There’s just something about the Champions League that brings drama to Anfield no matter the scenario. From a Liverpool perspective, this isn’t always a good thing. It was this drama that engulfed Liverpool two seasons ago as they suffered at the hands of Diego Simeone’s in front of their own fans.
Here, though, Jurgen Klopp and his players harnessed the moment, and the drama, rather than getting lost in it as they edged a five-goal thriller to start their 2021/22 Champions League campaign with a whirlwind 3-2 victory over AC Milan. This was much more like it from Liverpool.
Indeed, this win and performance adds to the sense that the Reds have rediscovered their personality as a team this season after a 2020/21 campaign which saw them go through something of an identity crisis. Liverpool are once again fun to watch and are using their inherent chaos factor to their advantage.
Much of this is down to the improvement in Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson over the summer, with both full backs rampant for much of the first half – the former made 14 crosses while the latter made 10. With so much drive and creativity on the wings, Liverpool were also able to press high on AC Milan when out of possession.
The energy Liverpool played with was reminiscent of the vigour that characterised their play over the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons, when Klopp’s team were irrepressible almost every time they took to the field. This resulted in a mental and physical drop-off last season, but Liverpool appear revitalised.
And yet there were still some stark reminders of the troubles of last season. With Virgil van Dijk on the bench, Liverpool were vulnerable at the back, something AC Milan exploited by scoring twice to take a 2-1 lead into half time. For a spell, the chaos factor that cost the Reds against Atletico Madrid looked to be working against them again.
Goals from Mohamed Salah and Jordan Henderson pushed the momentum back towards Liverpool with the latter’s first-time strike from the edge of the box evoking memories of great Steven Gerrard goals under the Champions League lights. When Liverpool needed a big moment, their captain delivered just as Gerrard did so many times.
“It is one of them,” Robertson said afterwards. “Enjoyable for the neutral and I am sure the fans in here loved it by the time we got ahead. In the first half an hour, we blew them away. Then we got sloppy and stopped doing the things we were doing really well. We let them back into the game and walk in at half-time thinking ‘how have we let this happen?’”
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 15: (BILD OUT) Mohamed Salah of Liverpool FC celebrates after scoring his team’s second goal during the UEFA Champions League group B match between Liverpool FC and AC Milan at Anfield on September 15, 2021 in Liverpool, Uni
Image credit: Getty Images
These are, though, the sort of matches, and occasions, that make players, and fans, feel alive and Liverpool, after last season, needed to feel the heart pumping again. Anfield was built to shake on Champions League nights and the Kop was swaying by the time the full time whistle sounded.
Of course, there was also some tactical tweaking that helped Liverpool bounce back to claim all three points. AC Milan had started to open up some big gaps in midfield and so Klopp sought to close them up through the introduction of Thiago Alcantara and Curtis Jones in the second half. James Milner was also a settling presence for the final 10 minutes.
Five games into the new season and Liverpool have only dropped points once, and that came against Chelsea. Klopp can be pleased with the turnaround his team have made over the summer and how they are once again winning the sort of games that defined them at their very best.