Liverpool 2-0 FC Midtjylland: Reds well on their way in Champions League group stage despite laboured performance

JAMES NOBLE reports on a night where Liverpool went top of their Champions League group with a slightly laboured 2-0 win over FC Midtjylland.

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Diogo Jota’s close-range 55th-minute strike and Mohamed Salah’s injury-time penalty helped Jürgen Klopp’s slightly under-par side to a hard-fought win over Brian Priske’s impressive Danish champions.

Fabinho’s 30th-minute substitution with an apparent hamstring injury represented a downside — and another challenge in central-defence — but young Rhys Williams came on and put in an impressively confident display.

Liverpool reverted back to their 4-3-3 shape — as Xherdan Shaqiri joined Jordan Henderson and James Milner in midfield — and made four changes from Saturday’s 2-1 Premier League win over Sheffield United.

Georginio Wijnaldum, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Salah each started on the bench as Milner, Takumi Minamino, Shaqiri and Divock Origi came in. Midtjylland made five of their own from their dramatic 3-2 Superligaen comeback win at Brondby on the same evening.

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That saw goalkeeper Jesper Hansen — who was injured in that game — replaced by Mikkel Andersen, while Dion Cools, Evander, Bozhidar Kraev and Mikael Anderson dropped out for Joel Andersson, Jens Cajuste, Pione Sisto and Awer Mabil outfield.

Within three minutes, they got themselves in.

Anders Dreyer’s out-to-in run from the right flank was superbly found by Alexander Scholz’s flighted ball in-behind but Alisson Becker stood up familiarly well and kept the 22-year-old’s left-footed effort out well with his legs.

The Danish champions looked crisp, sharp and assured. Not like a side who’d lost 4-0 at home in the first group game. But just like a side who’d come from two goals down on Saturday. Their hosts were also finding some of their rhythm, though.

Not necessarily their best one, but that tempo was heightening. In the 14th minute, Trent Alexander-Arnold was given an angle to cross down the right and he did. With typical accuracy. Takumi Minamino was there to meet it at the near-post but he couldn’t quite angle his left-foot to do so.


The Japanese international would have been given a clearer chance by Alexander-Arnold nine minutes later but the 22-year-old’s attempted square pass, after a superb jinking run into the box, was well-intercepted.

Then, just before the half-hour mark, came the latest centre-back-based hurdle for Klopp and co. While sprinting, Fabinho felt what looked to be his right hamstring and, with that, 19-year-old Williams got his latest chance (a significantly longer one than the stoppage-time stint in Amsterdam last Wednesday).

He settled in alongside Joe Gomez well enough, but there remained relatively little Liverpool headway aside. There were, though, hints of promise in positions and patterns.

Xherdan Shaqiri got between the lines in the 40th minute and slipped James Milner cleverly into the box. But visiting skipper Erik Sviatchenko tracked the run well to make a crucial block though and deny the hosts a first shot on-target of the evening.

In the first minute of stoppage-time, Alexander-Arnold again found Minamino. This time with a superbly directed, drilled cross from that right flank that the 25-year-old flicked wide of the left-hand post with his head. Half-time saw Henderson make way for Wijnaldum and Diogo Jota switch from the right-flank to a more left-sided one, which soon became central with the introduction of Mané and Salah in the 60th minute.

First, though, he was stationed in the middle right on time to slot home the opener at the end of a flowing — and perhaps overdue — 55th-minute Liverpool move. Alexander-Arnold was found on the right by Wijnaldum before he chopped inside, found Shaqiri and had the ball cleverly reversed into the path of his dart into the box by the Swiss international.

Then he chose right, by squaring it left. With goalkeeper Andersen advancing towards the full-back, that gave Jota an open goal to slot the ball into with his right-foot.

The 10,000th goal in the club’s history was suitably silky.

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Midtjylland kept themselves in the game well and, simultaneously, the Merseysiders managed it with relative — if not complete — comfort.

There was a relatively close escape when substitute Evander swivelled and shot just wide of the bottom-left corner in the box on 76 minutes. Firmino should have made it 2-0 in the 88th minute when he sidefooted Alexander-Arnold’s clever pull-back over.

Then there was a very close escape when Dreyer glided brilliantly past Gomez in the box in the 89th and lifted a left-footed finish into the sidenetting. Perhaps that added to Salah’s determination to get on the scoresheet.

He raced through in the second minute of stoppage time to win the penalty, as Paulinho tripped him, and smashed it emphatically into the bottom-right corner in the third. Fine margins. But big moments. And ones that ensured Klopp’s men made it six points out of six and went top, thanks to Atalanta and Ajax drawing 2-2.

Next up is a trip to Bergamo to play the Italian adventurers, Atalanta.

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