Critics of Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool side are becoming ever rarer given the sumptuous brand of football the Anfield giants play. But those who still remain were pointing fingers ahead of last night’s Champions League clash in Austria against Red Bull Salzburg. The reason? Well, quite simple really. The Reds, despite all their magnificence and power that has propelled them to the top of the Premier League, had a very real chance of being knocked out of the prestigious competition. Yes, the very competition they won with such a flourish last season by beating the hapless Tottenham Hotspur in the final in Madrid.
But fear not those who admire all about the Kop kings. Klopp worked his magic on his stars and before you knew it the Merseysiders had left town with a superb 2-0 win and with it managed to finish top of Group E — come on, with just a single point needed, qualification was never in doubt! Was it? So, how did Klopp go about masterminding such a victory? Relatively easily, it has to be said. He picked good players. Scrub that, he picked EXCELLENT players. World-beaters at that!
And in so doing he steered the visitors to the last 16 –the business-end of the competition in other words. Naby Keita, once dubbed the forgotten man of Anfield given the paucity of game time afforded to the attacking midfielder, was on the scoresheet once again — remember he scored in the 3-0 win at AFC Bourmemouth at the weekend — when he headed in a cross from Sadio Mane. Then Mo Salah — who else? — sealed the win just two minutes later with an audacious right-footed shot from an impossibly acute angle.
Speaking to the assembled members of the press after the triumph, Klopp was full of praise for the hosts and the way in which they go about their business on the field of play. Remember, the Austrians delivered a decent display in the reverse fixture at Anfield that ended with Liverpool coming away with a hard-fought 4-3 win. Klopp said that he “couldn’t have more respect for what Salzburg is doing. I know how people see it — you think being the best team in Austria is ‘okay’. But then you see how good they are, how good they were in the first game, how good they were against Napoli and Genk and then you could come here as the current Champions League winner and then you misunderstand that situation.
“And I love that my team is so smart that they listen and they put in a shift in like that. Salzburg was unbelievably strong, especially in the first half, but we as well were ready for that fight.”
They certainly were, Jurgen!