Another high-scoring showout from Jürgen Klopp’s Reds tonight, as they put Group E minnows Genk to the sword with four outstanding goals, all the while looking apparently but not statistically fragile at the back.
Join us as we attempt to draw any sort of interesting conclusions from the match, and how it all really went down.
Winners and Losers
Your Returning Chamberlain: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is, by all available evidence, a wonderful lad. Charitable, funny and polite, the 26-year old quickly won over both team-mates and fans following his £35m move from Arsenal back in 2017. He’s also a cracking footballer, which surely aided his success in endearing himself at his new club, and also caused all sorts of heartbreak when he missed a full year of football following a knee injury in April of 2018.
He’s back now, though, and, to the delight of those watching, marked his return to the Champions League with a brace of goals; the first a bit of a crawler into the bottom corner, and the second an absolutely sublime outside-the-boot 20-yard chip that clipped off the underside of the bar and into the net.
The Reds have been missing goal threat from midfield, and if Ox can get back to performing at the level he did before his injury, they will certainly have that.
Naby Keïta: The Guinean international has come under a fair bit of criticism from pundits and fans in the past year, as it has been felt he has been unable to live up his hype and price tag. It all feels a bit unfair and short-sighted, with the 23-year old rarely going five games without suffering some sort of injury, and it isn’t clear exactly what type of player fans were expecting Keïta to be.
Against Genk, the former Leipzig man put his two-way abilities on display, sitting as the central hub of the Liverpool attack, taking 138 touches over the course of the match — 27% more than any other player on the pitch — boasting 93% accuracy with his passes and 100% on his long passes, while contributing a shot, a shot assist, a secondary assist, four dribbles, four tackles and an interception. All this while gliding across the pitch like he’d never missed a day.
As with fellow midfield Oxlade-Chamberlain, a healthy Keïta will add a sorely needed dimension to this Liverpool side. Fingers crossed that is what we’ll be getting.
Clean sheets: The Reds just can’t seem to buy one these days. The laundry day champions of last season have managed only three goose eggs in 15 games this fall, and while the attack has largely managed to make up for it, there is little doubt that the trend could be an issue further down the line should the magic of the front three leave them for any given 90-minute stretch.
Group E Tension: With Napoli taking an away win at Salzburg and the fixtures reversing two weeks from now, there is every chance that the Neopolitans and Liverpool go into the final two games of the group stage six and seven points up on the Austrians. This is good news for Reds fans who want their manager to be able to rest his players once or twice this season, and bad news for people who dislike Liverpool — a shocking number, really — and football fans who are just in it for the tension and drama.
Assuming it all shakes out like that, falling into the former category would be absolute bliss.
As stated previously, goal threat from midfield has been at a bit of a premium for this Liverpool side in the past year or so. With Oxlade-Chamberlain injured and Naby Keïta struggling for both form and fitness in his first season in England, Jürgen Klopp has been forced to deploy quite an agrarian midfield in the meantime, putting more pressure on his fullbacks to provide the creative spark.
Fortunately for Klopp, his fullbacks are absolutely sensational at just that, but, in recent months, teams appear to have figured out which formations and strategies can succeed at stymieing the prodigious widemen, blunting the Red’s spear in the process. The lack of creativity emanating from anybody but the fullbacks and front three has been a problem.
In the past six games, only five Reds have generated shot assists in any given match. On Wednesday, the 12 key passes were produced by eight separate players. This is the benefit of having central midfielders who are comfortable moving into the half-space, both with and without the ball, and are able to maintain composure and precision in that area.
The point is not to have a single creative hub behind the strikers — nor anywhere else — but rather to share the load throughout the side, opening up the opposition by the virtue of the number of threats and the areas in which they operate. This ability could be crucial for the Reds as they look to better their trophy haul from last year.
What Happens Next
It’s another busy stretch between international breaks, and the Reds will play another five games in the coming 16 days, starting with a trip to Tottenham Hotspur stadium on Sunday, to face a Mauricio Pochettino side in disarray for the first time since the Champions League final back in May. Spurs put five past Red Star on Tuesday, but have struggled in the league, and sit seventh in the table, 13 points behind Liverpool. Exactly what sort of state they are in come Sunday is anyone’s guess, but if meetings between the two sides in recent years is anything to go by, it’ll be a tightly-fought contest with little to separate them.