Liverpool beat RB Salzburg to confirm Champions League knockout berth

Liverpool's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah scores during the UEFA Champions League Group E football match between RB Salzburg and Liverpool FC on December 10, 2019 in Salzburg, Austria. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP) (Photo by JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images)
Mo Salah sealed the victory with a delightful finish. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Defending champions Liverpool confirmed their progression to the Champions League knockout rounds by beating RB Salzburg 2-0 in Austria.

After an evenly-matched opening half, neither side could break the deadlock in a game containing plenty of chances.

But Naby Keita struck against his former club and Mohamed Salah then curled in from the most acute angle to claim the win for the Reds.

In victory, the Premier League side ensured they will be in the final 16 of Europe’s elite competition as they seek to defend their title.

Both sides entered the match without a European clean sheet this season and, following a frenetic opening exchange, it seemed unlikely that run would end.

The home side, with eight players aged 24 or younger, tested Alisson inside three minutes before Salah fired the first warning shot from Jurgen Klopp’s side, following a long Dejan Lovren pass akin to his assist in last week’s Merseyside derby demolition.

Liverpool, as always, were pressing with intent and their pressure nearly told when they won the ball back inside the Salzburg box only for Mane to see his shot blocked.

Alisson had to be at his best to keep the Reds level, making a fine double save to keep out first Hee-Chan Hwang and then Takumi Minamino.

Liverpool's Naby Keita, center, celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the group E Champions League soccer match between Salzburg and Liverpool, in Salzburg, Austria, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)
Keita opened the scoring after Mane's fine work. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

The former, turned inside with a lovely dummy as the Brazilian made himself large, before rapidly preventing Minamino from the rebound.

Sadio Mane, with time and space available to him, then curled an effort fractionally wide of the top corner with opposing goalkeeper Cican Stankovic beaten.

Only Napoli, the team which progressed with the Reds, had beaten Salzburg at home in the previous three years.

But Liverpool had a terrific chance midway through the opening half to get themselves ahead. First Mane, with his unique turn of pace, burst into the box and saw his far-post effort kept out by Stankovic.

The rebound made its way to Keita, who struck an effort from the edge of the box which was blocked. The ball then fell to right-back Alexander-Arnold, who fired over.

The end-to-end nature of the opening half kept up and Hwang found himself in a terrific position after a fine ball by Minamino, only to be denied by Alisson again.

Erling Braut Haaland, with a breathtaking goal tally already this season, was denied a 29th by Liverpool’s ever-reliable Brazilian shot-stopper when he bore down on goal and fizzed a low effort on target.

Andrew Robertson was forced into making a terrific close-range block to keep his side level before Keita set up Salah for what should have been the opener - but the Egyptian embarrassingly slid wide under minimal pressure as the 30 minute mark approached.

Japan international Minamino then hit an effort narrowly wide of the far post before Keita was kept out by Stankovic from close range on the stroke of a half-time.

The interval came and went but both sides maintained their commitment to attacking football, with Robertson firing wide from distance before Salah curled over following a delightful Mane pass.

Stankovic had to be at his best to keep out Salah - getting a hand to the ball as the diminutive forward looked to round him - but Liverpool started to gain irresistible momentum.

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA - DECEMBER 10: Mohamed Salah of Liverpool celebrates after he scores his team's second goal  during the UEFA Champions League group E match between RB Salzburg and Liverpool FC at Red Bull Arena on December 10, 2019 in Salzburg, Austria. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Liverpool's second came less than a minute later as Salah sealed the win. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

After Haaland blasted an effort into the side netting, midfielder Keita finally gave the visitors the lead. Mane burst into the box, Stankovic rushed out again, perhaps culpably fast, as Mane dinked the ball over him towards the centre of the box. Keita merely had to hit the target, which he did.

Less than 60 seconds later, in the blink of an eye and flick of Salah’s magic boots, they had doubled their lead. The former Chelsea winger rounded Stankovic, but having seemingly overrun the ball, converted from the tightest of angles.

The hosts were beaten in those two minutes, simply put. A limp effort from Jesse Marsch’s men saw Alexander-Arnold come close again as Firmino, Salah almost struck.

Mane, one of the most influential Liverpool players as always, would perhaps have been most aggrieved not to add a third as the Senegal forward was denied twice.

But Liverpool did as Liverpool do. They won and will fight once more in the Champions League knockout rounds.

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