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Maribor 0, Liverpool 7: That’s a Paddlin’

The Reds finally find their scoring boots.

Liverpool FC v 1899 Hoffenheim - UEFA Champions League Qualifying Play-Offs Round: Second Leg Photo by Jan Kruger/Bongarts/Getty Images

NK Maribor 0
Liverpool 7 Firmino 4’, 54’, Coutinho 13’, Salah 20’, 40’, Oxlade-Chamberlain 86’, Alexander-Arnold 90’

Jürgen Klopp’s Reds set a new European away win record as they thump hapless Maribor from kick off to the final whistle.

With five days to go until Liverpool travel to London to face Tottenham, Klopp saw no need to mak sweeping changes to his side, replacing Jordan Henderson and Joe Gomez with James Milner and Trent Alexander-Arnold, but otherwise trusting the same players who drew with Manchester United on Saturday.

And in the clamorous noise of the Ljudski vrt, the players repaid their manager’s faith. Three minutes into the contest, Mohammed Salah chased down a sloppy pass from Mitja Viler, beating out Marko Suler in a spring, then raced into the box and put the ball on a plate for Roberto Firmino, who tucked home from six yards. An early goal to steady any potential Liverpool nerves and silence the home crowd was exactly what the visitors needed.

Ten minutes later, the Reds sprang a gorgeous counter from outside their own box, culminating in a Salah through ball for Milner, and a chipped cutback to Philippe Coutinho, who side-footed the ball into the back of the net from 15 yards. Milner nearly turned provider again immediately, sliding a low cross in for Firmino, but the Brazilian’s finish was too thin and the ball skimmed past the far post from close range.

A minute later, an onrushing Alberto Moreno smashed a shot into the side netting, and before twenty minutes had passed, the Reds were three goals up. Firmino won the ball in the opposition’s half and advanced towards goal, before slipping a pass into Salah’s path for the Egyptian to bury one on one with Jasmin Handanovic.

It would be another twenty minutes before the Reds scored again, but it was not for a lack of trying. Salah had a goal correctly ruled out for offside, and had a half-volleyed effort from 20 yards saved, while Coutinho’s mazy run deserved a better finish than it received in the end.

They wouldn’t be denied, however, and five minutes from half time, Coutinho slid the ball through the left-hand channel for a streaking Moreno, and the Spaniard’s cross was bundled over the line by the combined efforts of Salah and Firmino. The Egyptian looked to get the final touch, and was awarded the goal in the end.

There was still time in the half for some defensive set-piece shenanigans, and a deep cross found Suler completely unmarked Karius’ far post, but the 34-year old placed his header outside the far post. At the other end, Salah and Firmino combined once more, this time the new signing pouncing on a loose ball and setting up the Brazilian, but his effort from a narrow angle slid past Handanovic’s far post.

At 4-0 up, it would make perfect sense for the Reds to settle down and saunter through the final forty-five, but Klopp’s Liverpool wasn’t ready for that quite yet. Immediately after Maribor kicked off the second half, Moreno had seen an effort pushed wide for a corner. Five minutes into the frame, a spectacular piece of team play set up Georginio Wijnaldum for a tap-in from eight yards out, but the Dutchman failed to dispel his away goal curse.

Coutinho tested Handanovic with a vintage free kick from 22 yards a minute later, then promptly assisted Firmino for the Reds’ fifth goal on the night, placing a pinpoint cross on the head of his compatriot for a gorgeous flick into the far corner.

At last, the pressure began to relent, and with the game well won, Klopp brought Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on for Salah, despite there being 35 minutes left on the clock. The Ox immediately blasted a ball over the bar with his first touch, and amid a series of substitutions — Daniel Sturridge and Dominic Solanke coming on for Firmino and Wijnaldum, respectively — looked the Liverpool player most interested in continuing the party, slamming another effort off the goalkeeper from the edge of the box.

The former Arsenal man got his wish in the end as well, and five minutes from time he was played in by Sturridge after winning the ball himself, took a touch, and slotted the ball into the corner, breaking his Liverpool duck. There was still time for additional syllables to be added on to the scorecard, and as regulation time turned into injury time, Trent Alexander-Arnold thumped a shot into the near corner from outside the box, after a wicked deflection off Sule’s arm, completing the rout.

For such an emphatic effort and scoreline, there is little that can be gleaned from the match. Everybody played terrifically well — with special mention to the very striker-y looking non-strikers up top, both bagging a brace — and Maribor showed why so many teams sit back in defensive blocks and refuse to try and play their way out of defense against the Reds.

No such favours can be expected from Tottenham on Sunday, and with Pochettino’s men escaping from the Bernabeu with a point, they will be in high spirits and up for a scrap. For now, though, Liverpool have once again taken charge of their Champions League fate — significantly assisted by Spartak Moscow hammering Sevilla 5-1 in Russia — and squad morale should be higher than it was a week ago.

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