FC Midtjylland were at Anfield, contesting a Champions League game in the realisation of what chairman Rasmus Ankersen simply called “a dream.”
But this wasn’t one of those famous continental nights here where emotion takes control, anything seems possible and you are left in awe. A dire affair was decorated by a Diogo Jota winner on 55 minutes, with Mohamed Salah adding a penalty at the death in a match the Danish champions may hold dear but no-one else will care to remember.
Too much football in a short space of time, overloading players and with no backdrop or soundtrack of supporters was always going to lead to encounters like this. By the half-hour mark, there had just been two shots in total in the game.
The biggest – and only – talking point was Fabinho pulling up with what looked like a hamstring issue, leaving the English champions with Joe Gomez as their sole senior centre-back.
With no Virgil van Dijk and no Joel Matip, 19-year-old Rhys Williams was introduced to the rearguard. His only other experience of Champions League football was coming on to replace James Milner on 90 minutes in the 1-0 victory over Ajax last week. In truth, this was no massive occasion for a teenager to manoeuvre under a mountain of pressure.
These European nights under the lights have a way of highlighting just how empty, sterile and stale football is in its Covid-affected state, without fans or magic or the feeling that something special is taking place. There wasn’t much for Williams to do for the rest of the first half, with Midtjylland managing more yellow cards than they did shots of any kind.
The greatest threat for Liverpool was the challenges flying in from the visitors and the sight of Jordan Henderson making way for Gini Wijnaldum at the start of the second half will sparked further concern. Jens Cajuste had clattered into the Reds captain on 32 minutes, collecting a caution for his aggressive challenge and incensing Jurgen Klopp on the sidelines.
Fears of an injury to Henderson were played down by Liverpool, with the reason for the substitution labelled a case of sharing the minutes during a stacked schedule. They certainly were not in the mood for any risks.
And then, finally, they were in the mood to create a moment of quality. Having patiently worked the ball, it was spread wide to Trent Alexander-Arnold, who fed Xherdan Shaqiri. The Swiss international directed an intelligent, digested pass back to the full-back, who slid it across goal. Jota was on hand to convert at the back post and add yet another decisive contribution for the club.
Salah and Sadio Mane replaced Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino – both shorn of rhythm and who struggled to affect the game, on the hour-mark. Evander had the best chance for Midtjylland after being afforded the chance to take down the ball with his back to goal. He spun but shot just wide.
The last Liverpool change was Roberto Firmino on for the goalscorer and he missed a glorious chance late on after being set up by Alexander-Arnold.
A Paulinho trip on Salah from behind saw the Egyptian earn and convert a spot kick ahead of the final whistle. Another goal for Liverpool and another yellow card for Midtjylland.
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