through Milner, Lovren and Ibe, all of which were well saved by Ryzhikov. Emre Can had a shout for a penalty turned down, and although his ankle was definitely caught by the defender's studs, his clumsy and belated fall looked too theatrical for the ref to blow his whistle.
Lallana came on for Milner, and then shut-down-shop-enthusiast Lucas for the excellent Firmino, as Kazan pushed forward for an equalizer. They never really got close, and Mignolet ended the game without having to make a single save.
In the end, it was a good night for Liverpool, who are now unbeaten in six under Klopp, having won their last three games, and although the scoreline could've, and perhaps should've, looked much better, an away win is a big step towards qualifying to the knock-out rounds of the Europa League.
While Jordon Ibe will rightly get the plaudits for his high-intensity, 11-dribble, match-winning performance, one shouldn't overlook how well the team worked as a whole. Lovren and Sakho were barely involved besides spreading the ball around, and that was largely down to the front six completely neutering any attempt Rubin made at playing their way out of defense. Firmino was everywhere on offense, pulling strings and setting up teammates at will, while Can and Allen were excellent at covering spaces and passing lanes while mercilessly closing down opponents. Clyne and Moreno spent most of the match camped out in the Rubin half, and although their crossing was terribly inaccurate, the width they provided opened up space for the front players. Benteke didn't have the most involved game, and was visibly tiring by the end, but that is only to be expected given his troubles staying fit so far this season.
Liverpool are building some momentum now. The Klopptimism is real.