Football

Liverpool's experience shines through to weather Champions League storm in Salzburg


Salzburg is famous for its evocative setting and fairytale Christmas markets, but this was no festive stroll for Liverpool.

They weathered a storm which came out of the threatening Austrian skies, before showing their Champions League pedigree to ruthlessly move through the gears and into the knock-out phase as group winners.

With the likes of Bayern, Juventus, PSG and Barca all topping their groups, it was a victory which could prove vital in the next round, offering the prospect of an easier draw after an intense December programme.

Goals from Naby Keita – finally showing the form which prompted Liverpool to pay £50m for him – and Mo Salah sealed the victory early in the second half with Salzburg’s hopes and dreams gone in 100 incredible seconds.

Yet it was the resolve shown in the first half by Virgil van Dijk at the heart of defence, and keeper Alisson with some huge saves which provided the platform for victory when the home side sensed blood in the first half.

Liverpool booked their place in the Champions League knockout stages

The relatively comfortable scoreline belies the fight Liverpool had in the opening period, when their Brazilian goalkeeper made an incredible double save from first Hee-Chan Hwang and then the impressive Takumi Minamino.

Alisson also denied the exciting young forward Erling Haaland with a fine save, and showed poise in reading the game so well, to negate Salzburg’s breaking threat.

At the other end, it was a different matter. Salah has been involved 27 Champions League goals for Liverpool, 19 goals and eight assists, and only Lionel Messi has been involved in more in the competition since the Egyptian joined Liverpool.

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Liverpool’s Naby Keita scored the opener with a composed header

His threat on the break along with the outstanding Sadio Mane caused the Austrians heartache all evening…and yet the player who has the best goals per game ratio in Liverpool history missed a host of opportunities before finally putting the game to bed.

For 20 minutes the Austrians pressed and could so easily have put the defending champions in real trouble – threatening to make them only the second holders to be knocked out in the group stage after Chelsea.

It was then the professionalism of Liverpool shone through. They really do know how to play in Europe, and their threat on the break was outstanding, with skipper Jordan Henderson setting a tempo picked up by the bold front three.

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah scored a classy second after rounding the keeper

Salah should have scored when he shot over early, and missed an even bigger chance when he shot wide of an open goal. He was through on goal but a poor touch denied him, and then he shot over at the start of the second half.

Yet if that seemed portentous, then it was Keita who settled the nerves and showed Liverpool steel. A run by Mane down the left was devastating, as the home keeper Stankovic hurtled from his goal, and the winger rounded him before crossing for his team-meat to head into the empty net.

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That came in the 57th minute, and those cruel 100 seconds later the game was all over. It was Salah who defied his evening form with an absolutely sublime finish from a ridiculous angle, his caress into the net a curling wonder as he raced down the right.

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From there, Liverpool were able to enjoy a festive stroll through their gears, with Mane missing a couple of brilliant chances. There was a second clean sheet in three days too, though injury to Dejan Lovren was a blemish.

Liverpool are old hands at this final game qualifying of course, doing so for the past three years. Yet this was still a close call, and they needed all their experience and cunning to come through a severe test from a fine young side.





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