Liverpool travel to Belgium top-flight champions Genk on Wednesday in search of a first Champions League group stage away win in four attempts.
The defending European champions chalked up their first points of the 2019/20 campaign when they bounced back against Red Bull Salzburg after falling to defeat at Group E leaders Napoli.
The Serie A giants were then held to a goalless draw in Genk, pointing to a tough assignment for Jurgen Klopp who has lost four straight away games in the Champions League group stage.
An insipid display on Sunday in the 1-1 Premier League draw with Manchester United leaves the Reds searching for rhythm and that forms part of our first talking point ahead of the contest at the Luminus Arena.
Klopp has locked in a midfield trio of Georginio Wijnaldum, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson this season and a total of two Premier League goals have been contributed to from nine games.
Without Mohamed Salah on Sunday, the narrative was around an over-reliance on the Egyptian, but in reality it’s the entire front three.
There is very little goal production behind the trident and against low defensive blocks, the Reds’ attacking contingent has been swallowed up by two compact lines, as United demonstrated, suffocating any free space.
That means ingenuity from midfield is absolutely crucial, and while Henderson’s physicality, security and vocal leadership has its merits against elite sides, it becomes a hindrance when he retreats or turns sideways instead of passing through a defensive wall.
This is particularly an issue in games which sees Liverpool dominate possession, scenarios which necessitates for penetration through the lines using different angles as opposed to the prosaic recycling to the full-backs we saw on Sunday.
Klopp has found the solution, though. Naby Keita featured for only 13 minutes against United, his first league action of the new season, but during that time he completed 22 of 25 passes and completed more final third passes (eight) than Wijnaldum managed in 82 minutes.
It was Keita who released Andrew Robertson to cross for Liverpool’s equaliser with his delayed pass out to the left one of the few occasions the full-back was given any time to deliver from a dangerous area.
Injuries and the language barrier have disrupted his opportunity to impress Klopp, but with a better grasp of English and Klopp’s system, now is the time to trust the £59 million signing. Wednesday represents the perfect opportunity to begin building that trust.
ORIGI’S TIME TO SHINE
Mohamed Salah has travelled to Belgium after missing the trip to Old Trafford with an ankle injury sustained before the international break against Leicester City.
He was sorely missed, however, it’s unlikely Klopp will risk the 27-year-old from the start and so Divock Origi should be afforded another opportunity to show he’s more than just a cult hero.
The Belgian returns to the club which nurtured his embryonic talents for nine years before he moved to Ligue 1 side Lille at the age of 15.
He is one branch of many who trace their roots back to the Genk talent tree with the seeds of Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois and Kalidou Koulibaly among many planted with the storied Belgians.
Origi returns nursing growing pains, however, still very raw with much of his game to be varnished. Since his Premier League opening night goal against Norwich, the 24-year-old has been ineffective in the minutes he has seen.
He started against United and had Victor Lindelof confused over his left and rights, but his delivery was typically imprecise while he also failed to adequately support Robertson in defensive transitions.
His direct nature and massive frame does give Liverpool a unique option on the left, but his passing is often inaccurate, something which is glossed over from the Champions League final because of his goal, yet was abundantly clear when he rose from the substitutes bench.
Origi has to start showing he can make more of an impact before he loses his back-up status.
HAGI IS ONE TO WATCH
There is a new generation emerging around Europe – the sons of famous footballers.
Genk’s Ianis Hagi – son of Romanian icon Gheorghe – joins Timothy Weah, Federico Chiesa, Justin Kluivert, Marcus Thuram, Erling Braut Haaland and Giovanni Simeone in carving out their own impressive careers.
Hagi celebrated his 21st birthday on Tuesday and there will be a couple more before we see the very best of him, though, he has shown exhilarating glimpses of his promise, particularly during the U21 European Championship last summer.
He’s a two-footed attacking-midfielder, a trait which aids his gorgeous dribbling ability and as he has demonstrated for the Romanian U21s, he can score absolute beauties from distance, too.
It’s been a fairly slow start for Genk as he adapts physically and mentally to a step up in competition but regardless, Hagi will be one to watch on Wednesday and not just because of the name adorning his shirt.
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