Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s double flourish eases Liverpool past Genk
Andy Hunter at the Luminus Arena
Wed 23 Oct 2019 21.59 BST
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had waited 18 months to experience the joy of scoring for Liverpool again; 18 months in which a serious knee injury cost him a year of his career, the chance to appear in two Champions League finals and to truly feel like a European champion. The long wait ended in Genk, beautifully, where he steered Jürgen Klopp’s team to a commanding victory that strengthens the champions’ pursuit of a place in the knockout stage.
The Liverpool midfielder scored twice, for the first time in a game for almost exactly three years, as Klopp’s wait for an away win in the group phase came to an end after two years. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s second against the Belgian champions was sublime, arched over the goalkeeper Gaëtan Coucke with the outside of his right foot from distance. Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah created further goals for each other as Liverpool won on the road in the group for the first time since the 7-0 rout of Maribor in October 2017.
The scoreline suggests another comfortable European away win. It was anything but. Genk had several chances to punish a porous and often unprotected Liverpool defence in the first half. Liverpool had the class. And class told.
“I don’t know about the Champions League missing me but I’ve definitely missed it,” said Oxlade-Chamberlain. “It’s a special tournament to play in. It was great to see the boys do so well last year, being on the bench at the end and watching the boys bring it home. It’s nice to be back in the starting lineup and to get a couple of goals is a bonus but we’ve got to be better if we want to go further in the tournament.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keïta provided the penetration and creativity that Liverpool fans have often called for in midfield in the Champions League as Klopp rewarded both for their influential substitute displays against Manchester United on Sunday with starting roles here. The England international needed all of 111 seconds to repay his manager with the opening goal. His first goal since the Champions League quarter-final first leg defeat of Manchester City in April 2018 followed a poor defensive clearance from the home side. Andy Robertson and Roberto Firmino reacted sharply to keep the pressure on and Oxlade-Chamberlain, given time to pick his spot from almost 25 yards, found the bottom corner with precision. An open, defensively sloppy first half had started. Annoyingly for Klopp, his irritation clear in the technical area, both sides were vulnerable.
A lack of solidity and communication may have been understandable in the visitors’ back-line given the absences of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joël Matip through illness and injury respectively. It was still a surprise how easily Liverpool were opened up whenever Genk had possession, and they did not have it often. James Milner was selected ahead of Joe Gomez at right-back with Dejan Lovren replacing Matip in central defence. But gaps appeared across Liverpool’s rearguard.
Mbwana Samatta was played clean through moments after Oxlade-Chamberlain’s opener by a simple clearance out of defence. To Liverpool’s relief he dragged a shot horribly wide. Moments later the Genk right-back, Joakim Maehle, sent Paul Onuachu away from Lovren. This time the Genk striker’s shot was on target but Alisson produced a fine one-handed save low to his right. Junya Ito then delivered a dangerous cross to the far post that Samatta converted with an emphatic header as he steamed in above Milner. Genk’s celebrations were cut short by a referee’s assistant’s flag for offside. A lengthy VAR review upheld the decision and Liverpool were reprieved, and again when Samatta just failed to connect with another Ito cross from the right.
Liverpool were dominant in possession and went close to extending their advantage when Mané played an exquisite one-two with Firmino, who played his strike partner through with a rabona chip on the edge of the area only for Coucke to save at close range. The Genk goalkeeper also denied Robertson from an angle following a delightful assist from Mané and Salah, back in the starting line-up after an ankle injury, went close with a free-kick.
The visitors largely nullified Genk’s threat in the second half and were given the comfort of a two-goal lead when Oxlade-Chamberlain beat Coucke with a magnificent finish. Keïta, an increasingly creative presence in midfield, found Firmino inside the area with a measured chip. The Brazil forward laid the ball back out to the waiting midfielder who clipped it first time over the Genk keeper and in off the underside of the bar. Oxlade-Chamberlain was side-on to goal when he connected. It was the goal of a confident player, a reward for perseverance through horrendous injury, and he departed to a standing ovation from the Liverpool section when replaced by Georginio Wijnaldum.
Mané added a third with a deft chip over the on-rushing Coucke when he was released behind the Genk defence by Salah. He returned the favour with a ball to Salah’s feet inside the area, although in truth the fourth was of the Egypt international’s own making as he spun away from his marker before finding the far corner. The Genk substitute Stephen Odey scored a late consolation after Lovren was caught dawdling in possession, to the obvious fury of Alisson. It soon passed.
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