Liverpool picked up a first Champions League group stage away win in two years as they swatted aside Genk 4-1.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored two brilliant goals, the second of which in the 57th minutes was an audacious outside-of-the-boot strike, to mark his first taste of Champions League football since April 2018.
Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah took turns to set each other up for Liverpool’s third and fourth goals, the Egyptian providing for his forward counterpart’s delightfully-dinked finish in the 77th minute.
Salah then displayed all the fine centre-forward traits for his goal 10 minutes later, holding up the ball from Mane’s pass before producing two splendid touches, the first to beat two Genk defenders, the second to slide the ball into the bottom corner.
Stephen Odey grabbed a late consolation following defensive disarray from the visitors, however, Oxlade-Chamberlain inevitably owns the headlines and he’s the focus of our opening talking point from the Luminus Arena.
OX OUTSIDE THE BOX
Injury has blighted Oxlade-Chamberlain’s Liverpool career, but it certainly doesn’t define it.
No, it’s his propensity to score absolute bangers from outside the box which does so far.
The 26-year-old on two separate occasions hammered goals from range against Manchester City before a devastating knee injury against Roma in the 2017/18 Champions League campaign kept him on the sidelines for much of last season.
It seems apt that he re-announces himself in this competition with two beauties. The first was something we’ve seen from him before, a low drive angled from the right into the bottom left corner after he popped up in between the lines just two minutes into the clash.
His second was the type of goal he’ll replay in his mind when heads hit the pillow tonight, as the ball curved, dipped and kissed the underside of the bar after a delicate clip of his outer boot.
There’s a reason why Oxlade-Chamberlain insisted upon signing for Liverpool that he’s best utilised in central positions as opposed to out wide.
It’s not just the bulldozing nature of his smashing runs through the middle, or even his ability to score from outside the box, that make him perfect for centre-midfield.
He runs as fast in defensive retreat as he does going forward and his penetrative passing continues to improve, one such example saw him thread a delicious pass into the box for Salah in the first half.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is exactly what Jurgen Klopp needs right now as he looks to mount another winning run, and he picked the perfect time to and the perfect spots to showcase that.
PROGRESSION FOR KEITA AND THE MIDFIELD
Naby Keita’s cameo appearance against Manchester United was like Matthew McConaughey in Wolf of Wall Street – he didn’t need much screen time to steal the show.
In 13 minutes Keita jump-started Liverpool’s lifeless midfield with Klopp left contemplating whether he should have introduced him earlier on Sunday.
That thought process naturally meant Keita was always likely to start in Genk, but it’s one thing shaking things up off the bench, and another dominating from the outset.
Perhaps we should have known what was to come on Wednesday, though, when his first touch, no more than five seconds into the game, was a nonchalant pass of his back to Andrew Robertson.
From then on he was flawless. His 93.2 passing accuracy was only marginally bettered by Virgil van Dijk from the starting XI, and that was from 118 attempted – a game-high.
He dribbled the most (three), was the most-fouled man in Red (two), touched the ball the most (138) and produced a Liverpool joint-high of three tackles.
This is the Keita that convinced Klopp to splurge nearly £60 million and the version Liverpool fans expected to see after he dominated the Bundesliga for RB Leipzig.
Aside from his complete ability, Keita offers something few in this Liverpool side does, and it was displayed in the lead up to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s sensational second.
The Guinea international lifted a finessed pass into a boxed Roberto Firmino and the Brazilian held the ball up and laid it off to Oxlade-Chamberlain.
When watching games, we often play out passes in our head of how we think scenarios will play out, but that was a pass few will have pictured. It wasn’t in isolation either, Keita plays passes the opposition find hard to read, whether it be the off-beat timing of his release, or just the angle he can spot and variety to deliver.
Keita is a must-not-drop for Klopp on the basis of his last two performances.
STILL TIME FOR A LOVREN ERROR
So most of Liverpool’s headline acts sashayed down the Genk runway with poise and grace.
Most, not all, because it was left to Dejan Lovren to collapse in a heap and show exactly why he is considered the fourth-choice centre-back at the club.
Genk’s consolation goal arrived after the Croatian – albeit awkwardly dragged out of his central position and onto the right wing – failed to make an assertive action with Dieumerci Ndongala at his back, instead bizarrely trying to shepherd the ball for a thow-in instead of booting it out. Ianis Hagi ran in and robbed him of possession, played it back inside to Ndongala who then squared for Odey to tap in.
We’ve these types of brain-dead errors before from him, and if anything has been learned about Lovren, it’s that they will happen again and again.
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