Liverpool’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has the class to leave Genk in a spin
Andy Hunter at Anfield
Tue 5 Nov 2019 22.02 GMT
This victory over Genk will not rank among the most exhilarating European nights of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool career but it will be savoured regardless. The Champions League holders are within touching distance of the knockout stages again and will appreciate every opportunity to finish the job early given the workload ahead.
Liverpool moved top of the group courtesy of another fine goal against Genk from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, his fourth in four games, and Napoli’s failure to beat Salzburg. They can secure progress with a game to spare by beating Carlo Ancelotti’s side at Anfield later this month.
That may be easier said than done but, having gone 24 European home games unbeaten, Klopp’s team will have the confidence and, given their December fixture list, the incentive to tick off another priority for the season before travelling to Salzburg for the final group game.
This was a mundane contest and routine victory, delivered by Georginio Wijnaldum’s early improvised finish and Oxlade-Chamberlain’s second-half winner. The Belgium champions retained hope of securing a draw until the end owing to Liverpool’s inability to kill off the game. Alisson’s important save from Bryan Heynen nine minutes from time ensured they did not.
Mundane was just fine for Klopp. Winning with a much changed team, with key players rested and without any injuries before Manchester City’s hugely significant visit in the Premier League on Sunday, was, as he put it, job done.
The Liverpool manager, who deployed Oxlade-Chamberlain in the Roberto Firmino role between Mohamed Salah and Divock Origi, said: “It was clear it would be a bit tricky in some departments because the front three never played together in these positions or in a formation like this. We wanted to have Ox between the lines, give him the space to turn and run at the last line with options right and left. That worked pretty well sometimes and we could have scored more often.
“The longer the game goes, the more the momentum goes to the other team if you don’t finish your situations off. ‘Job done’ is the headline for the game, pretty much, but the group is not decided. It’s a tough group. We are first in the table but we want to be first after the last match day and now we have to play two tough games, and two important ones.”
Liverpool’s task and the spectacle were complicated by the more conservative approach that Genk adopted compared with their 4-1 defeat when the teams met in Belgium two weeks ago. Felice Mazzu’s side suffered their fifth domestic defeat of the season at lowly Eupen at the weekend. That reverse, coupled with a punishing start to their European campaign, prompted a five-man defence at Anfield as the Genk manager sought to restore confidence and solidity in his ranks.
“We took a risk by coming here to play the best team in the world with a new system and without having time to work on it on the pitch, so I am very proud of the players,” Mazzu said.
Liverpool prospered down Genk’s right flank in the first half with James Milner almost as potent creatively as the man he replaced at left-back, Andy Robertson. Origi, who started his career at Genk, was involved in the breakthrough when he released Milner down the left. There was an appeal for offside but the veteran had timed his run to perfection. A low cross driven across the goalmouth struck Carlos Cuesta and his fellow defender Sébastian Dewaest before dropping into the run of Wijnaldum, who hooked the ball into the roof of the net from close range.
The European champions maintained the pressure and dominance of possession but lacked the clinical touch to put the game beyond Genk. Gaëtan Coucke saved well with his legs from Naby Keïta after a surging run by Oxlade-Chamberlain gave the midfielder a clear shot. Both Salah and Origi dragged decent opportunities wide of Coucke’s left-hand post when free inside the box.
Genk had offered nothing as an attacking threat for the opening 40 minutes. Almost inevitably they equalised from their first meaningful attack. Trent Alexander-Arnold showed good awareness to prevent Ally Mbwana Samatta connecting with an inviting cross from Joakim Maehle by flicking the ball out for a corner. From the resulting delivery by Heynen, Samatta expertly timed his run between Oxlade-Chamberlain and Milner to send a thumping header past Alisson at the near post.
Genk’s belief soared but, as in Belgium, they were tormented by Oxlade-Chamberlain when he was found inside the area by Salah’s intelligent lay-off. The England international shaped to turn with his back to goal, Maehle bought it and looked on aghast as the midfielder used the space he had created for himself to drive a low finish beyond Coucke.
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