JURGEN Klopp needed something to calm the nerves and reduce the noise around Liverpool and Rangers were only too happy to oblige as they offered the mildest of Champions League resistance.
Liverpool were hardly in crisis but they have not been themselves and even manager Klopp admitted he would have been feeling the same emotions expressed by supporters frustrated at the drop in standards this season during Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Brighton at Anfield.
This was just what Liverpool ordered as a comfortable 2-0 win pushed them close to the group phase, the feelgood factor turned up several notches by the sight of Trent Alexander-Arnold, seemingly English football’s current hot topic of debate, showing his brilliance with a stunning early free-kick to set them on their way.
The perfect storyline would have been a goal for expensive summer signing Darwin Nunez but this was not to be. For all the Uruguayan’s effort and smart running, his finishing was not clinical and was too often too close to Rangers’ excellent veteran keeper Allan McGregor.
Alexander-Arnold was afforded an Anfield standing ovation when he was substituted with the game won, a smile on his face similar to the one he wore as he clipped that glorious 25-yard effort beyond McGregor’s despairing stretch.
There has never been any argument about that side of Alexander-Arnold’s game, his vision, creation, range of passing and ability from set pieces worthy of comparison with the best.
The question marks, and certainly the view shared by England manager Gareth Southgate, are over his defensive abilities. The debate currently raging boils down to a simple matter of opinion, namely that Southgate believes he has better options to do the job he wants in Chelsea’s Reece James, Kieran Trippier of Newcastle United and Kyle Walker, the Manchester City defender who offers him more tactical flexibility.
Many will disagree. Many will agree. It is Southgate’s choice and he appears to have made it. This game told us nothing we did not already know.
In the Liverpool context, Alexander-Arnold’s part in this game will lift his confidence and self-belief, especially after another poor performance in the draw with Brighton.
He said: “No matter what, I always try to think positively. People say things about me but it’s all about performing for the team – that’s all that matters. It’s about getting wins and helping the team. It’s been a slow start to the season for me but I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Klopp attempted to kick Liverpool into gear by switch to a 4-4-2 system, but a very positive set-up which included Nunez, Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz.
Much of the attention focused on Nunez, the 23-year-old Uruguayan signed from Benfica in the summer in a deal which could eventually be worth £85m, as he strives to get his Liverpool career going.
It was always going to be a bedding in period, not helped by the moment of madness and the head-butt on Crystal Palace defender Joachim Andersen that landed him with a three-game ban and gave him a false start this season.
Nunez got his chance here and the battle with 40-year-old McGregor was one of the more compelling plotlines in a game that was actually low key in atmosphere and action once Liverpool went ahead.
Liverpool’s striker never stopped working, his movement was good and he hit the target with his finishes. He could not, however, beat McGregor, who thwarted him three times in the first half.
Nunez was given a standing ovation when he was taken off, having done plenty right but perhaps not quite enough to start at Arsenal on Sunday. This is, though, a work in progress and Klopp has huge faith in his big summer buy.
If there was a frustration for Klopp, it may be that it took a wonder strike from a free-kick and a second-half penalty from Salah to see off opponents who were so clearly inferior. The final scoreline did not reflect the obvious gulf in class.
Liverpool will surely face a tougher test in the hostile environment of Ibrox but this was as comfortable as it gets, a late goal-line clearance by Kostas Tsimikas from Rabbi Matondo and Alisson’s block from Antonio Colak apart.
For now, though, this was just what Liverpool needed.
KNTags: Allan McGregor Darwin Nunez Jurgen Klopp Kyle Walker Liverpool Trent Alexander-Arnold