Liverpool’s chances of repeating 2017/18’s run to the Champions League final took a blow on Tuesday night when centre forward Milan Pavkov produced a first-half brace to earn Red Star Belgrade a surprise 2-0 victory.
The 24-year-old headed in unopposed from a corner in the 22nd minute and lashed home a memorable second from distance just before the half-hour mark. The visitors to a heated Stadion Rajko Mitic failed to fire and only truly went close from Egypt superstar Mohamed Salah’s smartly worked, second-half pot shot that caressed the post.
Liverpool still topped Group C on six points, ahead of Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli’s meeting later on in the evening. But the dropped points in Belgrade could hurt them further down the track.
Alisson – 5: Not culpable for either goal, but his distribution let him down on a night when his team-mates needed a kick-start.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – 4: Another woeful display from the teenager to follow-up the weekend’s shocker at Arsenal. Rightly hooked at half-time.
Joel Matip – 5: Missing in action for the opener, no pressure on the advancing Pavkov for his second and also wasted a few headed opportunities in the opposition’s penalty box.
Virgil van Dijk – 6: Headed onto the roof of the goal late on, for one of Liverpool’s best chances.
Andrew Robertson – 5: Was not his usual effervescent self. Accuracy on crosses let him down – none of his five attempts found a team-mate in purple.
James Milner – 5: Tried to get Liverpool started, but his passing could not prevent a midfield quagmire.
Georginio Wijnaldum – 5: Left chasing Pavkov’s shadow for the second and his dull display helped kill all momentum as Red Star sat deep.
Adam Lallana – 4: A third start of the season – and just fifth appearance overall – went predictably badly for a player badly off the pace. Should have done better with a diving header.
Mohamed Salah – 6: A lone beacon of attacking quality for the Reds. Artfully teed himself up with a bouncing ball to hit the woodwork and caused chaos soon after with a low shot. Should have done better deep into second-half injury time, but could only shoot low at the goalkeeper. He’s now blanked for the last two games, after scoring in the preceding three.
Daniel Sturridge – 4: With Roberto Firmino on a dry spell, this was Sturridge’s big chance to impress. It did not go well. He ballooned over a presentable shot from close range and did not come out for the second half.
Sadio Mane – 3: The Senegal winger was at his erratic worst. Mishit when the goal was at his mercy in the second half. Abject performance reached its nadir when he dribbled out of play under zero pressure.
3 - Liverpool have lost three consecutive Champions League away games for the first time in their history. Sluggish. pic.twitter.com/LYMZXGZlbf— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 6, 2018
Roberto Firmino – 5: Had zero attempts on goal when given the whole second half. Has netted once for club and country in his 11 run-outs.
Joe Gomez – 5: Lack of flair in possession ensured Liverpool’s right wing was not productive.
Divock Origi – N/A: A first Liverpool appearance since August 2017 produced no positive memories.
Xherdan Shaqiri has not been included in Liverpool’s travelling squad for Tuesday’s Champions League match against Red Star Belgrade, the Premier League club have announced.
Shaqiri caused a storm along with Switzerland team-mate Granit Xhaka when they both celebrated goals against Serbia at the World Cup in Russia by making an Albanian nationalist eagle symbol with their hands.
The pair are both of Kosovan-Albanian descent and the incident, for which they were fined by FIFA, threatened to inflame political tensions. Kosovo is a former Serbian province and Serbia does not recognise its independence.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said on Liverpool’s official website on Monday “It’s a situation where we will go to the fantastic city of Belgrade as a football team to play football.
“We have heard and read the speculation and talk about what kind of reception Shaq would receive and although we have no idea what would happen, we want to go there and be focused 100 per cent on football and not have to think about anything else, that’s all.”
The visitors appeared on course to inflict a first defeat on the Gunners since August when Milner scored the 50th Premier League goal of his career to open the scoring just after the hour-mark.
Arsenal battled back to earn a 1-1 draw as Alexandre Lacazette turned home a superb equaliser just eight minutes from time.
The draw extends Liverpool’s unbeaten start to the league campaign, with Jurgen Klopp’s side having previously drawn at Chelsea and at home to champions Manchester City, while winning 2-1 at Tottenham.
“This draw is different to Chelsea, for example, so there are ups and downs and things that we can learn,” Milner told liverpoolfc.com.
“But you can see we are moving forward as a team and we are defending well together. Again, that’s another learning curve for us – to see those sorts of games out.
“We are very disappointed really, which is a good thing I suppose, playing away at Arsenal.
“To be 1-0 up in the second half and not see it out, we are disappointed; with the chances we created we should have scored a few more goals.
“It’s pleasing we are creating those chances, but we could have been a bit more ruthless and maybe not put as much pressure on ourselves not to concede to win the game.”
Both sides had first-half goals ruled out for offside, Liverpool’s somewhat controversially, while Virgil van Dijk hit a post for the visitors on the stroke of half-time.
Arsenal’s record against their top-six rivals has been poor of late but Unai Emery’s side deserved to take a point from this game.
Having started his tenure as head coach with losses to City and Chelsea, the Spaniard has not tasted defeat since.
While the top sides have made impressive starts to the campaign, defender Rob Holding believes the Gunners have done a good job to keep up with them – the draw against Liverpool leaving them four points behind last season’s beaten Champions League finalists.
“We’ll take the draw and hopefully next time we’ll get three points,” said Holding.
“If everyone’s together, the sky is the limit. We’ll just keep pushing on. It’s a competitive league. Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool have all had flying starts and we’re right on their tails.
“We’ve just got to keep ticking away with the points and you never know what can happen further on in the season.
“There’s a really good team chemistry here and a winning mentality. We’re not losing and we’ll keep fighting until the end. We never give up, we’ll keep going and get what we deserve.”