They may have made six changes from the weekend and played half the match in what looked like second gear, but the Reds take home yet another one-goal win, once again deserved, albeit not quite as dramatic as the last few.
With top spot in the group secured for the time being, we dive in and take a closer look at some of the highlights, lowlights and narratives of tonight’s 2-1 win.
The Second String: With the Reds likely to end the season having played more than 60 games, it is inevitable that Jürgen Klopp will have to rely on his squad players to step up and get results when his starters are injured or being rested to avoid the same.
The baby Reds did the job in the Carabao Cup last week, and Naby Keïta, Divock Origi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continued the trend tonight. Keïta was a pivotal cog at both ends of the pitch, Origi hustled and harried and was unfortunate not to get on the score sheet, while Ox continued his blistering run of goalscoring form with a fourth goal in his past three starts.
Add a reintroduction of Joe Gomez to the backline and a cameo at fullback from James Milner, and this was an excellent advertisement for the depth of Liverpool’s squad, and the ability of its fringe players to get the job done.
Tension: With Napoli failing to record a home win against RB Salzburg, Group E remains open to the top three teams, and Liverpool must ensure they take at least one, and preferably two or more points from their remaining two matches in order to secure advancement to the knockout stages.
Their first opportunity will be on November 27th as they host Napoli, and should the Reds lose their first European home game since 2014 on that night, it will all come down to their trip to Salzburg on the final day of the group stage.
We’d prefer a win, if we’re being quite honest.
Set Piece Defending: Having been nearly perfect on defensive set pieces for the past 18 months, the Reds have now conceded two goals from set plays in the course of four days, with Trézéguet’s back post effort on Saturday being followed up by Mbwana Samatta’s near post bullet header tonight.
In a season where Liverpool are already struggling to keep clean sheets — managing only three in 19 games this year — a throwback to the set piece woes of yore would be supremely unwelcome, and one hopes Klopp and his backroom staff find a way to prevent this recent trend from becoming a permanent fixture in the Reds’ defensive game.
Absent Roberto Firmino, Liverpool do not have an obvious replacement for the Brazilian in the squad, and typically find themselves requiring entirely different attacking game plans when the 28-year old is not on the pitch. In the past year, Divock Origi, Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah and even Georginio Wijnaldum have all been tried in the central striker role, and while they can be effective in their own way, replicating Firmino’s presence both on and off the ball has proven nearly impossible.
On Tuesday, Jürgen Klopp tossed another name in the ring, as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain spent the first half as a false nine for the first time in his senior career. While the Englishman lacks some of the finesse of his Brazilian teammate, he is similarly energetic off the ball, and the role allowed him to do what he does best whenever he was able to turn his marker; drive at the opposition from deep and force them into committing, opening up space for other players.
It didn’t end up resulting in goals this time round, but in terms of reproducing what Firmino does, this was and interesting data point, and one that would not be shocking to see again over the course of the campaign.
As the second half rolled around, Mohamed Salah — who had seen plenty of the ball in the first half, but almost exclusively in wide areas — was moved into the central striker role, and instead of dropping into midfield, used his considerable physical strength and technical ability to post up on Genk’s central defenders as Origi, Wijnaldum, Keïta and Ox made attacking runs around him.
It may not be the best way to run up Salah’s individual numbers, but it undoubtedly served a function in switching up the spacing and rhythm of Liverpool’s attacks, providing them with more dynamic movement into the opposition area.
Those midfield runs — so rarely seen in Klopp’s preferred, more agrarian midfield trio — proved crucial, by the way, as they were instrumental in both goals. Georginio Wijnaldum popped up as the most advanced player to shin home a James Milner cross for the first, while Naby Keïta’s deep run was the catalyst in opening up space for Oxlade-Chamberlain’s winner, drawing the fullback away from the Englishman as he received the ball in the box.
Time will tell if Ox and/or Keïta will be able to displace one or more of Klopp’s favoured midfielders with any regularity, but the duo has shown in the two matches against Genk that they offer something different and potentially significant.
What Happens Next
It’s The Big One, with Manchester City traveling to Anfield on Sunday for a match that will undoubtedly not only have massive implications for the title race, but also be entirely decisive in determining the mood among the respective fanbases as the players head off to play for the national sides.