Liverpool headed to Denmark to face FC Midtjylland in a match that didn’t matter beyond pride: the Reds would be through first in the group and Midtjylland would be out of Europe no matter what happened. The result was a heavily rotated Liverpool side playing out a match that mostly swung between disjointed and dull with the occasional moment of confusion—often times of the VAR-induced variety—to try to liven things up.
Winners and Losers
Arguably the most exciting moment for Liverpool fans came before kickoff when it was announced that Trent Alexander-Arnold was set to take the captain’s armband, potentially setting out the young Scouser as
fourthfifth-choice in the pecking order behind Jordan Henderson, Vrigil van Dijk, James Milner*, and Gini Wijnaldum.
Alexander-Arnold has already won the Premier League and the Champions League and made nearly 150 first team Liverpool appearances at just 22 years of age. Now, he can add captaining the Reds in Europe to his resume.
On the flip side for young Trent, once the game actually kicked off the rust to his game was evident following his recent layoff due to injury—though that probably made this a good game for him to hopefully work through some of it ahead of a busy December in the league where his fully polished talents will be needed marauding out on the right.
Mohamed Salah scored what might have been his least aesthetically pleasing goal for Liverpool, a bumbling, stumbling effort that saw the speedy winger caught by the chasing defender as he broke on goal and looked up to pick his spot only for said defender to then clatter the ball off Salah’s right foot, whence it wobbled past a rather dumbfounded goalkeeper and then trickled at half speed into the net.
It was the quickest goal ever scored in the Champions League by Liverpool, coming as it did at just 55 seconds. It was also Salah’s 22nd goal, taking him past Steven Gerrard as Liverpool’s all-time Champions League scorer, doubly ensuring this ugly goal in a game that didn’t matter would have a place in the club’s record books.
And speaking of that record book, it’s one definitely weighted towards recent payers for obvious reasons—with Sadio Mané third and Roberto Firmino fourth and both within reach of passing Gerrard if they stick around for another season or two.
Fabinho the Centre Half
Remember when everyone was worried about Fabinho being Liverpool’s fourth choice centre half?
No longer. And if anyone had any lingering doubts about the versatile Brazilian’s importance with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez out for the season, one only has to look at the generally solid first half for a side that saw a defensive core of Leighton Clarkson, Rhys Williams, and Caoimhin Kelleher joined by Fabinho and then the generally terrifying second half when he was replaced by pre-season darling and very large human being Billy Koumetio.
None of which is meant as a slight against Liverpool’s promising youngsters—not Clarkson or Williams or Kelleher or Koumetio, either—but rather to highlight Fabinho as the commanding, veteran glue able to make three promising youngsters look a reasonable selection for the reigning England and world champions. And the player without whom they all turned back into the promising but slightly out of their depth youngsters that, realistically, they still are.
Dissecting the Narrative
The at times shaky performance of a defensive core comprised entirely of youth players won’t—or at least shouldn’t—damage the perception of them as high promising youngsters. And come season’s end, nobody will much remember that Liverpool dropped points in a game that didn’t matter. However, a number of Liverpool fringe players who have found the narrative trending against them certainly didn’t do themselves any favours.
From Kostas Tsimikas at left back to Naby Keïta and Takumi Minamino in midfield and Divock Origi up front, all four failed to impress given their chance against Midtjylland—and all four probably end the match with the general consensus a solid notch down from when they went into it. Though credit should at least go to Origi for looking like he was trying to put in a shift as stand-in for Roberto Firmino at false nine.
What Happens Next
It’s all about the league for the next while, with the Round of 16 not up until the week of February 16th.
Before then, though, we do at least have the draw to look forward to on Monday. As group winners and with no English clubs qualifying from second place, it means the Reds could be paired with anyone bar the side they shared Group D with, Atalanta.
For Jürgen Klopp and his players that means Monday could bring with it a date against Atletico Madrid, Borussia Monchengladbach, FC Porto, Sevilla, Lazio, Barcelona, or RB Leipzig. As group winners, the Round of 16 second leg will be played at Anfield.
*Edit: I really shouldn’t have forgotten about James Milner.