There looks a reasonable chance that that will prove to be the case, too.
Luis Díaz and Cody Gakpo efforts inside the first 15 minutes gave the hosts a 2-0 half-time lead against their Austrian Bundesliga opponents on a bitingly cold Merseyside evening. Mohamed Salah then converted a 51st-minute penalty – his 199th goal for the club – before Gakpo’s second of the night completed the scoring in stoppage time.
Meanwhile, Toulouse’s 0-0 home draw with Royale Union Saint-Gilloise in Group E’s other match – which left the French club second in the standings, on eight points, four behind Klopp’s team – meant the Reds won the group with a game to spare.
Calendar made kinder
Liverpool, therefore, progress straight through to the round of 16 in March. They will be away for the first leg on Thursday 7th before playing the return leg at home – something often viewed as an advantage – on Thursday 14th.
Qualifying in second place would have meant playing another two-legged tie, in February’s play-off round, against one of the eight sides who finished third in their Champions League group and thus dropped out of Europe’s premier club competition.
Instead, the Merseysiders will face one of the eight play-off winners in March, although they can’t be drawn against another Premier League team at that stage. The draw only fully opens up – allowing clubs from the same association to face each other – from the quarter-finals onwards.
The round of 16 draw, meanwhile, isn’t due to take place until Friday 23rd February – the day after the play-off second legs. Liverpool, then, will have to wait until the seventh week of 2024 to know their next European opponents.
Still, there is likely to be a sense at Anfield that such a wait will be very much worthwhile, given the extra time – and flexibility – that directly reaching the last-16 is likely to offer.
As it stands, it means two midweeks in February are kept clear between three weekend league matches – an Anfield meeting with Burnley, a trip to Brentford and a home clash with Luton Town.
That latter weekend, the 24th and 25th February, is also when the Carabao Cup final is pencilled in for. With Liverpool set to host West Ham United in the quarter-finals of that competition on 20th December, there is a chance the Reds may have earned themselves some additional preparation time ahead of a trip to Wembley. That, needless to say, remains a hypothetical scenario for now.
The Luton fixture may be shifted into one of those free midweek slots if the Reds do indeed reach that domestic showpiece but, either way, Klopp and co have now earned themselves an additional bit of welcome wriggle room on the schedule front.
That is true in the shorter term, as well. Their final Group E outing, in Belgium against Union SG – but at Anderlecht’s ground due to UEFA regulations – on Thursday 14th December, is now a fixture that may see additional rotation, with the Merseysiders’ status as group winners secured.
Coming less than 72 hours before Manchester United travel to Anfield and in the middle of a spell of eight matches in 24 days, having additional scope to shuffle the pack, rest legs, experiment and give valuable minutes to less experienced members of the squad could prove key.
Klopp does tend to give his ‘regulars’ minutes in plenty of different games, so as to ensure they retain rhythm.
There appears every chance, though, that the likes of teenage forwards Ben Doak and Kaide Gordon, who were both on the bench on Thursday, 19-year-old midfielder James McConnell, who has featured briefly in both the Europa League and Premier League this term, as well as young full-backs Conor Bradley, Luke Chambers and Calum Scanlon – the former pair having featured as substitutes at Anfield against LASK – will play a part in that trip to the Brussels municipality later this month.
Union SG can still progress as runners-up if they win and Toulouse lose at the already-eliminated LASK, with a goal-difference swing of three or more also required.
Squad hitting stride at good time
As well as being a night that mapped out the plot over the coming weeks and months that bit more clearly and, potentially, kindly, Thursday was also one that produced considerable and encouraging character development for the Liverpool cast.
Díaz’s acrobatic nodded opener, from Joe Gomez’s excellent delivery, meant the Colombian’s last four goals for club and country have each been headers. There remains a sense that the 26-year-old, who offers valuable natural width and one-on-one qualities within the Reds’ system, can improve in terms of end product and numbers of goals and assists.
That the seven times he’s found the net for the Merseysiders and his national team this term have all come from well-timed arrivals into the box perhaps bodes well on that front, though.
Mitigating circumstances, such as the incorrect disallowing of his superbly taken strike against Tottenham Hotspur for offside in September and his absence from matchday squads in the days after his father’s kidnapping in Colombia in late October, ought to also be considered when weighing up his output, of course.
