Alternate attack offers Liverpool optimism heading into tricky winter run

AC Milan 1-2 Liverpool: Six out of six for the Reds to continue their magnificent form

Karl Matchett
Tuesday 07 December 2021 22:18
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The Champions League group stage has been effectively over for three weeks for Liverpool, but in typical fashion for this Jurgen Klopp side they went and made a meaningless match from their perspective become one which rewrote history.

A sixth victory in Group B, this one 2-1 over AC Milan, meant they become the first Premier League side to finish with a 100 per cent record - yet for the manager, he’ll be more pleased with the fact it was managed with several changes made and with an eye on the near-term future.

It’s no secret that the Anfield attack has been a massive part of the early-season success, such as it is.

Mohamed Salah added another here - his 20th of the season already - and both he and Sadio Mane played an hour, so even though rotations were on show, it certainly wasn’t a League Cup side on show.

But alongside and behind them, the support cast of chance creators and takers were swapped aplenty - and most produced performances to suggest not only that Klopp can rely on them in sporadic bursts, but that they can play an increasingly important role in the weeks ahead.

December, of course, brings a massive glut of fixtures, with the League Cup quarter-final added to the usual batch of Premier League matches in close proximity. Then, in January, the Africa Cup of Nations will see - as it stands - Salah, Mane and Naby Keita depart.

That could prove enormously problematic to a title charge - not to mention FA Cup rotation plans - but the evidence here, and in several other matches recently, suggests a few key faces can step up in a big way.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s resurgence is quite remarkable; prior to the most recent international break, he played more minutes in 11 days than he did in the entirety of last season.

He has been out of the XI again over the past couple of matches as the team’s injury crisis eased somewhat, but here he was once more tremendously influential on and off the ball. The temptation for Klopp will perhaps be to utilise the No15 in the front three line in a time of need, but it’s no coincidence that Oxlade-Chamberlain has excelled from his favoured role as one of the advanced central midfielders.

That’s where he belongs, and that’s where he overran AC Milan.

Of course, Liverpool’s “attack” is not merely about the front three. Their full-backs are a core component of build-up play and ammunition for the strikers, and the second-choice duo both shone here. Kostas Tsimikas has already won rave reviews this season, but Neco Williams’ revival this season is something to be admired.

He had a tough time after his debut campaign and didn’t play an awful lot last season, but between a sporadic return to the Reds’ line-up and his time in the team with Wales, he looks more sure of himself, positionally more reliable and effective in both full-back and winger areas of the pitch.

Finally, there is of course Divock Origi.

The “legend”, as his manager referred to him after an injury-time weekend winner, popped up with another goal here - his first-ever Champions League goal which didn’t come in a semi-final or final, improbably.

Like Williams, his Anfield career did little more than stall and stutter last year and an exit looked almost certain, but the past two months have seen him play with more energy, pace, exciting dribbling and goal threat than has been the case since his most iconic of moments in a red shirt, against Barcelona and Tottenham.

They may none of them usurp Klopp’s starters, his stars, his go-to generals when all are fit and must-win matches lurk.

The problem for Liverpool is that it has been rare that they all have been fit, and unavailability of different types will only continue over winter.

A record-breaking night for a record-breaking manager, but the biggest smiles in the San Siro surely came courtesy of his second-string stars.

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