Jurgen Klopp hoped these kind of nights were in the past.
Anfield’s 100th European Cup game had the Liverpool boss tearing his hair out. No wonder they say management is bad for your health.
The Reds got the job done in the end, but only after the biggest of Champions League frights.
Klopp’s side led 3-0 after just 36 minutes against Salzburg, but his “mentality giants” turned to mush for a half an hour afterwards. Fifteen minutes into the second half, the Austrian champions had levelled at 3-3.
At that point, Anfield was stunned, Liverpool unable to cope with Salzburg’s effervescence and self-belief, while their own confidence deserted them in alarming fashion.
For a spell, fans were reminded of the team they’d forgotten; you know, the one with the soft centre and the glass jaw, the one that couldn’t be trusted to hold on to any kind of advantage?
Were they tired? Complacent, maybe? Had they taken their foot off the gas, or underestimated a Salzburg side that has been scoring goals for fun this season.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t pretty.
Thankfully for Kopites, even the bad days seem to end in victory nowadays, and thanks to Mohamed Salah, a potential crisis was averted here.
The Egyptian had put Liverpool into cruise control at 3-0, and he stepped up when they needed him at 3-3, smashing home Roberto Firmino’s flicked header in front of the Kop to get his side out of jail. His sixth goal of the campaign was met with relief as much as anything.
That’s 12 goals in 13 Champions League appearances at Anfield for Salah. Since he arrived in 2017, only Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski have scored more in all competitions across Europe’s top five leagues. Salah keeps special company these days.
Certainly, Klopp needed him on a night when Liverpool’s defensive solidity went AWOL.
Salzburg deserve credit – Jesse March’s side are young and fearless, and few sides will commit as many men to attack on this ground this season – but it will worry Klopp how easily his side collapsed from 3-0.
Even Virgil van Dijk, the Lord of the Manor, looked flustered. The Dutchman was turned inside out for Salzburg’s first goal, finished expertly by Hee-Chan Hwang, and admitted afterwards that he could perform “a lot better.”
Beside Van Dijk, Joe Gomez looked rusty as Joel Matip’s replacement. The England international was Van Dijk’s preferred partner this time last year, but he will not be usurping Matip any time soon on this showing. Jamie Vardy will be licking his lips ahead of Leicester’s visit on Saturday.
Gomez and Van Dijk would argue that they were left exposed by their midfield, with neither Gini Wijnaldum nor Jordan Henderson covering themselves in glory on the night, either. Fabinho, at times, was left fighting the tide alone. The Brazilian was good, but he can’t do everything.
It was a shame, because for most of the first half Liverpool were outstanding. They played with verve and a healthy arrogance, scored three wonderful goals and looked every inch the champions of Europe. Anfield purred at their excellence.
Sadio Mane set them on their way in the ninth minute, playing a gorgeous one-two with Firmino to slide home against his former club.
Then Andy Robertson got in on the act, netting only his second goal for the club. Trent Alexander-Arnold provided the assist, one full-back to another. Assistant manager Pep Lijnders says that is “the dream” for Liverpool; it was realised here.
Salah made it three soon after, gobbling up a rebound after Firmino had been denied. At that point, you’d have got long odds on it being a nervy last half-hour.
But Hwang got Salzburg back into it before half-time, making it 3-1 in style. For a second, the Anfield scoreboard showed 3-3 – maybe they knew something we didn’t?