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Men’s Football Liverpool take control of their group after victory over Genk

FOLLOWING on from a last-minute victory against Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon — and in the process, providing some much needed breathing room at the top of the Premier League table — Liverpool welcomed Genk to Anfield in the hope of extending their long unbeaten run at home in the Champions League, with their last loss coming back in 2014 at the hands of Real Madrid.

Jurgen Klopp made six changes to the side that defeated Villa, with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino dropping to the bench among others. 

Sunday’s fixture against Manchester City was clearly in the mind of the Liverpool manager, as they look to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League to nine points. 

On Tuesday, things started brightly for Liverpool, there was a commitment to getting the ball out wide to full-backs James Milner and Trent Alexander-Arnold and a low corner was almost converted by Virgil Van Djik, but his shot was scooped over the bar. 

The first goal didn’t take long to show up and Gini Wijnaldum put Liverpool ahead after 13 minutes following some nice build-up play. 

After receiving the ball on the left hand side of the box, Divock Origi shaped up to shoot before a reverse ball to Milner who then fired a ball across the six-yard box to Wijnaldum, who pounced on a defensive lapse in concentration and hooked the ball into the top left hand corner to give the hosts the lead.

From then on, it could have been plain sailing for Liverpool and Naby Keita almost doubled their lead when he forced a save from Gaetan Coucke at the near post. 

Keita had the opportunity to cut the ball back to the penalty spot but elected to take on the shot and should have scored.

After a somewhat reserved first half an hour, Genk became more aggressive in their approach and began to press Liverpool higher up the pitch. 

A tactic that, usually, would play into the hands of Liverpool, but on the night didn’t prove fruitful. Despite 28 shots on goal and 71 per cent of possession, Liverpool struggled to really dominate and only scored two goals.

Genk, however, had only a handful of chances throughout the game but scored with their first shot on target in the 40th minute. 

A dangerous cross was calmly cleared up by Alexander-Arnold, but the resulting corner was headed home by Mbwana Samatta, with Liverpool’s zone defence from corner providing little protection, Klopp’s side have now gone eight games without a clean sheet — a worrying trend with the league’s best scorers coming to town on Sunday.

Their aggressive pursuit of making this game more than an afterthought was refreshing, for a moment at least, and their efforts were rewarded. 

Genk almost went one better and took the lead when Bryan Heynen cut inside but he pulled his effort wide of the right-hand post. A goal for either team before half-time would swing the game.

It didn’t come, but with the last touch of the first half, Van Dijk almost converted an Alexander-Arnold snapshot that looked to be heading nowhere — but Dutch defender guided the ball towards goal only to watch it fall agonisingly wide.

The game’s biggest moment was decided by its best player. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was enigmatic for Liverpool, originally being deployed out on the left, he drifted inside often and took up pockets of space between the Genk defence and midfield and was able to cause havoc with his driving runs at the back four and his penetrating runs off the ball.

In the 52nd minute, Mohamed Salah showed some ingenuity and quick feet with his back facing to goal, which allowed him to tee-up Oxlade-Chamberlain, who turned on a dime and fired into the far bottom-corner with his left foot for the game-winning goal.

That goal lit a fire under the collective Liverpool stomachs and they went looking for the elusive third goal — one that could potentially kill the game off. 

Salah showed some strength to hold off a defender before turning and firing a tame shot from the edge of the box, and then Alexander-Arnold blasted over from just outside the box after a lay-off from Milner. Their football became more fluid and expansive and, at times, it was deserving of a goal.

But credit to Genk, who didn’t lie down, even after taking their most dangerous player, Junya Ito, off and replacing him with Dieumerci Ndongala. 

Liverpool responded with a double-change of their own, with Mane and Andy Robertson coming on for Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain — a move that saw Milner push up into a central midfield position.

It was Genk who was pushing for a goal in the games final minutes though and Allison was forced to make a smart save after Casper de Norre lifted over a deft pass to Heyner, whose half-volley was pushed wide by the Brazilian. 

Allison would have to spring into action one final time, too, palming away a cross to the edge of the box before Ndongala fired high over the bar.

Liverpool would survive but for all of the possession and statistics that would point towards their dominance, it was a win that was hard-earned, like most in football. 

The win, combined with Napoli’s draw with Red Bull Salzburg sees Liverpool take the top spot in the group with nine points. 

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