There’s a calming presence that came over me before this game. No doubt it helps that I’m on a beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico while penning this. There were just two outcomes that could happen after Liverpool played their 90 minutes against Red Bull Salzburg this evening. They either advanced into the group stage for the third straight season or they crashed into the Europa League, ruining all momentum and good will they’ve built up this season. I’ve written at length about how not binary this mad sport is, so I relish the opportunity when it becomes as simple as a win or a loss. We’re nothing if we aren’t a set of contradictions, aren’t we?
There’s always infinite possibilities when it comes to Liverpool. Hell, they got 97 points in the Premier League last season and didn’t lift the dang trophy. Today was different. Today was black and white. Today was the simplest of objectives: put the round thing into the rectangle thing more times than the other team. And while the first half was a bit nervy, Liverpool were always going to win today. It’s just what this team does. Might as well accept that.
Salzburg are a really good side. I think they’re probably better than Arsenal or Manchester United. They play without fear and have some incredible talent all over the pitch, including their manager Jesse Marsch. All that to say, they’re minnows in the light of Liverpool’s gigantic stature. It was a “close” game because Liverpool forgot how to finish. Every statistical category shows that Liverpool played Salzburg off the park, and the scoreline of 2-0 flatters the home side. But it’s the scoreline of 2-0 that matters. Two of our goals. Zero of their goals. Liverpool through to the knockout stage of the Champions League, a competition I fully expect them to do well in. Slazburg off to the Europa League, a competition I fully expect them to do well in.
Winners & Losers
That’s two straight games where Keita was the best player on the pitch. It’s so, so nice to see “The Admiral” (hiya AJ) arrive with his full naval artillery of football skills. See, Keita’s time at Liverpool is yet another example of how not binary this sport is. It’s not linear at all. Most people had doubted Keita’s ability, fitness, et. al. I think some of those doubts are still valid....But, I also think it’s okay to turn the corner and be excited about the midfielder we have on our hands. If things go differently today, he’s walking off the pitch with two goals and two assists.
Be excited about Naby.
I’m going to be honest with you, had the match ended at half time, I would have Henderson as the first loser below. He toiled a bit in the first 45 minutes. He constantly floated to the right in possession, thus opening up the middle of the pitch for Salzburg to counter through.
I’m also going to be glad games last a full 90 minutes, because his second half performance was as good or better than his match against Bournemouth on Saturday. I was very worried about the longevity of Fabinho’s injury, because Fabinho might be the best defensive midfielder in the world right now, but if Henderson continues to play like this, along with the way Naby has been playing, I think we’ll be okay.
Advancing in the Champions League
That’s now three straight seasons where Liverpool advance to the knockout stage of the Champions League on the last day of the group stage. Never easy, but always easy. Something like that.
Mo Salah fully deserves to be in the `Winners` section of this column, but I ran out of space and decided to get snarky instead. He did miss some absolute sitters against Salzburg, especially in the first half. That’s undeniable. But he constantly got into dangerous positions and sealed the match with one of the most ridiculous goals you’ll ever see. He’s not lost a step. He’s still very good.
FT: #ChampionsLeague #UCL#Salzburg 0 (0.61 xG)#LFC 2 (3.77)— Infogol (@InfogolApp) December 10, 2019
A comfortable and deserved win for Liverpool in the end, creating plenty of good chances.#SALLIV shot map https://t.co/YJTTLcuSlG pic.twitter.com/GC8fS4uiNa
Like I said, Liverpool battered Salzburg. It wasn’t close. Look at those chances....If Liverpool’s finishing was just slightly better today, they win this one in a rout.
Lovren’s injured, again
That’s two straight games where Lovren’s come off with a hamstring injury. Respect to the Big Dog for powering through, but I think we need to have Dejan take some time off so he doesn’t seriously injure himself.
Besides, that’s also two straight games where the defense looks way more solid with Joe Gomez at CB over Lovren.
What Happens Next
Well, Liverpool have to play 4 games in ten days on a few different continents. Nothing this team can’t handle. One game at a time. First it’s Watford on Saturday. Then Aston Villa in the energy drink cup. Then the Club World Cup in Qatar.
Up The Never Going To Stop Reds.