Anfield, Liverpool – Gary Neville was offering ‘neutral advice’ when he said that Liverpool should kick this season’s Champions League into touch and focus solely on the Premier League. Agree or disagree with Neville’s comments, they are certainly interesting. Last season, Jurgen Klopp rested players in the league as a place in the Champions League final grew nearer and nearer, where they were eventually pitted against Real Madrid. Then, they didn’t have the strength in depth to properly compete on two fronts. Now, however, they do.
It was laid bare at Anfield; up against Paris Saint-Germain – the winners of Ligue 1 in five of the past six seasons, for what that’s worth – who are seemingly forever chasing European glory, Liverpool looked renewed. PSG themselves had rested the two most expensive players on the planet, namely Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, in last weekend’s league match so that they were ready for Tuesday evening; the same difference to Neville’s idea for Liverpool.
What PSG showed was that winning five out of five in the French league counts for very little when the Champions League kicks off, especially at Anfield against an opponent that thrives in occasions like this. To say that PSG lacked fluidity precisely because Thomas Tuchel has tinkered with his starting XI of late would be churlish, but it was obvious that the trio of Neymar, Mbappe and Edinson Cavani still represent a work in progress.
The absence of Marco Veratti was telling in the middle of the Parisian midfield. At times, Liverpool could easily bypass the collective of three PSG players as if they were one. It was, in many ways, where Liverpool won this match and highlights the crux of the argument about squad depth. With Jordan Henderson back in the Liverpool midfield alongside Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner, it was the same midfield that featured so much last season. Despite new signings Naby Keita and Fabinho arriving, Klopp opted for the tried and tested trio.
The variety of options Liverpool have in midfield is striking and been continuously sought. Even without Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, there is a slight concern about keeping everyone content in terms of playing time as the season progresses. Even members of Liverpool’s front three can have an off night. Mohamed Salah’s performance here will not be remembered for very long, but even when one underperforms there are others ready to take over.
Daniel Sturridge started instead of Roberto Firmino, who was still nursing an eye injury. He worked tirelessly and was impressively sharp despite not playing much first-team football recently; his headed goal following Andrew Robertson’s cross was well executed and well deserved. Even Firmino, when he did come on with twenty minutes to play, provided the telling touch of the match and gave Liverpool the victory that went well with the encouraging performance. Showing once again that by having more numbers, there are more chances of an impact.
What Klopp has created is a proper team, functioning in all departments with a special unity and spirit driving it forward. It is not possible to draw too many conclusions from a 90-minute game, but PSG – manufactured to look so good – didn’t show the same levels of substance. Despite the millions spent – and don’t be mislead, Liverpool have spent big too – PSG did not appear as cohesive as a top team should. Like away in Barcelona two seasons ago and against Real Madrid only a few months ago, they looked vulnerable.
The manner in which Liverpool dealt with their ‘tough’ opponents was probably the biggest positive that Klopp can take from the first six matches of the campaign. Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold only bolstered the high thoughts that the Kop have of them by dealing superbly with the little that Mbappe and Neymar threw at them; in attack, they also offered so much. The blossoming duo that is Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez contained a strikeforce that has been scoring goals galore in the league.
Although, there was a sense of déjà vu. With five minutes left to play, it could have gone either way. It was telling that Liverpool did show enough character to win the match for a second time with yet more late drama at Anfield. What is for certain is that Liverpool have strengthened and the combinations available to Klopp are enticing and proving fruitful. Playing with personality is what Liverpool is all about and currently they definitely have plenty of that. If Neville’s advice is taken, then nights like this will be sorely missed.