Sunday, January 16, 2022

AC Milan 1-2 Liverpool: Three things as Reds wrap up perfect Champions League group stage

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Liverpool completed the string of six wins from six matches in the group stage of this season’s Champions League campaign by going to San Siro and beating AC Milan there. The Rossoneri took the lead through Fikayo Tomori’s quick reaction in the 28th minute, only to see it cancelled out by a similar one from Mohamed Salah (his 20th goal of the season) at the other end eight minutes later. Liverpool’s hero from the weekend, Divock Origi swung the tie into the visitors’ favour in the 55th minute, setting what proved to be the final scoreline.

The ‘Liverpool lack depth’ myth

Liverpool appear to be the favourite target for the media dissecting each club’s transfer activities. Unless there’s some pressing need to address, the Reds tend to keep them quiet, at least relative to others considered title contenders in the Premier League. This summer, for example, their only first-team signing was Ibrahima Konate, who arrived from RB Leipzig to help prevent a repeat of what happened last season, when Jurgen Klopp had to make do without his top three centre-backs for most of the campaign.

When comparing Liverpool to the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City, most people recognize the quality of their starters but always point to a lack of depth as a reason why they don’t believe the Merseysiders will last in the title race. However, matches like this one show this to be a complete myth.

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Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip, Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota were all left out of this match completely in order to rest up for the upcoming league clash against Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa. Add the injured players, forward Roberto Firmino, midfielders Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones, and the suspended James Milner, to that list, and you have 11 players who, had they been available or needed, would all be able to make a notable contribution in an important match.

Make no mistake, there’s plenty of depth in this Liverpool squad, with Neco Williams, Konate, Nathaniel Phillips, Kostas Tsimikas, Tyler Morton, Takumi Minamino, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Divock Origi all ready to step up when called upon.

Premier League vs Serie A

Yes, Milan lacked several important players too, but given the level of rotation done by Liverpool and their desperate need for points, they really should have done better. Stefano Pioli’s team HAD to win to stand a chance of progressing to the knockout stages, and as it happened, a two-goal triumph would’ve done it with Atletico Madrid winning in Porto.

But it wasn’t to be. This heavily rotated Liverpool team, second in the Premier League, proved too much for the Serie A leaders. The final scoreline objectively reflects the contest between the two sides seen on the pitch, and it goes to show how far ahead the game is in England, compared to that in Italy.

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There are two more groups with both English and Italian clubs, both to be completed tonight (Wednesday). In Group F, Manchester United have already secured a place in the round of 16 and are certain to finish ahead of Atalanta. In Group H, Juventus, vastly experienced in this competition even if their Serie A campaign isn’t going too well at the moment, are still holding their own and are locked in the race with Chelsea for the top spot. But while the Old Lady managed to beat the Champions League holders by 1-0 in Turin, they were destroyed 4-0 in London.

The days when the Italian game was the most popular and filled with highest quality seem far away now, where as the Premier League is rated as highly as ever. This Champions League group stage clearly showed why.

Milan’s step-by-step resurrection

Having missed this opportunity and finished bottom of the group, Milan are out of Europe. It was never going to be easy for them – it was, after all, widely labeled as the ‘group of death’ after the draw, even if Liverpool did make a mockery of the expression in the end. The ongoing success in the domestic league may have raised the expectations for the Rossoneri supporters just a tiny bit, but it’s time to come back to reality.

And that reality is that it’s been a while since Milan, the seven-time Champions League/Cup winners, were seen in UEFA’s elite club competition. Most of their current crop players hadn’t worn the famous red-and-black shirt in it before, and it will have been a nice experience for them. Yes, the group was as difficult as they come, but no team is expected to shine straight away after years of absence. After all, Liverpool themselves had a poor campaign in 2014-15, after they came very close to winning the Premier League title the previous season, and it took them a while yet to get back to the heights they’re in now.

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All in all, Milan do appear to be on the right track under Pioli. They finished second in the Serie A last term, and they’re obviously proving this time around that it was no fluke – they do belong at the very top of Italian football. And that’s not a bad place to be, even if the Italian football isn’t where it once was at the moment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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