From the wilderness emerged Divock Origi. Not since March has the Liverpool forward played a minute for the club and one has to go back to January for the last occasion in which he was in the starting lineup.
Yet, here, against AC Milan, Origi was present and correct. He was among four changes which Jurgen Klopp made to the team that defeated Leeds United last weekend; he replaced Sadio Mane while Joe Gomez stood in for Virgil van Dijk. Was it the time to be making such fundamental changes given that Anfield was rocking for the return of the Champions League?
“We have to be sensible in these moments,” Klopp argued in respect to team rotation. “We have three boys who have come back from long-term injuries so we have to manage that. Now we’ve won I can say that the changes were the right thing to do because playing every three days is just not possible with the same guys. The guys who came on did incredibly well.
“Divock played a superb game. He had cramps which is normal. But people forget how good he is. It is difficult to get him in this team. We all thought in the summer offers would come but clearly people do not watch football enough.”
With Klopp’s backing, Origi played his part in this madcap match. The 26-year-old was full of energy as Liverpool laid into their Italian visitors, proving too strong and determined for the backline marshalled by Denmark captain Simon Kjaer and English centre-back Fikayo Tomori.
Liverpool were averaging a shot every couple of minutes in the first half-hour, which is proof not only of how exhilarating their attacking play has been in the early weeks of this campaign, but also of their lack of ruthlessness when vastly superior to their opponents.
The hosts should have been home and dry by the time Milan spun the game on it’s head with two unlikely late first-half goals. Origi, like Mo Salah, who missed his first penalty in 18 attempts shortly after Liverpool took the lead, kept darting here, there and everywhere and exposing Milan’s weak spots.
Origi should have opened the scoring in the first few minutes but opened his body too much when trying to convert an Andy Robertson centre. Yet, everything that he did in those frantic first 20 minutes was ferociously applauded by Klopp on the touchline - keep going was the message from the manager.
The standout moment of Origi’s evening was the return pass he played to Salah on the edge of the area, which the Egyptian prodded home to level the scores at two apiece. Origi crafted a chipped pass under pressure which evaded the backtracking Milan defence and presented Salah with his opportunity.
Of course, Origi will go down in folklore in these parts for his goals against Barcelona, the second in the 2019 Champions League final against Tottenham Hotspur, and the stoppage-time winner in the derby against Everton back in 2018. Despite those moments, the Belgium striker is rarely spotted in a Liverpool team.
It was quite telling what Klopp said after the game; the gist was that some players can train very well and be at a good level and yet still struggle to get into this Liverpool team - “It’s a hard team to get into,” were his exact words.
Klopp's rotation policy pays off
In the end, one could say that Klopp’s changes did come off. Gomez got minutes in what was his first start since last November and allowed Van Dijk a rare breather. The England defender will also likely be granted another starting berth in next week’s League Cup tie away to Norwich City.
Alongside Gomez, Joel Matip continued his fine start to the campaign. He was once again spotted pacing up the pitch, bringing the ball out from the back like a modern-day Alan Hansen. One of Matip’s passes sowed the seeds for Liverpool’s opening goal against Leeds on Sunday and did so once more here when he set the equaliser in motion with a pass to Fabinho.
The centre-back will rue two missed chances in the first quarter of the game which he headed either wide or too close to Mike Maignan in the Milan goal. They accounted for two of the 13 goal attempts that Liverpool managed in the first half-hour.
A spotlight should be placed on how Klopp’s side managed to ship two goals in the final four minutes of the first half, both attacks coming down Liverpool’s right, but that was very much against the run of play. The Liverpool manager admitted that they had seen Milan’s resurgence coming after a shaky start but couldn’t communicate the necessary changes to the players on the pitch largely due to the atmosphere inside the stadium.
In the end, football won and few occasions can match Anfield on nights like these. “It was a brilliant game, very exciting and very entertaining,” was Klopp’s summation. About right too.