European nights at Anfield are BACK. Yes, Liverpool played games last season in an empty stadium, but there is nothing like the atmosphere of Anfield packed to the brim while hosting another team with a rich European history.
As the lineups dropped, there was bewilderment and consternation from many fans. Some rotation was expected, and it wasn’t a huge surprise that Virgil van Dijk was rested after returning from a long-term injury. Divock Origi getting the start, on the other hand, was a shock considering he didn’t even make the 18 on the weekend against Leeds. In his post match press conference, Jürgen Klopp spoke of the need to trust in the depth of his squad as they hit a busy period in the schedule.
It’s really difficult; Virgil van Dijk, everybody who saw him warming up tonight probably thought, ‘Why is he not playing?’ But we have to be sensible in these moments. We have these three boys here in the last line who all came back from long-term injuries. We have to manage that, we can’t do it differently. Even if they are fit now, which is great. The others were no big changes, if you want, Naby Keita started already two or three games this season. Not sure, did Hendo start the last game? Probably not, so that was clear he would start. Played a super game, both of them. Fabinho had to go through, did that, very important. Divock Origi, people forget so quick in life and football. He’s an outstanding striker and did really well tonight, especially for the long time he didn’t start. It’s just really difficult to get in this team, to be honest. That makes sometimes life a little bit uncomfortable. But he is a great guy and I’m really happy for him he could play like this tonight.
Klopp wasn’t done speaking his praise of the oft-maligned Origi. Despite playing fewer minutes per season as his Liverpool career has carried on, the Liverpool manager has an implicit trust in the Belgian striker.
Divock is a great guy, that’s how it is, and in 10 years’ time when we look back he will be a Liverpool legend, but he is too young to be already seen as a legend now so he has to play football. To be 100 per cent honest, of course I thought he would maybe leave in the summer, but the football world is a crazy place and people obviously forgot how good he is. I said it, it is really difficult to get into this team. That’s just how it is and I have to decide about different positions, who I bring on, how I want to react before a game. That’s why Div was not in, he did nothing wrong. He trains, he gives everything and sometimes you still don’t make it into the squad. That really can happen, especially when everybody is fit. But for tonight he was the right player to do it and he did really well. He was not injured, he had cramps, that’s normal and so now let’s see. It’s just nice, I’m really happy I could give him the opportunity and that he used it like he did.
Origi and the rest of his starting cohort were sensational from the opening whistle. Despite the dominance of the opening 40 minutes, however, Liverpool found themselves down 2-1 due to some issues with positioning between the midfield and defense according to Klopp.
[I]t was a brilliant game, very exciting and very entertaining. With 10 or 15 minutes where we lost a little bit the plot, whatever. We were not compact enough anymore, we got carried away with our own football, pretty much, and made it then complicated – which we shouldn’t have done – in our possession. Last line slightly too deep; midfield didn’t close the gaps anymore and stuff like this. So they could pass through, they scored two goals. In a moment like this, obviously the game can be decided but not tonight because we could adjust in half-time and did that.
For his part, Klopp wasn’t overly upset with his side giving up two late goals in the first half after absolutely dominating the game to that point. His team fed off the energy of the crowd, but that same crowd noise made it difficult for the coaching staff to get their message to the players to tighten up before the half.
I wasn’t angry at all, not at all. We saw it coming, actually; we saw the last five minutes coming in the last 15. We tried to get the message across, it didn’t work out because of the outstanding atmosphere in the stadium. Football-wise, we lost the ball in the wrong moment, it was absolutely not necessary. We played so flexible with the triangles on the wings, it was really, really good, but then we started getting a bit complicated and that was one mistake. The other mistake was the last line was slightly too deep. We showed only one picture from the first half where we showed the boys, ‘Here, the last line was too deep. Here, midfield, we need an eight who is pushing up in the challenge and then the other two have to adapt.’ The way we are organised, Fabinho can pick these balls up – everybody who plays in that position can pick these balls up – but if you are not organised then they just pass the ball through the gaps. I was actually waiting for half-time and I was really happy when the whistle came and we could solve that. We sorted it and then we didn’t have that problem anymore. I was not angry at all, that’s the job to do. I cannot celebrate 30 minutes and then for 15 minutes I’m angry or whatever. It’s just to make sure we have a chance to win the second half – that’s what we did and all fine.
At the final whistle, Liverpool had gotten themselves back in front for a thrilling 3-2 win. Being in one of, if not the most difficult groups, getting all three points in the opening match was a huge boost for Klopp’s side.
Played again really good football and scored two wonderful goals, so won the game. Everyone knew before already but now probably definitely everybody knows: AC Milan came from Pot 4 in this group – very funny! So, that’s the quality in the group. It’s really good that we won this game tonight because obviously you need each point in this group to get through.