Attacking mojo returns with extra power
By James Pearce
23:15, 24 OCT 2018
On the night when the power went out, Liverpool ensured that Anfield was still lit up.
Their Champions League campaign was put back on track in style as Red Star Belgrade were comprehensively outclassed.
The Reds' attacking mojo has been rediscovered. Finally, this was Jurgen Klopp's side performing with the handbrake off and Kopites lapped it up.
The swagger and the fluency returned as an emphatic victory – coupled with Paris Saint-Germain's 2-2 draw with Napoli – lifted Liverpool to the top of Group C.
This was a night packed full of positives for Jurgen Klopp as the frontline that fired the Reds to Kiev provided a timely reminder of what they are capable of.
Mohamed Salah has another record for his collection as he became the quickest player in Liverpool's history to reach a half century of goals. He marked his 65th appearance with a clinical double.
It's a remarkable achievement, especially considering the array of legends he has beaten to that milestone. The Egyptian winger is getting back to his brilliant best and that spells danger for defenders across the continent.
Roberto Firmino had gone six games without a goal and Sadio Mane had gone seven, but they put that right as belief coursed through their veins. It was the first time since the semi-final thrashing of Roma in April that Klopp's trusted trio had all got on the scoresheet.
There was plenty else to admire about the Reds – not least another majestic display from Xherdan Shaqiri.
Much was made about Liverpool's extravagant summer spending but at £13million he's proving to the bargain of the year.
Shaqiri is exactly what the Reds have been missing – a dazzling creative force.
With his quick feet, vision and technique, he's a joy to watch and he got Liverpool going after a difficult start.
Shaqiri has had his critics but they are being made to look increasingly foolish. He's contributed more to the Reds in the past week than Charlie Adam did in his entire Anfield career.
Anfield was plunged into darkness before kick-off with the club shop forced to shut and fans in the Main Stand unable to buy food or drink.
But there was no shortage of power on the field with Fabinho grasping his chance to shine in the absence of injured captain Jordan Henderson.
The £40million summer signing from Monaco excelled as he shut down space, snapped into tackles and surged forward with intent. This was a massive step forward for the Brazilian.
Of course tougher tests lie ahead. Red Star failed to muster a single shot on target but Liverpool have made hard work of beating limited opposition this season so to see them cut loose was a satisfying sight.
Red Star Belgrade had taught Liverpool a lesson on their previous visit to Anfield back in 1973. Defeat proved to be a watershed moment in the club's European history as Bill Shankly and his backroom staff decided that a change in style was required.
A repeat never looked on the cards but for the best part of 20 minutes the Serbian champions frustrated Klopp's side.
In truth Liverpool played into their hands. Rather than flying out of the traps, the hosts were sluggish and allowed Vladan Milojevic's men to settle.
Their passing was too slow and predictable as Red Star defended in numbers and repelled their advances.
Joe Gomez's tenacity created an early opening for Firmino but his strike was inadvertently blocked by Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Salah then produced an exquisite first touch to control Shaqiri's lofted pass but Milan Borjan raced off his line to make the block.
Maybe the five changes in personnel and the switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation contributed to the early issues. Shaqiri drifted in off the right with Mane on the other flank and Salah through the centre with Firmino behind him.
As Liverpool huffed and puffed, they were in need of some inspiration and just like at Huddersfield on Saturday it was Shaqiri who provided it.
The little Swiss magician won back possession and released Andy Robertson with a perfectly weighted pass.
The Reds left-back, who was outstanding throughout, picked out Firmino, who worked it on to his left foot and rifled home. Relief engulfed Anfield.
Once in front, Liverpool started to play with greater freedom. Space opened up and some of the interplay between Mane and Salah was glorious.
Fabinho stamped his authority on the contest and Gini Wijnaldum was equally impressive alongside him as the Kop paid homage to the ever-reliable Dutchman.
Mane and Robertson were running riot down the left as Red Star were left chasing shadows.
Shaqiri's curler was held and Robertson sliced wide after a sweeping counter before the second goal arrived just before the break.
Wijnaldum pinged a pass into Shaqiri, who nonchalantly knocked it into the path of Salah. Here was the ruthless predator of last season as Salah controlled with his left and produced a devastating finish with his right.
Momentum was maintained in the second half and within six minutes of the restart it was 3-0.
Mane went down in the box after Filip Stojkovic slammed a forearm across his chest and German referee Daniel Siebert pointed to the spot.
It was soft but Salah accepted the gift as he brought up his half century for the Reds by dispatching the penalty past Borjan in front of the Kop.
Salah's name echoed around Anfield. That mini slump is well and truly over.
Liverpool were cruising and Fabinho was enjoying himself. His quality delivery picked out the run of Alexander-Arnold, who was thwarted by Borjan.
When Red Star did briefly threaten on the counter, Gomez cruised across the turf to deal with the danger. The young defender is in the form of his life.
Shaqiri and Salah were given richly deserved standing ovations as they made way for Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge.
No sooner had Salah put a jacket on, Liverpool were presented with another penalty. This time Mane took responsibility but his effort was brilliantly tipped on to the underside of the bar by Borjan.
It would have been a sour end to the night but 10 minutes from time that beaming smile was restored to Mane's face.
Sturridge unselfishly squared and the Senegal international poked into the bottom corner.
This was the Liverpool of last season. Welcome back.
Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson (Moreno 82), Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Shaqiri (Lallana 68), Mane, Salah (Sturridge 73), Firmino.
Not used: Mignolet, Lovren, Milner, Origi.
Red Star: Borjan, Stojkovic, Babic, Degenek, Gobeljic, Krsticic, Jovicic (Causic 75), Srnic, Ebecilio (Jovancic 65), Ben Nabouhane (Simic 80), Boakye.
Not used: Popovic, Pavkov, Stoiljkovic, Savic.
Referee: Daniel Siebert (Germany)
Goals: Firmino 20, Salah 45, Salah 51, Mane 80.
Bookings: Stojkovic, Krsticic, Jovicic, Jovancic, Gobeljic.
Man of the match: Xherdan Shaqiri. Made the difference once again.
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