It wasn’t just the color of the shirt that was bad for Liverpool.
For almost an hour here in Austria, Jurgen Klopp’s team looked like they wanted to be anywhere but back in the Europa League. Unrecognizable in their new all-violet third kit, their unfamiliar surroundings looked as alien as their line-up with the Reds boss saying he was not looking to use the competition to give opportunities to fringe players. Were going to do, proceeded to make 11. Change.
But no matter who is stepping up for Liverpool this season, there is a resilient streak in this current team that allowed them to turn an embarrassing evening against Linz against LASK into a comfortable start to their European campaign.
For the second time in a week, Klopp’s side recovered from behind after a poor first half to win 3–1, their fifth consecutive win which extended their unbeaten run to 17 games in all competitions.
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Ultimately, the difference in quality and strength in Liverpool’s depth – which was eyed by chairman Tom Werner – proved the difference, along with improved fitness levels, as Klopp celebrated becoming the first Reds manager to achieve 50 wins in European competition. Celebrated.
The Liverpool boss admitted before the game that he did not know whether his team was capable of challenging on two key fronts. And while a much tougher task will await than LASK – although few atmospheres will be as lively as a packed Raiffeisen Arena – there is a sense that Liverpool should be able to navigate their group with sensitive use of personnel.
The key to the second half revival was the performance of Darwin Nunez. The Uruguayan was involved in all three goals and took responsibility for the penalty with Mohamed Salah on the bench, which helped Liverpool equalise. Luis Diaz also played a key role, winning the spot kick and scoring the second, while Salah eventually scored the third.
There were more positives to be had regarding Stefan Bajetic, who, after a troubled opening half, benefited from playing at right-back for the first time in six months, while Ben Doak got a full debut as he looks set to face Europe. Became the fourth youngest player for Liverpool to play in the 2016–17 season. Phil Charnock, Raheem Sterling and Michael Owen.
Of course, this was the fourth game out of six this season in which Liverpool won first, echoing the worrying end to the 2021/22 campaign that will continue next term. But a number of factors came into play in the opening 45 minutes which led to a disappointing performance.
Chiefs had an experimental midfield with Harvey Elliott, making his first start of the season, the most experienced member, Wataru Endo making only his second Liverpool start and Ryan Gravenberch making his first start.
Endo struggled, while Gravenberch’s encouraging performance saw fellow signing Summers ended prematurely due to cramp.
The selection of Caoimhin Kelleher in goal in place of Alisson Baker was also interesting, suggesting that the Irishman could be the preferred keeper in the competition this season. Kelleher was largely a spectator as Liverpool had the early possession, but ultimately fell behind with a sucker punch on 14 minutes in a very avoidable manner when well-worked.
From their own corner, the Reds dominated possession and invited LASK to break too easily, with Robert Zulz being allowed to get a shot away which deflected off the back of Virgil van Dijk. And the visitors continued to languish as Sascha Horvath’s set-piece delivery from the right found the unmarked Florian Flecker turning around on the edge of the area to slam home beyond Kelleher.
Liverpool often looked very slow in thought and body, and struggled to get out of first gear. But while Van Dijk needed to make a good block to deny Ivan Ljubicic, the home side were given more promise than real threat.
The problem for the Reds was their inability to make the most of their territorial dominance. Nunez was the biggest threat, and after a header from an Elliott cross, he was denied by an incredible save from LASK goalkeeper Tobias Lawal after Van Dijk headed home a Kostas Tsimikas corner.
But Klopp’s side gradually began to impose themselves and equalized on 56 minutes. After a strong burst into the box, Bzetić passed the ball back from the byline to Diaz, who was cleared by Filip Ziereis in an attempt to shoot. Núñez made no mistake with the resulting penalty.
And they were ahead after seven minutes with a brilliant team move. Nunez was the initiator, heading substitute Joe Gomez’s punt forward to the halfway line and finding Elliott, who immediately sensed Gravenberch running fast down the right. The Dutchman then delivered a low cross which invited Diaz to finish powerfully.
There was still time for Salah to continue his run of goals by running onto Núñez’s pass, eluding a defender and then firing between the legs of Lawal.
Not long after Liverpool had saluted the traveling Kop and disappeared down the tunnel, the LASK players stood in front of their main group of supporters before taking a lap of applause.
This was, in many ways, his final Cup. However, Liverpool hope it is a first step towards the event being held in Dublin next May.