Liverpool through as Europa League group winners after dismantling Lask

<span>Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA</span>
Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

A perfect 10 for Liverpool and the perfect night for Jürgen Klopp. His team won Group E with a game to spare to avoid the playoff route into the last 16 of the Europa League and release any pressure from the group finale away at Union Saint-Gilloise. A clean sheet for Caoimhín Kelleher, the 199th goal of Mohamed Salah’s Liverpool career, no injuries and two goals for Cody Gakpo, flourishing on his return to the forward line, ticked the rest of the boxes for a grateful Liverpool manager.

Liverpool’s superiority over their Europa League opponents has not been in doubt, an off-night in Toulouse notwithstanding, and was underlined throughout a comfortable defeat of Lask. A 10th successive victory at Anfield in all competitions this season represents the club’s best start to a home campaign since the double-winning season of 1985-86. Combined with Toulouse’s failure to beat Union SG in France, it secured Liverpool first place in the group with something to spare. Victory looked assured from the moment Luis Díaz headed home in the 12th minute.

“Two top results for us in the group tonight,” admitted Klopp. “With the defeat in Toulouse we made it a bit more tricky but (finishing) top of the table is very important with the busy, busy schedule we have. A lot of positives in the game. The thing I didn’t like, and I told the boys at half-time, was that this game should have been put to bed by half-time.”

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Liverpool wasted little time in following Klopp’s instruction to qualify at Anfield rather than waiting until the final group game in Belgium. There was nothing wrong with Lask’s ambitious approach given they had to win to retain any hope of reaching the last 16 but the gulf between the sides was evident every time Liverpool rampaged forward. Lask were constantly exposed. It appeared almost too comfortable for Liverpool at times, given how often they took an extra touch in front of goal when a more ruthless approach was required. Not that the home side paid a price for over-elaboration.

Wataru Endo was involved in both first half goals and instigated the first with a pass out to Joe Gomez. Both Salah and his marker, Andres Andrade, missed the converted full-back’s measured cross but not Díaz, who launched himself at the ball and beat Tobias Lawal with a diving header. The Colombia international seemed more surprised than anyone else to score with his head.

Liverpool quickly doubled their lead when Endo found Salah lurking in far too much space. Liverpool’s captain for the night centred for Díaz who, just onside, was unable to take the shot but recovered to release Salah to the by-line. The Egypt international crossed with the outside of his left foot to supply the unmarked Gakpo with a simple finish at the back post.

Lask were dangerous on the counterattack, particularly through Moses Usor, but rarely troubled Kelleher until Klopp rang the changes in the second half. Lawal, by contrast, was grateful to reach the interval having conceded only two. Kostas Tsimikas thundered a shot against the crossbar following a weak defensive clearance while Gakpo just failed to connect with another Salah cross along the face of goal.

The visitors’ ponderous defending was best encapsulated by Liverpool’s third. Gakpo attempted to release a teammate behind Lask’s last line but, realising there was no red shirt running through, had time to chase after his own pass. Lawal came sprinting off his line to collect but took the man and conceded a clear penalty. Salah swept the spot-kick beyond a static keeper for his 44th goal in European competition for Liverpool. It was also his 199th goal in all competitions for the club but the 200th will have to wait. Salah was replaced by Curtis Jones minutes later as Klopp’s thoughts began to turn to Fulham’s visit in the Premier League on Sunday.

Gakpo struck a post as Liverpool created for fun while Lawal produced fine saves to deny Harvey Elliott and the substitute Darwin Núñez. Lask did threaten a consolation late on but solid interventions from Kelleher and Tsimikas plus some wayward finishing enabled Alisson’s stand-in to preserve a clean sheet. A sweet stoppage-time finish from Gakpo, who received a pass from substitute Trent Alexander-Arnold before driving home his second of the game, sealed a comfortable night’s work.