Tuesday 18 September 2018

Reds run riot with magnificent seven

FC Maribor 0-7 Liverpool

Liverpool’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates scoring their sixth goal with Philippe Coutinho. Photo: Reuters
Liverpool’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates scoring their sixth goal with Philippe Coutinho. Photo: Reuters

Tim Rich

JUrgen Klopp said it himself. As soon as his Liverpool side started taking their chances, they would punish whichever poor, unlucky opponents happened to be standing in their way.

After seeing 40 shots return just three goals in draws against Sevilla and Spartak Moscow, it happened to be Slovenian champions Maribor who experienced the full force of what Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, on their day, can do.

Each member of that forward line found the net, Firmino and Salah scoring braces, with seven unanswered goals in all after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain opened his account at his new club and Trent Alexander-Arnold rounded off the victory.

Make no mistake, Maribor are a poor side that any team with desires to reach the knockout phase should comfortably beat, but they are also the type of side that Klopp's players have struggled against recently. They experienced no such problems here.

Frustrating

After two frustrating draws in their opening two group games, this first meeting of a double-header against the lowest-ranked team in Group E provided Liverpool with an opportunity to kick-start their stuttering return to the Champions League. And it took just four minutes for them to do just that.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates at the end of the match. Photo: AP
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates at the end of the match. Photo: AP

Maribor did their level best to stop Firmino from scoring the opener, with one over-enthusiastic steward initially preventing the Brazilian from entering the Stadion Ljudski after he walked in without wearing ID.

The Slovenian side's defence were nowhere near as effective, however, and, after Salah pounced on a stray pass and cut the ball back from inside the penalty area, Firmino had ample time to guide it into a gaping net and score his first in over a month.

If that goal was an example of the rapier counters we have come to know Klopp's Liverpool for, the second showed they are capable of fluid, flowing moves, too.

The masterful Coutinho started and finished it, initially collecting the ball in his own half and combining with Firmino.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scores their third goal. Photo: Reuters
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scores their third goal. Photo: Reuters

Salah was then released down the right once more and after a trademark burst up the pitch, the Egyptian delicately slipped James Milner - who took both Jordan Henderson's place and the captain's armband - in behind Maribor's backline.

The resulting cross to the edge of the area seemed lost but there was Coutinho, fresh from sprinting up half the pitch, to clip a volley into the corner of the net.

It was a sublime finish for the playmaker's fourth in four consecutive away games and, with barely a quarter of an hour gone, the game was already won.

Salah made it three, arcing the ball round and into Maribor goalkeeper Jasmin Handanovic's bottom-right corner for his first, and then four by bundling another in from close range.

To score that goal, Salah had impishly nipped in front of his team-mate Firmino on the goalline and met Alberto Moreno's low cross first to claim the strike for himself.

Firmino, confident other opportunities would present themselves, did not seem to put out and indeed, he did have to wait long for a second goal of his own.

Nine minutes after the restart, the Brazilian rose first to a Coutinho free-kick, flicking the ball behind himself and underneath Handanovic's helpless left hand.

With Liverpool well on course for their first away Champions League hat-trick since Michael Owen took the match ball home from a trip to Spartak in October 2002, both Salah and Firmino were withdrawn, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Daniel Sturridge replacing them before the 70-minute mark.

Oxlade-Chamberlain added a sixth as the contest - if it can be called that - drew to a close after being put through by Sturridge.

It was left to Alexander-Arnold, who opened Liverpool's European campaign with a free-kick in Hoffenheim, to conclude the rout.

Independent News Service

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