His injury lay-off of six months last season shouldn’t be forgotten, either. He continues to look an electric, rounded, on-field presence and, if additionally consistent numbers in terms of goals and chance creation can be added to his game, his LFC career ought to only get better from an already impressive base.
Another element to consider is the bigger picture and Díaz’s role within the team. That aforementioned width and technical quality that he offers, may often be something that aids the team’s output and performance levels but not necessarily his own numbers.
He, perhaps more than anyone else in the squad, has the ability to work his side up the pitch, reliably retain possession in tight areas and attract pressure before releasing the ball in order to create space and opportunities for his teammates elsewhere. Much of his excellence may lie in those less tangible factors.
Even so, his potential influence remains highly palpable and his goal and wider display on Thursday was a good sign, given he may be among those who see further game time in the coming matches due to Diogo Jota’s ongoing injury absence.
Gakpo is another who could become additionally prominent over the festive period, as a result, and the Dutchman enjoyed a particularly productive evening.
He was on hand to convert Salah’s 15th-minute cross, sharply won the penalty that the Egyptian converted and thumped home the fourth following an excellent Trent Alexander-Arnold pass late on.
Having started at the centre of the front-three and connected several moves in familiarly shrewd fashion, he moved to the left flank upon Darwin Núñez’s introduction for Díaz on 56 minutes and continued to pose a notable threat with efforts from range and his ability to drive into space.
His flexibility and intelligence – highlighted by the run, while playing as a ‘Number 8’ that created the space for Alexander-Arnold’s leveller at City on Saturday – could, again, play a key part for Klopp’s team over the festive period.
Elsewhere, Harvey Elliott – such a consistent source of quality and intensity from the start or bench so far this season – once again caught the eye with his creativity on the right of the midfield triumvirate.
Wataru Endo put in another energetic display at the base of the midfield, making four tackles and three key passes. The Japan captain’s ability to receive and swiftly punch progressive passes through the lines is becoming increasingly appreciated.
He may be unlikely to start a large proportion of the Reds’ Premier League outings, but such a trait could be particularly welcome late in games when gaps are that bit more likely to open up.
When the French centre-back made way for Alexander-Arnold early in the second half, Gomez moved from right-back into the heart of the defence. The 26-year-old showcased his rounded traits across both of those positions, offering security in and out of possession and providing that super cross for Díaz’s opener.
At left-sided centre-back, meanwhile, 20-year-old Jarell Quansah put in another consummate performance. He completed 60 of his 66 passes (91%) and dealt calmly and decisively with several potentially tricky LASK advances.
His comfort when defending in space and willingness to hold and wait for the right moment to act, when it would be easy to dive in, is one of several immensely promising traits. At this admittedly early stage of his career, he looks to have a superb combination of physical, technical and psychological attributes.
Speaking of composure, goalkeeper Caoimhín Kelleher was a consistent picture of coolness. He was out early ahead of the second half to warm up with goalkeeper coach John Achterberg, a sensible move given the freezing conditions, and that attention to detail looked very much worthwhile as the half went on.
He made sharp saves from Ibrahim Mustapha, Moses Usor and Robert Žulj within decent spells of pressure from Thomas Sageder's team. The Republic of Ireland international also completed 39 of his 46 passes (85%).
With another key absentee over the next fortnight or so being Alisson Becker, after the No.1 picked up a muscle injury of his own at the Etihad, Klopp will have likely been pleased to see his backup goalkeeper in such good shape and responding to testing moments with aplomb.
One other interesting element of the latter stages was Alexander-Arnold’s move to the right side of the midfield-three when Bradley – making his welcome return from injury – and Chambers joined the action in the 82nd minute.
The drive into space and nicely threaded pass that teed up Gakpo’s stoppage-time second, completing a flowing move that went from back to front, offered another demonstration of what could be gained from the 25-year-old operating in a conventional midfield position. That's now 100 career goal involvements for club and country for the No.66.
This did, indeed, feel a highly productive night for Liverpool on several fronts, the benefits of which could well be felt by much of the squad as the season begins to click into an additionally intense gear, with the league visit of Fulham on Sunday up next.