Scoring three goals or more in a European tie at home used to be a relatively rare treat, saved for the occasions when your team really cut loose. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool team have done it seven times in their last nine Champion League games at Anfield.
Since last season began with a 4-2 defeat of the German team Hoffenheim, Liverpool’s goal tally at home in Europe reads 4, 3, 3, 7, 0, 3, 5, 3, 4. To save anybody adding, the sequence up it tallies 31.
Occasionally the opposition has been poor, like it was here. UEFA’s blue riband competition is not always as brimming with quality as it should be or indeed used to be. Nevertheless, this Liverpool team’s hunger for goals is remarkable. When they get their blood up, they are like a boxer driven forwards by the scent of vulnerability. Punch, punch, punch, punch.
Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino scores his side’s first goal of the game against Red Star Belgrade at Anfield on Wednesday night
Mohamed Salah is surrounded by his Liverpool team-mates to celebrate with him after he scored at the end of the first half
Salah scored his second and Liverpool’s third from the penalty spot after Mane was fouled in the area
Liverpool’s Sadio Mane scored his side’s fourth goal of the game in the 80th minute of the Group C fixture at Anfield
LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Alisson 6; Alexander-Arnold 6, Gomez 6, Van Dijk 6, Robertson 6.5 (Moreno 82min); Shaqiri 8 (Lallana 68, 6), Fabinho 6, Wijnaldum 6.5; Salah 7.5 (Sturridge 73, 6), Firminho 7.5, Mane 7.5.
Subs not used: Mignolet, Lovren, Milner, Origi.
Scorers: Firmino 20, Salah 45, 51 (pen), Mane 80.
Manager: Jurgen Klopp 7.
RED STAR BELGRADE (4-2-3-1): Borjan 7; Stojkovic 6, Babic 5.5, Degenek 6, Gobelijic 5.5; Krtsicic 6, Jovicic 5 (Causic 75, 6); Srnic 5, Ebecilio 6 (Jovancic 65, 6), Ben Nabouhane 6 (Simic 81); Boakye 5.
Subs not used: Popovic, Pavkov, Stojiljkovic, Savic.
Booked: Stojkovic, Jovicic, Krtsicic, Jovancic, Gobelijic.
Manager: Vladan Milojevic 6.
Referee: Daniel Siebert (G) 5.5.
Here it was Roberto Firmino, Mo Salah and Sadio Mane who delivered the blows and that was fitting because each of Liverpool’s front three exhibited improved form.
If Klopp picked the three of them with a view to improving confidence then it will have worked. Mane could even afford to miss a late penalty and slash another shot in to the side netting when played clear in the final minute.
Firmino actually scored the first but it was Salah’s one-two combination that arrived either side of half-time – the second a penalty – that ensured his team could spend the rest of the evening looking forward to Saturday’s Premier League game here against Cardiff.
Certainly, Liverpool could do with a little more of this against opposition that will be more feisty. Since cutting loose with four against West Ham on day one, Klopp’s team have been a little cowed by their own exalted standards.
Here we sensed the tide turn a little when Firmino converted Andy Robertson’s pass in the 20th minute. It was a lovely goal, one typical of the kind of football Liverpool can play. It came at a convenient time, too, as Liverpool had been a little slow up until that point.
Xherdan Shaqiri started the move and the little Swiss midfielder had a good game. Signed from Stoke in the summer, Shaqiri has taken time to adjust to the rhythms of his new team’s football but there is no doubting his talent and he was arguably Liverpool’s best player until he was taken off with the game won.
The pass he played inside the Red Star full-back to release the galloping Robertson was perfect and had to be.
The young Scot reached it just in time and his pull-back was controlled with his right foot by Firmino and driven in to the net with his left. The ball took a slight deflection en route but probably would have gone in anyway.
That goal did not win the game – any team, even one as limited as Red Star, can score one goal – but it changed the mood and it infused Liverpool with a little belief. With that came the courage to play on instinct and with that came some incisive, flowing, intelligent football. On the back of that came opportunities and then goals.
