As the rain fell heavier before kick-off, the noise grew louder. There was anticipation along with new hope and belief but on the opening evening of a new Champions League season at Anfield, there was much of the same; drama, incident and a frantic pace. It showed once again that if ever there’s a stadium to fear venturing to in Europe’s premier club competition it’s Anfield.
And yet with little under 10 minutes left of this intriguing encounter there was a strong sense of déjà vu – Liverpool slipping up on opening night and allowing their opponents to leave with a share of the spoils. Paris Saint-Germain had taken the few chances that they had created and it looked like that was enough to send the raucous travelling Parisian fans back across the channel feeling reasonably content.
What Liverpool needed was to snatch a winner, a victory that they had deserved having been better in all departments to PSG for much of the match. When Roberto Firmino entered the fray with 20 minutes to play Liverpool were still leading 2-1 and much of the talk was about his eye injury rather than his eye for a goal. If anyone could snatch Liverpool’s late winner, it was the pirate.
Firmino took the ball on the edge of the area and shot emphatically into the bottom corner. It was to be the decisive finish of this enthralling tussle. With added time now ticking away, Firmino had done his bit. Just as his replacement in the starting XI had done too, Daniel Sturridge not only scored the opener but also worked his socks of and was surprisingly effective given his limited playing time.
The crux of this match was about two superb sides that see this season’s competition as another stage to display their qualities. But Liverpool have something that PSG long for, European glory. The riches and quality of the French club are yet to equate to a Champions League triumph, this was a difficult start to this season’s attempt. With Kyiv and May’s Champions League final now firmly in Liverpool’s rear-view mirror given their impressive early run this time around, it was always going to be a tough match for the visitors to manage.
Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, the two most expensive players on the planet, flirted with testing full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson but didn’t do it consistently. Edinson Cavani – the figurehead upfront – was marshalled by the blossoming defensive duo of Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk. But where PSG truly were second best to Liverpool was in midfield as captain Jordan Henderson was the glue between the energetic James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum who had the better of a PSG midfield lacking Marco Veratti.
Liverpool started with the ball, as they often do. The atmosphere encouraged bravery; the roar running from touchline to touchline almost fed electricity onto the pitch. In the opening 10 minutes Alphonse Areola was tested at least four times. Sweeping balls were being fed from either flank aiming for the penalty area, the heart of PSG.
Mohamed Salah curled corner-kick after corner-kick inwards, Areola was forced to punch, tip and parry whatever came towards him. Liverpool kept moving the ball, both fast and slow but always in control. The visitors slowly began to find their way into the match, seeing more of the ball but struggling to make any headway. It was Neymar who forced the first save of the evening from Alisson, cutting into the area from the left before shooting straight at his fellow countryman.
Liverpool were willing – as they have been in their other five matches of the season so far – to slow the pace of the game when needed, a trait that we were not accustomed to last season when it was full-throttle most of the time. Clever movement and intelligent pressing allowed the hosts to keep their opponents at bay when out of possession. Milner and Wijnaldum constantly interchanged positions in the middle of the pitch.
Liverpool struck with 30 minutes on the clock. Out of nothing really. Robertson crossed superbly from the left-side into the penalty area and onto the head of Sturridge. His header was straight at Areola but the pace beat him. The din of Anfield returned. PSG were forced to expand, searching for an equaliser. A short corner routine fell to Mbappe but he leant backwards and struck it over the crossbar.
An open opponent is the type that Liverpool like most and no sooner were they exploiting PSG again. Driving forward towards Areola’s goal, Wijnaldum was brought down by Juan Bernat’s stray leg in the penalty area; Milner converted the penalty with precision to make it two-nil. A reply came though with five minutes of the half left to play. Like Liverpool’s first goal, it came out of nowhere. The unlikely scorer of Thomas Meunier spun and struck the ball past Alisson from a deflected cross. It gave the visitors renewed hope at the break.
A 2-1 lead is not the easiest to move on from, attack or hold on to what you have – Liverpool naturally opted for the former. They held their own, Salah and Mane dropped deeper to aid with the retention of the ball. A low cross into the PSG area saw Sturridge slide into Areola with Salah finishing the lose ball into an empty net. The official behind the goal, however, ruled the goal void, as Sturridge’s slide on the goalkeeper was reckless.
Conservatism was nowhere to be seen however. This did mark a slight return to last season where Liverpool would rush their opponents off their feet, attack in numbers and inflict damage, if possible, with scoring blitzes of twos and threes rather than a single goal. They set off with exactly the same intentions. Mbappe only showed fleeting glimpses of his ability and it was not until eight minutes after the break that he managed to get past the quick, alert Robertson for the first time.
It was difficult to find much fluidity between PSG’s font three, they looked like a work in progress. Mbappe stood tall though and made the travelling fans cheer with less than 10 minutes to play, scoring with a shot across goal, it looked like it was going to settle as a draw; disappointment for the hosts and a sense of deja vu. Firmino’s telling touch, however, ensured that this time around Liverpool started with a win.