Friday 23 February 2018

Second-half blitz brings Liverpool closer to the last 16

Liverpool 3 Maribor 0

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge celebrates scoring his side's third goal
Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge celebrates scoring his side's third goal

Liverpool edged closer to qualifying for the Champions League knockout stages with a workmanlike 3-0 win over Maribor.

Jurgen Klopp's side are hardly charging towards their target - despite the 7-0 thrashing of the Slovenians a fortnight ago - and this match reflected their incremental progress in Group E.

Back-to-back wins over the Slovenians, courtesy of leading scorer Mohamed Salah's 10th of the season, a classy Emre Can goal and a late Daniel Sturridge strike, mean they lead Sevilla by a point and victory in Spain in three weeks' time will see the Reds qualify with a match to spare.

They could even afford another squandered missed penalty, a fourth in succession at Anfield, as James Milner missed his second in a row having scored his first 10 for the club. Such was the passivity of ex-Leeds coach Darko Milanic's side at one stage in the opening 15 minutes, Liverpool reached 89 per cent possession.

They finished the half with 12 shots but just two on target and only one - Roberto Firmino's header - extended Jasmin Handanovic, who dived at full stretch to tip the ball onto the crossbar.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, making his first Champions League start for the club after arriving in the summer, provided the cross having switched from left to right wing and when he slung over another Emre Can could only balloon his header into the Anfield Road Stand.

The former Arsenal man was also denied his first Liverpool goal on his new home ground when Jean-Claude Billong slid in to take the ball off his toes inside the six-yard area.

Similarities with the Huddersfield game continued when, five minutes after the interval, Trent Alexander-Arnold whipped in a low cross for Salah to nip in front of Rajcevic and produce a clever backheel deflection.

Moments later a brilliant piece of Firmino trickery drew a foul off Rajcevic but Milner, back on penalty duties after Salah's miss at the weekend, saw his shot tipped onto the post.

Firmino's close-range effort was charged down by Handanovic and Salah headed over from even closer before, in the 64th minute, some swift, incisive play - a rarity on the night - cut Maribor apart.

Can started the move in the inside-left position, exchanging passes with Milner whose pass allowed his team-mate to run on and stroke a first-time shot low inside Handanovic's left-hand post.

Substitute Sturridge fired home from close range in the 90th minute, the first time he had scored in back-to-back games since January 2.

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