Liverpool defeated N.k Maribor by three-goals -to-nothing in their reverse fixture of this season’s UEFA Champions League competition at Anfield.
Maribor’s coach, Ivan Kruzliak, made a radical departure from the tactics he employed against Liverpool in the first leg of their encounter. And the reason for the shift in his approach to this game can be traced to his assessment of Liverpool in the built-up to their first encounter
It is worth remembering that in the first leg of Maribor’s game against Liverpool, their coach declared in the pre-match conference that his side was going to play an attacking football against the Reds, obviously emboldened then by Liverpool’s run-off-the-mill performances in their domestic and European exertions – their profligacy in front of the goalpost and the frailty of their back line. Attack – Maribor attacked on that fateful day and at the end of the encounter their coach learned to his cost why most teams make recourse to defensive tactics when they face the frightening weaponry of attacking talents that man Liverpool front line.
And just as the saying goes :” That a child that has been terribly burnt by fire harbors a lasting fear for ashes thereafter. So did Maribor’s coach, still smarting from the humiliating home defeat to the Reds, set up his team to play a defensive tactics against Liverpool today , a move that made today’s score-line a little more respectable than the one of the first game.
With Maribor adopting a highly defensive tactic , Liverpool found it utterly difficult to penetrate their well-organized defensive formation in the first half. The Reds had majority of the ball possession, and they took the game to their opponent’s half of the pitch as tried to find a way of breaching Maribor’s defense line.
The Reds took to crossing the ball into eighteen yard box of their opponent as it became increasingly difficult for them to breach Maribor’s defensive structure in the first half , however the manifest lack of tall-statured players amongst Liverpool’s attackers prevented these crosses from being headed into the net.
Maribor’s concentration on defensive play was so much in the first half that Loris Karius touched the ball less than four times.
Liverpool had one clear chance to score in the first half of the match, and this opportunity came when Roberto Firmino’s powerful header was pushed out of the goalpost by goalkeeper, Jasmin Handanovic.
Liverpool resumed the second half and redoubled their pressure on Maribor. And three minutes after the commencement of the second half, Mohammed Salah scored the first goal of the match, stabbing a Trent Alexander-Arnord’s cross inside the net from the eighteen yard box.
Liverpool encouraged by Salah’s goal poured forward and launched an unrelenting attacking football against Maribor.
Firmino’s attempt to dribble into the Maribor’s six yard box from the by-line was halted by Aleksanser Rajcevic, who cynically pulled him to the ground – an infraction for which a penalty was awarded to Liverpool. And James Milner kick from the penalty spot was saved by Handanovic.
Maribor became a little adventurous after conceding the first goal and they started to play a bit of attacking football : knowing that they had nothing to lose at that point. And in one of such attacking plays, Aleksanser Rajcevic drew a brilliant save from Karius with his powerful low shot.
Handanovich made another save with his out-stretched foot when Firmino’s shot at his goalpost from the eighteen yard box.
Salah could have doubled his side’s lead had he shown greater precision when Alberto Moreno’s cross located him inside the opponent’s goal-mouth, but the Egyptian winger headed the ball over the crossbar.
The Reds search for a second goal paid off when a brilliant one-two combination play between Emre Can and James Milner, freed Can to shot at the opponent’s goalpost, and he beat Handanovich with his curling low strike.
Daniel Sturridge, who came from the bench to replace Mohammed Salah, capped off Liverpool’s dominant performance by scoring from the edge of the six yard box after Maribor’s defenders failed to clear a Moreno’s cross that landed in front of the unmarked Reds’ striker. It was Sturridge’s only Champion league goal for the past seven year – the last time being the one he scored when he was playing for Chelsea.
Liverpool now top Group E with eight points from four matches.