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Saturday 10 December 2016

Outstanding Ibe catches the eye as Liverpool roll onwards

Rubin Kazan vs Liverpool - 19-year-old scores only goal of the game as Reds' makeover under Klopp grows ever more eye-catching

Jordon Ibe celebrates after scoring the first goal for Liverpool
Jordon Ibe celebrates after scoring the first goal for Liverpool
Liverpool's Emre Can in action with Rubin Kazan's Carlos Eduardo
Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool during the UEFA Europa League match between FC Rubin Kazan and Liverpool FC on November 5, 2015 in Kazan, Russia

Liverpool’s makeover under Jurgen Klopp grows ever more eye-catching.

Jordon Ibe’s winner in Kazan took the Klopp Anfield transformation on tour. Ibe was one of several players who looked bereft of confidence and direction a few weeks ago but was exceptional here.

His superbly taken strike on 53 minutes – his first for the club - was symptomatic of the face change so many have undergone over the last six games. Klopp remains unbeaten since he moved to Anfield and now has three consecutive victories. Moreover, the style and quality is increasingly evident with each win. Liverpool were unrecognisable from the side that played Kazan at Anfield two weeks ago, let alone the Liverpool team that’s limped through Europe for the last few years.

This was a European venture in which the performance and result were in tandem, Liverpool worthy of a far greater advantage before Kazan banished their defensive caution in the last 10 minutes.

 We will come to recognise this as the prototype Klopp performance - full of energy, high tempo with midfielders scurrying like deranged mice on a cheese hunt to retrieve possession when it was lost.

Liverpool's Emre Can in action with Rubin Kazan's Carlos Eduardo
Liverpool's Emre Can in action with Rubin Kazan's Carlos Eduardo

The only flaw was a failure not to score more than once – a more comfortable cushion was warranted before the defence was summoned from its prolonged period of unemployment – but as a foundation this will serve to only swell belief in the new manager’s methods.

“The first 80 minutes was really good,” said Klopp.

“It was not easy to play because it was fantastic atmosphere but the pitch is not in the same shape as the rest of the stadium. We could have had more and we deserved our goal and then we have to learn to win. We had 1-0 and lost rhythm and opened the door for Rubin Kazan. They fought for their lives and it was great to see how much they wanted to win.”

It had been just under three years since Liverpool last won away in Europe, with the line-up that defeated Udinese in the Europa League in December 2012 demonstrating the scale of the transition during the intervening period.

Of the starters then and now only Joe Allen remained in the eleven in Russia. Liverpool have been to some esteemed venues since and their reputation has taken a battering.

 They used to conquer Europe like battle-scarred warriors. Recently they’ve resembled Dad’s Army aiming plastic guns at unflustered enemies. This was as good as they’ve been on the continent in a long time.

Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool during the UEFA Europa League match between FC Rubin Kazan and Liverpool FC on November 5, 2015 in Kazan, Russia
Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool during the UEFA Europa League match between FC Rubin Kazan and Liverpool FC on November 5, 2015 in Kazan, Russia

Klopp’s determination to change perceptions was evident in a strong line-up which included Christian Benteke – the first time he has started since September.

“We’ve not travelled five hours for a friendly,” said Klopp.

“I only make the teams to win the next game, not to give a players a rest if he doesn’t need it.”

Despite Benteke’s presence the opening stages played out in frustrating familiarity, with Liverpool’s territorial and technical dominance unable to yield a first half goal.

 They should have led before Kazan had touched the ball, a prolonged period of possession for the first four minutes ending with Roberto Firmino sorcery - nutmegging his Russian marker - to send James Milner clear. The midfielder struck the bar. Bad luck or poor finishing depending on your perspective.

No matter. The white shirts kept swarming.

First half injury time almost brought the opening goal when keeper Sergei Ryzhikov was momentarily wrong-footed by Ibe’s shot, only to recover in time to leap backwards to stop Emre Can’s header drifting over the line.

The reward finally came on 53 minutes, Kazan carved open by the excellent Firmino’s clever flick freeing up the centre of the park for Ibe to take advantage.

The youngster’s pace and ball control was matched by the poise of the finish as he steadied himself and stroked past Ryzhikov, in off the post.

“He is a good lad and a big talent – a very skilled player,” said Klopp of Ibe.

“He has a really good base and he feels good at this moment. But he has a lot to learn. If he is prepared for this then everything will be good.”

Rather than settle for the slender lead Liverpool looked for more. Both Milner and Lovren were denied by Ryzhikov before Kazan finally showed attacking intent in the latter stages.

Victory means Liverpool need only a home win against Bordeaux to progress.

Restoring the sheen on the Liverpool badge abroad is one of Klopp’s many priorities. He can consider this another encouraging development on that fulsome Anfield ‘things to do’ list.

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