It was not always easy, but Liverpool secured their place in the Champions League knockout stages for a third successive season in superb style at the Red Bull Arena as quickfire second-half goals from Naby Keïta and Mohamed Salah saw them squeeze past a typically adventurous FC Salzburg.
The hosts began with the a press and a purpose that Europe is increasingly learning to associate with the Austrian champions. They looked to pin the Reds back in the opening moments and did succeed to an extent, but it was Salah who would have the first clear opening.
The visitors got out and released the Egyptian who raced through but the impressive Cican Stanković spread himself well to save.
Then it was Alisson Becker’s turn to show his worth as he made a superb double save — keeping our first Hwang Hee-chan and then Takumi Minamino after excellent combination play between the two.
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The game was taking an end-to-end shape already. Sadio Mané curled an effort just wide a minute later and saw a similar attempt kept out well as the clock ticked onto 20.
Alisson, meanwhile, did well to gather a low attempt that could have left Erling Braut Håland with an open net seconds later.
The two best moments of the half for Jürgen Klopp’s men would both involve Salah and Keïta.
The former should have found the net in the 29th minute when he dragged the Guinean’s lay-off wide, while Keïta was denied superbly by Stanković after being played in by Salah in the dying embers of the half. The Merseysiders were beginning to find regular routes from which they could hurt their hosts, however.
Frustration, with promise, continued to be a theme. Within six minutes of the restart, Salah swept just over from an excellent Mané pass and then couldn’t quite find his way round the goalkeeper when Firmino slipped him through.
There was then a blow as Dejan Lovren was forced off with a knock, but the mood soon picked up.
Mané was released down the left and, with Stanković committed, he stood up a cross. It found Keïta who nodded beyond the defenders on the line and in. Delight ensued. But it got better.
Salah races onto a loose header just a minute later, rounded the goalkeeper and somehow found the net from an almost impossible angle with a sublime right-footed finish.
And from there, in came the Reds more recently-acquired nous. There was wastefulness one the break from Salah and Mané, but they saw it out with superb authority.
Another spring of promise has now been secured in impressive style by the Reds, who topped Group E and secured their place in the Round of 16 of the Champions League.