Friday 14 December 2018

Salah leads way to keep Liverpool in pole position

Liverpool 3 Maribor 0

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah

Sam Wallace

Jurgen Klopp might have found it hard to understand why his team have struggled for any consistency in the league but in Europe their progress has been smooth, despite yet another missed penalty at Anfield against an opponent who resolutely parked the bus.

It was James Milner who had his 53rd-minute penalty saved, the fourth consecutive spot-kick that Liverpool have failed to convert at home, although on this occasion it did not cost them. The team from Slovenia, beaten 7-0 on their home patch two weeks earlier, managed to hold out until just after half-time when finally Liverpool broke through with goals from Mohamed Salah and Emre Can and then, much later, another from the substitute Daniel Sturridge.

Liverpool's Emre Can tries to flick the ball over with NK Maribor’s Marko Suler. Photo: Reuters
Liverpool's Emre Can tries to flick the ball over with NK Maribor’s Marko Suler. Photo: Reuters

It was Salah who was Liverpool's greatest attacking threat and who now has ten goals this season, with Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane due back after the international break that follows Saturday's visit to West Ham. That should mean some of the goalscoring pressure will be off his shoulders by then although Liverpool could help themselves more by tucking away the penalties that have come their way.

Failed Milner has now missed his last two penalties at Anfield, the other being against Southampton last season, and since then Roberto Firmino and Salah have also failed from the spot.

The win puts Liverpool clear at the top of Group E and a victory in one of their last two games, away to Sevilla on November 21 or at home to Spartak Moscow two weeks after that, will see them into the knockout round after Christmas.

Mindful of the seven-goal rout two weeks ago in Slovenia, it was a five-man defence with which the visitors to Anfield lined up, with an additional four-man defence in front of that and their lone striker Jasmin Mesanovic obliged to spend his most of his time defending.

Liverpool's James Milner and Maribor's Aleksander Rajcevic rise to challenge for the ball. Photo: PA
Liverpool's James Milner and Maribor's Aleksander Rajcevic rise to challenge for the ball. Photo: PA

The challenge to Klopp's side was evident from early on - that they would have to break down a team which had not come to Liverpool to win but simply to avoid humiliation.

By half-time the possession count stood at a whopping 84 per cent in Liverpool's favour and they had managed 12 attempts on goal, although only one on target.

When they did foul their rivals, Maribor took care to do so outside their area and a challenge by midfielder Aleks Pihler on Milner on 20 minutes could have warranted a red card in a tense game, but the Slovakian referee didn't even caution the player.

Firmino came the closest to breaking the deadlock with a header from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's cross that was deflected off defender Jean-Claude Billong and pushed on to the bar by the goalkeeper Jasmin Handanovic. Jordan Henderson, rested with the visit to West Ham on Saturday evening in mind, was on after 17 minutes as a replacement for Georginio Wijnaldum who went down with an early injury and could not carry on.

Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Maribor's Martin Milec battle for possession. Photo: PA
Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Maribor's Martin Milec battle for possession. Photo: PA

The first goal came just four minutes after half-time from Trent Alexander-Arnold's cross, the second the teenager had struck since the break and this one hit with much more pace. The speed of it meant that Salah could steal in ahead of centre-back Aleksander Rajcevic and put a little bit on the ball to take it past Handanovic.

It was all go after that with Firmino getting the ball down by the goal-line and executing an outrageous nutmeg on poor old Rajcevic before the latter decided that he had better haul the Brazilian down in the area. Milner stepped up and put his penalty to the left of Handanovic who managed to just brush it on to the post.

General embarrassment all-round and then another chance missed when Salah put a header over the bar when it looked unmissable. The second goal came on 64 minutes, the ball having been expertly worked forward outside the area before Emre Can took a perfectly weighted return pass from Milner before placing a right-footed shot in the corner.

Salah and Firmino were given a rest by Klopp before the end and it was Sturridge, on as a substitute, who added the third in the final minute of the 90. Alberto Moreno's cross was deflected into his path and the striker took one touch and swept in. Klopp looked relieved and he now has consecutive wins for the first time since August.

Liverpool's Roberto Firmino threads his way through the Maribor defence. Photo: PA
Liverpool's Roberto Firmino threads his way through the Maribor defence. Photo: PA

© Daily Telegraph, London

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