By Sam Wallace
Just one fully-operational eye, but when it came to Roberto Firmino and his 93rd minute winner in this outstanding Liverpool Champions League performance, you could only sit back and admire the great vision that made it all possible.
It was this Brazilian, and not his £198 million compatriot in a Paris St-Germain shirt, who delivered the game’s outstanding moment, deep into injury time when the Liverpool substitute wriggled through the away team’s area and clipped in the winner. Injured on Saturday by that finger thrust into his left eye socket by Jan Vertonghen, Firmino was restricted this time to 20 minutes from the bench and then, when his team needed that final decisive act, he delivered.
As Anfield erupted, he placed a hand over his damaged left socket and seemed to be saying that it would take a lot more than a sore eye to stop him doing what he does best. He had been embraced at the start of the game by his Brazil team-mate, Neymar, sought out in his seat before kick-off with the usual grandeur of PSG’s No 10 bestowing his favour – although, for the latter, it did not turn out quite as expected.
Instead, Liverpool won this game once, threw it away and then won it all over again with that late goal – a fair return on an evening when they had boldly set out their attacking game-plan. They played like a team who believe they should win these big matches.
Kylian Mbappe’s 83rd minute equaliser had brought the game level for the first time since Daniel Sturridge had nodded in Liverpool’s first after half an hour on what was, remarkably, his first ever start for the club in the Champions League. But that was not to be the end of it. The run to the final last season seems to have taught Jurgen Klopp’s players that they should never risk regretting what might have been or curtail their attacking instincts.
The standard was set by James Milner, scorer of the second from the penalty spot, who landed the first decisive tackle on that firefly Neymar within seven minutes and helped exploit PSG’s left side that was left light by the Brazilian’s reluctance to go backwards. As a replacement for Firmino, the goal from Sturridge showed that he was capable of rising to the occasion again. Sadio Mane had another influential game including one penalty box shimmy that bewildered Neymar the way Neymar tends to bewilder others.
Only Mohamed Salah from among Liverpool’s key men seemed to labour on this occasion, and he was off the pitch – replaced by Xherdan Shaqiri – when Firmino scored the winning goal. It was Salah who had given the ball away in the build-up to PSG’s second goal which was spirited forward by Neymar before Mbappe had the decisive touch. The television pictures caught Salah slamming a bottle to the floor when one might have expected him to be celebrating Firmino’s goal, although it was hard to draw firm conclusions.
Later, Klopp would say that Firmino was a late inclusion to the squad, having come in on the day of the game to declare himself fit. This is a team that has now won all of their six games this season and you drop out of it at your peril. There was another outstanding performance from the full-backs: Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson; the latter of whom who supplied the cross for Sturridge’s goal.
Thomas Tuchel, a coach who has followed the Klopp path in the Bundesliga, has been brought in to make the difference to this PSG team in Europe and, afterwards, he argued that his team had not deserved to lose. If one team deserved to lose it, however, it was most certainly not Liverpool and as for Neymar – this was an evening when he disappeared for long periods.
It was Milner who got a handle on the Brazilian almost eight minutes in when he connected with the tackle he had been hoping to make approximately five minutes earlier. Then, Neymar had embarked on a on a wide berth of the Liverpool midfield, eluding Jordan Henderson and then Milner on a route that was ever more circuitous.
After Milner had separated superstar from ball with that later tackle, the first half was very different. Liverpool tried to punch holes in the away defence with the usual directness and they used the right side channel as a way into PSG. That was where Neymar offers no cover for his full-back, Juan Bernat, and Angel Di Maria – often tucked inside – could not help out much either.
Liverpool tested it early and persistently. The cross from Alexander-Arnold on 30 minutes was beyond every red shirt but the second from Robertson on the left was right on the money for Sturridge to nod downwards past goalkeeper Alphonse Areola. Five minutes later, Milner retrieved a ball others might have given up on and pushed it down the wing to Salah, keen for a goal of his own.
He might have released it earlier but, when at last it ricocheted to Georginio Wijnaldum, the Dutch midfielder drove into the area too quickly for Bernat to pull a foot out of his path. Down went Wijnaldum. Milner put his penalty past the left hand of Areola for Liverpool’s second. PSG had given Neymar a lot of scope to roam but against a team this good they were paying for it.
Their first goal five minutes before the break was well-taken by Thomas Meunier when Robertson let Di Maria’s cross bounce off him. Edinson Cavani had tried to connect with it having been in an offside position.
The chances for Liverpool came and went, including a Salah goal disallowed when Sturridge went over the top and into Areola’s groin.
Always, it felt, they were vulnerable and so it proved when Salah’s pass was intercepted and Neymar embarked on a run that ended with Mbappe finishing. Arms folded, knee slide, but it was not over. Firmino tricked his way through the PSG box for the winner.
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