Firmino celebrates with Liverpool team-mate Andrew Robertson after putting the Reds ahead in the first half of the match
Brazilian forward Firmino celebrates after breaking the deadlock in the Champions League tie in the 20th minute
Firmino fires a left-footed shot towards goal, which beat Red Star Belgrade goalkeeper Borjan via a deflection
Salah scored his first just before half-time and that was important. Robertson had lashed a good chance wide moments earlier with a real defender’s effort but when Georginio Wijnaldum and Shaqiri eased Salah clear down the right, he drilled his finish in at the near post. It was a decisive strike but the deftness of Shaqiri’s pass of his right instep was absolutely magnificent.
Salah’s next goal was a little fortunate. Liverpool had begun the second period at a gallop, determined to enjoy themselves now that their mojo was back. Their passing was intricate and slick and they were starting to try things that other teams may not.
Still, the penalty awarded them was soft. Mane was perhaps modestly impeded by El Fardou Ben Nabouhane as he tried to go by him in the 50th minute but certainly not enough to send him to ground.
Nevertheless the Red Star player was penalised for an arm across the top of the chest – Mane went down holding his face – and Salah drove the penalty down the middle after seeing the goalkeeper commit himself far too easily.
Salah has scored the winner at Huddersfield at the weekend but still hadn’t looked altogether himself. This was much more like it and he would in all likelihood have scored a hat-trick had he still been on the field when Liverpool won another penalty with 14 minutes left, this time after a handball.
As it was, Salah’s career Liverpool goal tally remained at 50 as he sat among the substitutes and watched Mane’s penalty touched up on to the crossbar by goalkeeper Milan Borjan diving to his right.
Borjan had a good night overall but was to be beaten one more time. This time the ball was worked right to left across the penalty area by Liverpool and Mane poked the ball in at the far post.
Klopp will have relished the better form of key individuals and will have welcomed another clean sheet too. That is seven for the season and that defensive form may be important ahead of a visit to Arsenal a week on Saturday.
Salah added Liverpool’s second goal of the game against Red Star Belgrade in the 45th minute of the Group C fixture
Salah doubled Liverpool’s lead before half-time, firing a right-footed shot past Red Start Belgrade goalkeeper Borjan
Red Star Belgrade’s Stojkovic and Milos Degenek remonstrate with referee Daniel Siebert after hosts were awarded spot-kick
Red Star Belgrade’s Filip Stojkovic fouls Liverpool’s Mane to give away a penalty in the second half of the match at Anfield
Liverpool’s Mane saw his spot-kick in the second half saved by Red Star Belgrade goalkeeper Milan Borjan on Wednesday
Red Star Belgrade’s Marko Gobeljic has a shot on goal during the first half of the Champions League Group C encounter
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp issues instructions from the touchline in the first half as his side headed into break 2-0 up
Perhaps what summed up the way of the modern Liverpool was the chance created by substitute Daniel Sturridge and Firmino for Mane in the last moment. Mane could not convert but the way Liverpool drove the ball relentlessly from front to back when there was nothing more to prove or gain was telling. Hunger like that simply cannot be taught.
Liverpool had begun the second period at a gallop, determined to enjoy themselves now that their mojo was back. Their passing was intricate and slick and they were starting to try things that other teams probably would not.
Still, the penalty awarded them was soft. Mane was perhaps modestly impeded by El Fardou Ben Nabouhane as he tried to go by him in the area but not enough to send him to ground.
Nevertheless the Red Star player was penalised for an arm across the top of the chest — Mane went down holding his face — and Salah drove the penalty down the middle after seeing the goalkeeper commit himself far too easily.
Mane wrapped up the win 10 minutes from time after being played in by Daniel Sturridge to make up for missing a penalty minutes earlier.
Red Star Belgrade defender Filip Stojkovic vies with Liverpool forward Mane at Anfield on Wednesday evening
Firmino has his shirt pulled by Red Star Belgrade’s Branko Jovicic during the Group C clash at Anfield on Wednesday evening
Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker had a quiet night at Anfield as Klopp’s side secured a comfortable victory at home
Liverpool midfielder Fabinho, who started the game on Wednesday night, challenges Red Star Belgrade’s Branko Jovicic