Liverpool made a significant step in the pursuit of securing a spot in the Champions League knock-out stages for a third successive season, beating Genk 2-1 at Anfield.
Ahead of hosting rivals Manchester City this weekend, Jurgen Klopp made six changes to the side that recovered late at Villa Park. The German made two changes in defence with Dejan Lovren and Andrew Robertson dropped to the bench in favour of Joe Gomez and James Milner respectively. While Fabinho returned in midfield having sat out at Villa, replacing Jordan Henderson. Both Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino started on the sidelines.
The Reds started the game with little urgency, moving the ball rather slowly as they dominated possession early on, but despite a laboured start Jürgen Klopp’s side found themselves ahead a third of the way into the first half.
Georginio Wijnaldum became the beneficiary of some good fortune in the 14th minute, capitalising as the Genk defence failed to react. Milner got in behind the full-back, delivering a cross that deflected into the path of Wijnaldum. The Dutchman rifled his shot into the roof of the net for his second goal of the campaign.
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Having started the game well, creating a chance for Naby Keïta on the left, Oxlade-Chamberlain continued to threaten in the first half. He found himself on the right-hand side of the box and drifted inside just after the half hour mark. The Englishman beat his man twice before eventually seeing a shot blocked.
Klopp was provided an injury scare in the first period as Oxlade-Chamberlain looked to have hurt his ankle in a collision with Genk’s Sander Berge. After initially struggling, he continued.
The Reds maintained a comfortable start, with Mohamed Salah firing a shot wide of the keeper looking to get on the scoresheet. Moments later Virgil van Dijk missed time a shot having found himself free in the box.
Five minutes before half time Reds switched off allowing the ball to be floated in from the right. Trent Alexander-Arnold was able to get across his man to prevent an unlikely equaliser. However, moments later from the corner the home crowd were left stunned when Mbwana Samatta headed in at the near post.
The closing stages of the opening period proved quite even. Genk saw an effort whistle past the post, before Divock Origi wasted a big chance, dragging his strike way past the post against his former club.
Coming out in the second half, the Reds upped the tempo slightly in search of another goal. Origi forced an early save from Gaëtan Couke, all be it rather comfortable. Just minutes on though, the hosts regained their grip on the game. Oxlade-Chamberlain drilled home from the edge of the box into the bottom corner, adding to his brace in the previous meeting between the sides.
It appeared to give Klopp’s men confidence moving forward. Ten minutes into the second half the home side started to ask their opponents numerous questions. Some quick, incisive play almost found Salah in what was a scintillating move. The Egyptian continued to threaten having adopted a more central role.
A free kick for the away side on the hour mark almost provided controversy as captain Sébastien Dewaest met a free header, but only found Alisson’s gloves. Had the centre-back scored it is likely it would have been chalked out for off-side.
Following a rare sight of goal for the Belgians, Liverpool increased the pressure in an attempt to establish a firmer hold on the match. Alexander-Arnold picked up a loose ball just outside the area, as Genk’s defence failed to clear. The 21-year-old’s effort sailed over the bar.
With just over 15 minutes to go, Klopp introduced regulars Sadio Mané and Andy Robertson in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain, alongside Keïta who recently returned from injury.
Some poor marking from Liverpool almost proved costly in the 80th minute of the game. A smart lofted ball into Bryan Heynen the freedom of the penalty area, but the youngster was denied by an easy Alisson stop.
Moving on from another successful European night at Anfield all attention will now turn to visit of Pep Guardiola’s City, in a potentially title-deciding fixture so early in the season.