Milan is a city known for its fashion, its churches and its football among so many other things. On Wednesday night in the Champions League, those three converged in a game that Liverpool came away 2-0 winners. Played in a modern cathedral at the San Siro, Liverpool were often left on their heels for much of the game. Inter looked like a side with a point to prove before some fashionably late goals from Bobby Firmino and that man Mo Salah, However, Liverpool with the guile and grit that is becoming as much a trademark as their attack, continued their undefeated march through the Champions League this season.
The early headline was handing the start to Harvey Elliott in the midfield as it spoke to Klopp’s belief both in the teenager and also that this would be an open game. As the first half wore on, it was clear that chances would come for both sides and Inter rattled the bar early but neither could find that true cutting edge. Elliott, in his debut Champions League start, had a few bright spots but too often was caught in possession by a swarming Inter midfield. There will certainly be better days ahead for him and this hopefully will serve as some much-needed experience both in his ongoing recovery to full fitness and polish for matches surely to come.
The real adjustment came with the substitutions that Klopp brought on. First with Bobby Firmino and then when Henderson, Keita and Diaz entered a few minutes later. A game that was beginning to tilt a bit toward Inter became much more like the ones Liverpool have played of late. Ball retention and winning in midfield has been the platform on which all their attacks are built and while Fabinho was his usual industrious self in the first half, having to cover for two creative partners in Thiago and Elliott at times left him a bit exposed. Bringing on Hendo and Keita balanced things out a bit and allowed for some of the gaps to be closed.
For both Robbo and TAA on the wings, it was a game built less for their attacking and crossing and more for defensive positions, which at times got to be very nervy. Inter enjoyed some great flashing balls from either side though they were well marshalled out by Van Dijk, Konate and Alisson. In the end, the defence bent but did not break which was exactly what was needed to allow for the attackers to flourish.
My love for Bobby Firmino is already well documented and this game is just the latest chapter why. He is in so many ways the weaver at the centre of so much of what Liverpool stitches together. It is forever moaned about that his goal scoring record has dropped off late but there he was to pop in a cheeky header to sneak in the far post for the vital opening goal. Yet even more crucial is watching as he comes deep to retain possession as he remains one of the best defensive strikers in the game, with his ability to constantly pop up and press in the midfield to win back possession and get things going again.
Mo Salah continues to do exactly what he does as well and even when he is not at his best or has been somewhat forgotten at times, still finds ways to impose himself on the game, as the greats do. That goal will no doubt bring relief and joy to a man who has been carrying a lot these last few weeks. The hope now is that he can put the sadness of AFCON firmly behind him and kick on to further glory ahead.
All in all, the result was almost everything Liverpool could have hoped for. Despite not being at their best, they did what all champion level teams do, churn out a result anyway and though it wasn’t necessarily a steal of the win, it was a fashionably late start towards winning the tie. Pep said yesterday how Liverpool could always prove to be a “pain in the ass” to play against and no doubt Inter Milan would agree with that sentiment after tonight.