It wasn’t quite Istanbul 2005, but this particular Liverpool comeback against AC Milan felt quite special. Goals from Mohamed Salah and captain Jordan Henderson turned around a 2-1 half-time deficit as the Reds put in a truly dominant display to get their Champions League campaign underway with a thrilling 3-2 win.
Perhaps it helped that AC Milan had never played at Anfield before, and the Liverpool home fans gave them quite the welcome as Champions League nights returned to the famous old stadium. Of course, they shared not one but two epic finals in the space of three years in the mid-2000s, but this one felt just as special, with Milan having not competed on this stage for seven years.
Jurgen Klopp’s decision to start Joe Gomez and Joel Matip at the heart of his defence, with Divock Origi up front certainly raised a few eyebrows, but given Liverpool’s dominance in the opening half an hour, his decisions seemed justified.
The opening goal came after a one-two between Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mo Salah saw the right-back drive into the box and fire past the goalkeeper with the help of a deflection. Unfortunately for the England man, his first goal in the Champions League was taken away from him, and awarded to the unfortunate Fikayo Tomori instead.
Mo Salah failed to convert from the spot as Liverpool were awarded a fortunate spot kick, and then something completely inexplicable happened. From nowhere, Milan scored twice. In that chaotic three minute period at the end of the first half, Klopp must have wished he had Virgil van Dijk on the pitch, rather than watching on from the bench. First Ante Rebic put the finishing touch to one of Milan’s only forays into Liverpool’s half before former Manchester City man Brahim Diaz was left to tap home from a yard out.
For all of the creativity that Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson provided throughout the match, when Milan broke during this two minute period, Gomez and Matip were left completely exposed. Somehow the Italian side went in at the break 2-1 up, even though this was one of the most dominant displays we have seen in Europe in recent years.
The dominance continued after the break and yielded the goals that the Reds desired and deserved. Origi was replaced by Sadio Mane, but it was Salah who made up for his penalty miss by latching onto a lofted through ball and poking the ball past Mike Maignan, who had denied him from 12 yards.
Then it was left to the Liverpool captain to step up and deliver. He’s been so instrumental in their rise over the last few years, but this goal was Steven Gerrard-esque. As the ball dropped to him on the edge of the area he struck the sweetest half-volley that fizzed along the floor and crashed into the back of the net.
Despite a late resurgence from Milan, that handed the Reds all three points and means that Milan have now only won one of their past 14 games against English opponents in European competition.
Van Dijk won’t have enjoyed watching that one from the bench, and it does show how crucial he is to this side - but Liverpool’s attack got the job done. It wasn’t Istanbul, but it was bloomin’ brilliant.