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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

No need for a replay as Liverpool return to normality in Europa League

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This time, at least, Jurgen Klopp has no need to ask for a replay. The significant human error came from Darwin Nunez, not a pair of video assistant referees, but the Uruguayan’s latest shocking miss did not prevent Liverpool from marking the return of Europa League football to Anfield with a victory that is unlikely to be remembered for as long as Sunday’s controversial defeat to Tottenham.

Its repercussions, and Klopp’s view that the game should be restaged, may continue to overshadow much else, but while Diogo Jota’s injury-time goal was the right kind of response to his red card in London, if there is a long-term consequence of the defeat of Union Saint-Gilloise, it may come in the form of a first Liverpool goal for Ryan Gravenberch; the temptation is to brand it the first of many, given how impressive the Dutchman has looked since his arrival from Bayern Munich.

It was aided by a mistake by the Luxembourg international goalkeeper Anthony Moris, providing a reminder that mistakes on the field can bring goals while those in booths can chalk them off. But when Liverpool had a goal disallowed for offside, this time there was no doubt about the decision: unlike Luis Diaz on Saturday, Nunez definitely was offside. And when Diaz struck the post, there was no action replay, and the Colombian probably was offside.

But eventually, Liverpool turned their superiority into a comfortable win. With consecutive victories to kick off their continental campaign, qualification could be sealed before they visit Brussels for December’s return game. Klopp’s message to his players may be: “Well done, boys, good process.”

It helped that he took the competition seriously. The Europa League is the one prize to elude him in his time at Anfield and he steered the flawed team he inherited to the 2016 final. Seven years on, it may have counted as a surprise that Mohamed Salah started in a starting 11 that featured at least four of his strongest side. Or, perhaps, it was a recognition that, unfancied as Union’s underdogs appeared, they were quarter-finalists last season.

Anfield’s last European night had featured goalkeeping howlers from two of the finest, in Alisson and Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois. That may be of scant consolation to Moris, who parried Trent Alexander-Arnold’s shot straight to Gravenberch, providing the summer signing with the gift of an open goal. It was notable that the right-back appeared in the inside-left channel to shoot, Alexander-Arnold roving to fine effect in his first start in a month.

Gravenberch opened his Liverpool account at Anfield

(Action Images via Reuters)

Moris had enjoyed an earlier reprieve in a similar situation, failing to hold Gravenberch’s effort before the offside Nunez finished. He also mustered a fine save from the Uruguayan’s rifled half-volley, though it was not the most memorable contribution either contributed.

There are times when it seems as though Nunez is launching a one-man miss-of-the-season contest. His latest – though perhaps not his best – entry came when he shot wide from six yards after Harvey Elliott and Salah scythed Union open with slick, quick play.

Elliott was excellent. Salah almost had an early goal of his own when Moris somehow tipped his low shot over the bar. The Egyptian departed at half-time, part of a triple change that meant Curtis Jones, who was also sent off on Saturday, made a swift return to action.

It also brought a family reunion. Union’s Kevin was alone as the sole Mac Allister to start, with Alexis finding a new home on the bench. Brothers were in opposition in the second half, when the World Cup winner came on.

Liverpool’s summer signing crossed when Jota had a header tipped over. Gravenberch almost doubled his tally, with an audacious effort Moris clawed away. The Portuguese instead eventually clinched victory after combining with Diaz on the counter-attack.

Jota sealed the win in stoppage time


For Liverpool, the greatest alarm came just after Gravenberch scored when Ibrahima Konate cleared off his line from Mohamed Amoura. The Union forward had dinked a shot over Alisson, with the goalkeeper charging out of his box and, briefly, raising the prospect of Liverpool’s fifth red card already this season.

Yet perhaps they were due a quieter occasion after the pyrotechnics at Tottenham and, indeed, in Klopp’s pre-match press conference. The noise instead came from the bouncing Belgians in the Anfield Road Stand. Liverpool have tended to have Thursday nights off in recent years. Dropping down a competition meant that, instead of some familiar visitors, Union became Liverpool’s 136th different opponents in Europe. After their problems with England – the VAR Darren England – Europe brought a welcome feeling of normality.

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