Wondrous Xherdan Shaqiri the conductor of a lethal Liverpool onslaught
A fixture which might have been kryptonite to the Kop was well conquered by Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool who cruised to an effortless 4-0 victory at Anfield against Red Star Belgrade.
Every time Liverpool advanced the Balkan side's defence looked as brittle as a biscuit and if it weren't for the Red's profligate finishing they might have added to their jumbo-pack of goals.
Nevertheless, they put four past Red Star who at least offered a sliver more resistance in the second half, but by then the damage had long been dealt.
Here's five things we learned from the game:
Shaqiri the malevolent conductor of a lethal onslaught...
Xherdan Shaqiri is quite the conundrum. Once the chubby-cheeked star of Switzerland, then majestic at Inter Milan before being sidelined like a beaten up station wagon at Bayern Munich. Back in the Basel days, Shaqiri could easily be likened to Arjen Robben's slightly podgier brother - jutting in from the right before whipping with his left into the top corner - and his receding hairline pays homage to that comparison too. Yet, for a while it seemed like it had all died into the doldrums in the wintery north of Stoke
It's unclear if the new signing can ever become a mainstay of this Liverpool side when the front three are so incisive and cemented. Yet having Shaqiri bob behind like a BTEC Ozil proved so lethal against a lesser team like Belgrade.
He slowed to create space and unlock the Serbian's defence for Liverpool's first - feeding Andy Robertson whose pullback found Firmino - and his dainty flick set ball unto platter for Salah and Liverpool's second. Those were the statistical highlights, but the Swissman was wondrous throughout, orchestrating the relentless attacks in front of him like a malevolent conductor.
The Jurgen Klopp way…
When Red Star travelled to Liverpool in 1973 on the back of a 2-1 victory in Belgrade, they were applauded off the pitch by the Kop. Liverpool's pair of defeats then prompted a footballing revolution of building play from the back, fostering such great success and becoming known as the 'Liverpool way'.
But 35 years on, and on the back of another encounter, there will be no need for a Darwinistic overhaul of defence or an adrenaline shot to the attack at Anfield this time. This is already a deadly Liverpool side expertly cultivated from the dumped ashes of Brendan Rodgers and Roy Hodgson. Liverpool were so relentless tonight the, Red Star were scarcely allowed a second to breathe. Under Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool way was revived a long time ago.
Salah bags brace but still unsteady in front of goal…
Relief was etched across Mo Salah's face after scoring his first goal in four games last weekend at Huddersfield. Today, as he stroked home Liverpool's second his celebration was rather more muted. Perhaps it was frustration after what was, up until them, a wanton performance from the little Egyptian.
He may have scored his fifth and sixth goals of the season, but this is simply not the free-thinking man of the campaign prior. When Salah stilted and stuttered last season to attain perfect poise on his left foot, it seemed almost semi-conscious. A near innate ability to read defenders minds rather than use his own. Everything was by default, as automatic as a vending machine. Now he often seems caught in the coil of his own thought.
In this match, like so many this season, Salah would find the perfect position only to linger too long on the ball and lose possession. When he found himself clean through on goal after 30 minutes, unaware that he was offside, he misfired straight into Belgrade's goalkeeper's chest. He is still a marked danger to any defence, he still floats into the finest position, but it's unquestionable that he is far height from last season's lofty mantle.
Fabinho's potential remains unproven...
The curious case of the missing Fabinho. What could be so wrong with the £39 million mystery that he has only mustered a single Premier League appearance this season? Jurgen Klopp this week insinuated that the former Monaco man's shy personality was a factor for his snailish integration.
And the Brazilian's first contribution tonight too was late. A standing two-footed tackle which Roy Keane might have labelled old-fashioned industry but was so cumbersome it could in fact have been classed as an attempted dismemberment.
It was a shaky opening, but Fabinho did eventually take a foothold in the game, flaunting flashes of the form which made him such a lauded commodity prior to his arrival. He hustled the loose ball, occasionally careered forward and anchored the midfield. But it's still a game of Cluedo in regards to what talents can supersede Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita in Liverpool's starting line-up. He's only 25 years old, there's time for small steps, but whether he can ever reach their heights remains a riddle.
Belgrade toothless without a bastion of fire-breathing…
Liverpool fans were warned to expect Serbians intermingling amongst them the Anfield stands due to the restrictions placed by Uefa against Belgrade after their supporters stormed the pitch and launched an apocalypse style fireworks display against RB Salzburg.
And the sleet-sodden spite missing amongst the stands was matched by a lacking bossiness of the Eastern bloc on the pitch. For five meagre minutes, Belgrade bludgeoned Liverpool with attack and tackle, from there on out it was total surrender. In the end, four almost flattered them.
Independent News Service