Jordan Henderson’s long-range strike gave Liverpool a winning start to their Champions League campaign as they beat AC Milan 3-2 in a Group B thriller.
Liverpool appeared set for a comfortable victory when Fiyako Tomori inadvertently put through his own net in the ninth minute of Milan’s first Champions League match since 2014.
However, the Rossoneri are a much-improved team under Stefano Pioli and, after Mike Maignan saved a Mohamed Salah penalty, they took the lead through quickfire goals from Ante Rebic and Brahim Diaz late in the first half.
Salah, though, atoned for his failure from 12 yards by equalising three minutes into the second half and Henderson’s first Champions League goal for seven years ensured they took maximum points from an enthralling clash.
14 – Mohamed Salah is now Liverpool’s joint-highest scorer in European Cup/UEFA Champions League games at Anfield, with his 14th taking him level with Steven Gerrard. King. pic.twitter.com/XEPkOSGwfe
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 15, 2021
Liverpool were rewarded for a fast start that saw Divock Origi and Diogo Jota go close when Trent Alexander-Arnold played a neat one-two with Salah and his attempted cross was deflected past Maignan by Tomori.
While there was little he could do to prevent the opener, Maignan kept Milan in the game when he dived to his right to keep out Salah’s spot-kick and then to deny Jota on the rebound after Ismael Bennacer was deemed to have handled in the area.
The Reds’ dominance eventually dissipated and their failure to extend the lead was punished with two goals in the space of as many minutes that turned the game on its head.
Rebic levelled matters with a composed finish at the end of an intricate move, finding the bottom-right corner, and Diaz then tapped into an empty net after Theo Hernandez had seen his shot cleared off the line by Andrew Robertson following great work from Rafael Leao.
Milan had the ball in the net again soon after the restart but Simon Kjaer’s effort was rightly ruled out for offside in the build-up. Salah, by contrast, was able to stay in line with the last defender and meet Origi’s clever lofted ball with an improvised side-foot finish to restore parity.
And an enthralling clash swung back Liverpool’s way once more as Milan could only clear a corner as far as Henderson, whose magnificent half-volley left Maignan with no chance.
Pioli’s men could not find a reply this time, with Kjaer’s near-post flick-on from a corner the only scare as a Liverpool side that looked fragile for much of the night shut up shop effectively.
What does it mean? Henderson leads by example
Henderson is not known for his goalscoring prowess but, in a game where Liverpool had 23 shots, their most in a single Champions League match since the start of last season, the midfielder stepped up with a memorable effort.
It was his first Champions League goal since he scored against Ludogorets in November 2014, a gap of 2,485 days, and it gives the Reds the advantage in a difficult group after Atletico Madrid and Porto drew 0-0.
Salah spares own blushes
Though he would have expected to score from the spot, his inability to do so was the sole blot on an impressive performance from Salah, who made amends with his equaliser, had three shots on target and also made two key passes.
Liverpool had plenty of joy down the left flank on a difficult evening for Milan right-back Davide Calabria, who completed only 51.5 per cent of his passes, the lowest ratio of any Rossoneri player to start and finish the game. He also lost possession more times (20) than any of his team-mates.
Key Opta Facts
– Liverpool have won their opening home game in seven of their past eight Champions League campaigns (D1), last losing such a match in October 2007 (1-0 against Marseille).
– Milan are winless in their past nine European away games against English opposition (D4 L5) since a 1-0 victory against Manchester United in February 2005.
– On his 100th appearance at Anfield in all competitions for Liverpool, Salah became the club’s joint-highest scorer in European Cup/Champions League games at Anfield, with his 14th taking him level with Steven Gerrard.
– Diaz (22y 43d) is the youngest player to score on his Champions League debut for AC Milan since Yoann Gourcuff in September 2006 (20y 64d v AEK Athens)
– Salah missed his second penalty in all competitions for Liverpool, after netting his previous 17 in a row, since failing to score his very first for the club – against Huddersfield in October 2017.
Liverpool host Crystal Palace on Saturday, a day before Milan visit Juventus in a massive Serie A match.
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