The Kop reminded Milan of Istanbul before kick-off with a banner that read: “25/05/05 – There are places I remember.” Their torment did not cease there. Liverpool rekindled 16-year-old memories on the pitch too with three goals, another comeback and another rollercoaster Champions League win.
There were lofty expectations for Group B from the moment a heavyweight draw was made. A high-octane, high quality opener at Anfield exceeded them. Milan initially received a brutal lesson in how elite European football has developed in the seven years since they were last in the Champions League as Jürgen Klopp’s side threatened to overwhelm Stefano Pioli’s team.
Once the visitors adapted, however, they delivered a clinical lesson of their own by capitalising on sloppy Liverpool defending to score twice in three dramatic minutes at the end of the first half.
As in the 2005 final, Liverpool headed for half-time shellshocked, trailing and in need of a rethink. Again they found the answers.
Jordan Henderson sealed a merited and important win with a fine half volley, the captain’s first Champions League goal for 2,485 days, and ultimately the greater European experience in the Liverpool ranks told. Mohamed Salah missed a penalty shortly after Fikayo Tomori’s unfortunate own goal but his influence and menace never waned.
Salah went on to mark his 100th appearance at Anfield with his 72nd goal on home soil and from that moment on, despite Milan’s prevailing threat and growing confidence, the hosts were firmly back in control of an absorbing contest. Anfield was served a treat. The respective managers enjoyed it too. Klopp and Pioli were engaged in a lengthy conversation long after the final whistle, along with the Milan legend Paolo Maldini, and shared a warm embrace before starting their post-match media duties.
Liverpool flew into Milan from Salah’s kick-off, feeding off the Anfield atmosphere that was sorely missed during last season’s forgettable Champions League campaign behind closed doors. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson caused all manner of problems with trademark runs from full-back and met surprisingly little resistance from the visitors’ compact defence. Salah was another prominent thorn in Milan’s side. One ingredient in Liverpool’s commanding start was less predictable, however. It was the lesser-spotted Divock Origi.
Klopp had to rotate at some point and having helped keep three clean sheets in four matches on his return from injury Virgil van Dijk was rested, along with Sadio Mané. Even so, there were eyebrows raised at the inclusion of Origi, who may have etched his name into Liverpool folklore in the Champions League but had been nowhere near featuring for Klopp’s team in the early weeks of the season. Or in the final months of last season for that matter. The Belgium striker made an encouraging return before exiting in the second half with cramp.
Alexander-Arnold instigated the breakthrough when exchanging passes with Salah and surging into the Milan area. The former Chelsea defender Tomori flew in to intercept Alexander-Arnold’s attempted delivery across the face of goal only to deflect the effort up and over his already committed goalkeeper.
Liverpool were presented with a glorious opportunity to double their advantage when Robertson’s volley struck the raised arm of Ismaël Bennacer inside the area. The Polish referee immediately pointed to the spot, booked the impressive Milan midfielder and ignored the angry protests that followed. Salah drove his penalty down the centre of the goal, too close to Mike Maignan who pushed the effort away and also foiled Diogo Jota from the follow-up.