Liverpool dominated the game for much of the first half but found themselves down thanks to difficult long-range effort against the run of play when they faced Austrian side LASK in their Europa League opener. In the end, though, the Reds’ quality shone through and their eventual 3-1 victory likely represents a fair final scoreline in Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool-record 50th European victory.
Winners and Losers
Having signed Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai, and with that duo impressing massively in pre-season and then league action in August, it was easy to wonder whether midfielder Gravenberch’s signing as the transfer window neared its close was an especially necessary one that represented a smart allocation of resources for the Reds.
Against LASK, though, Gravenberch made quite the case for himself. The Dutchman created the most chances (5), was the most fouled player on the pitch (4), and showed a willingness to work by making eight recoveries. Along with Luis Diaz he was the Reds’ best player from the moment the game kicked off until he was taken off in the second half—apparently due to cramping, perhaps unsurprising given how little football he’s played of late.
His touch was exceptional, his press resistance and ability to progress play with the ball at his feet clear to see, and his attacking intent promising. His final ball at times was lacking, even if his assist on Diaz’ leveller was superb, but that largely appeared a case of a new player having to look up, assess, and figure out what his teammates were doing before deciding what he should do. With more time training and playing with his new teammates, familiarity should solve that issue. When it does, it’s going to be hard to keep him out of the lineup.
Liverpool’s manager was also a winner. Literally, given he recorded his 50th European victory with Liverpool, more than any other manager in the Reds’ history. Under the circumstances, hopefully he can forgive the Travelling Kop for serenading him before the final whistle.
Wataru Endo and Kostas Tsimikas
On the negative side of things, while neither Endo nor Tsimikas played terribly, that the veteran midfielder and left back had perhaps the least impressive outings in a fully rotated squad—and given both could probably be said to have been outplayed in their positions by Stefan Bajcetic (at fullback) and Stefan Bajcetic (inverting into midfield)—doesn’t bode well for their chances at seeing many league minutes in the coming weeks.
If Liverpool are determined to persist with their inverted right back system against all opposition and regardless Trent Alexander-Arnold’s availability, there’s certainly a case for starting a player like Stefan Bajcetic in the role over Joe Gomez as happened here.
Still, while he wasn’t a liability defensively, it’s worth acknowledging how little pressure LASK put on his flank, and Bajcetic’s best moments did mostly come when he drifted into the areas, and especially when he moved into slightly more advanced areas. It remains hard not to wonder if the Reds’ are being too cute by half insisting on relying on an inverted fullback as their primary approach regardless personnel, but if that’s the plan there might be minutes at right back for Bajcetic—which could be good for him given how deep Jürgen Klopp’s options are in midfield.
Dissecting the Narrative
Mohamed Salah is the best football player in the world. Mohamed Salah shows no signs of slowing down, was the best player on the pitch when he came on in the second half, and is still just 31 of age—compared to players like Ronaldo, who moved to the Saudi Pro League at 38, or Karim Benzema, who moved at 35.
The conversation around the Egyptian superstar shouldn’t be about Liverpool preparing for life after Salah. It should be about the club doing everything they can to lock him down for a few more seasons and finding a way to keep the best winger in the history of the Premier League on Merseyside beyond the summer of 2024.
What Happens Next
With Toulouse and Union drawing 1-1, the Reds take an early lead at the top of Group E. Next up in the Europa League they face Union at Anfield on October 5th after Premier League games against West Ham and Tottenham and with their League Cup bow sandwiched in between against Leicester City on September 27th.