It was fitting that such a crazy game contained such a crazy goal by Mohamed Salah as Liverpool secured the victory to reach the last-16 of the Champions League and continue the defence of their European crown in this remarkable season.
Jurgen Klopp had called it the biggest match of the campaign so far and it felt like that as his side traded chances with a highly-dangerous RB Salzburg, lived on the edge, before scoring twice in just over a minute to quickly end any doubt.
It meant that, with Napoli winning so easily against Genk in what appears to be Carlo Ancelotti’s last game in charge, Liverpool finished as runners-up in Group E when they had been in danger of going out.
The first goal came from a combination of two former Salzburg players with Sadio Mane too quick for the Austrians as he out-stripped
Jerome Onguene and goalkeeper Cican Stankovic – as he rushed out - before crossing for Naby Keita to steer his header into the net.
It was the second goal, though, which was the crazy one with Onguene and Stanovic again at fault as the defender tried to head back to the goalkeeper from Jordan Henderson’s searching pass. It dropped short with Salah stealing in.
Mo Salah doubles the Reds' lead with this madness!
We could watch this again and again... pic.twitter.com/0q3820Pngw
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) December 10, 2019
Still the angle was incredibly acute on the right-hand side of the penalty area only for the striker’s shot to skim past the post and into the goal. The Egyptian threaded it through the eye of a needle. Liverpool, it seems, make the impossible possible although it was ironic that Salah had spurned three far easier chances before claiming his goal which ended any doubt.
It also meant that since Salah joined Liverpool only Lionel Messi has been involved in more Champions League goals than him – 28 to 27. Messi would have been overtaken had Salah taken his chances here.
The scoreline also meant that this was the first Champions League game that Salzburg’s teen sensation striker Erling Braut Haaland had failed to score in although he had chances. Haaland was eventually substituted, much to his frustration. After all he had promised to score a hat-trick.
Somehow it had remained goalless at half-time. It could have been 2-2, 3-3 even. It could have been anything. Both sides went for it with Salah scuffing a shot and dragging it wide when teed up by Keita after a rapid counter-attack.
With Napoli scoring so early it became even more of a face-off. Inside the opening minute Virgil Van Dijk twice saving Liverpool by denying first Haaland and then Hee-Chan Hwang.
Manchester United’s head of global scouting Marcel Bout was at the game with the interest in 19-year-old Haaland clear but Hwang and Takumi Minamino will also have impressed him. It is rare to see Van Dijk throw his arms out in exasperation but he did as Salzburg poured forward
More chances were traded. Salah deftly took down a long ball forward only for his shot to be parried by Stankovic while, at the other end, Alisson pulled off a smart double save to deny Hwang with Minamino crowded out as he attempted to turn in the rebound.
Mane curled a shot just wide from outside the area with Stankovic then pushing out the forward’s attempt to bend the ball around him. Keita’s follow-up was blocked and Andrew Robertson slicing the rebound over.
For Salzburg Minamino released Haaland who surged on to find space away from Dejan Lovren only for Alisson to parry his low cross-shot. On half-time Keita went close with Stankovic denying him only for the midfielder to narrowly fail to squeeze the rebound in.
And breathe – although there was a sharp intake of breath when, early in the second-half, Salah ran on to Mane’s measured pass but lifted his first-time shot over the cross-bar. As well as Salzburg had played Salah had not taken the two strongest opportunities. And he knew it although he was unfortunate as he shaped to round Stankovic, from Roberto Firmino’s ball through, only for the goalkeeper to thrust out an arm and deny him.
There was a roar from the Salzburg fans as Haaland gained possession inside the Liverpool area but the anticipation was unfulfilled as he slammed a shot into the side-netting before, finally, Liverpool scored those two quickfire goals.
There could have been more with Mane wasteful on two occasions and Salah shooting weakly. But Liverpool had their win and, in the end, it was mightily impressive. And a little crazy.
Liverpool win! They had to work hard for it too - a superb effort to cope with Salzburg and then see them off.
90 mins+ 2 - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 2
Salah wastes yet another chance with an awful finish. Daka wastes a chance to thread his teammate in on goal with a bad pass.
90 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 2
Here's a great example of the offside law being stupid. Salah is offside as the ball is played behind the defence, he has to keep avoiding the ball so as not to give away the free-kick and that's difficult because he's chasing it towards the Salzburg goal. They have to defend against Mane - who nearly scores inside the area - but also avoid Salah, who is trying to keep away from the ball. It doesn't make sense. Kinda works. But there's no way that doesn't confuse the defending players.
88 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 2
Keita off, Origi on. I think Liverpool are safe now.
86 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 2
Why do I have to listen to McManaman sniffing all the way through games? Every time he commentates he says something which usually starts either "Yeh, yeh" or "No, no Fletch" and then sniffs. It's infuriating. As soon as he finishes speaking, almost every time he speaks. SNIFF.
83 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 2
Alexander-Arnold takes a short corner, Salah wants to blast it top corner but again just drags it along the ground, a cross is put back in and acrobatically headed wide. Liverpool all over this now.
Salah and Mane exchange passes in the box with only the goalie and one defender to beat after somehow managing to find their way there again, but can't work space to shoot.
80 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 2
Salah runs into the box, cuts onto his left and tries a shot into the top corner which he ends up putting down the middle. Easy save, bit of a wasted chance. Keita is annoyed he didn't get the pass, forgetting he's talking to Mo "Shoot on sight" Salah.
Wijnaldum is absolutely brilliant on the ball. He's just done drag-backs and quick turns to hold it away from three chasing players in midfield.
77 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 2
Firmino runs into the box from wide and tries to stab a shot in at the near post. That's his last kick of the game and Milner comes on in his place.
Haaland is subbed off for Okugawa. Wasn't his night.
74 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 2
Klopp might try and slow things down a bit now, possibly with some substitutions and dropping a few more players behind the ball. Salzburg have had Haaland overhit a cross, Minamino shoot over for a corner (deflected) and will definitely end the match on the attack.
71 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 2
Since the 2017-18 season when he joined Liverpool, only Lionel Messi (28) has been directly involved in more Champions League goals than Mo Salah (27 - 19 goals, 8 assists).
70 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 2
Daka on, Januzovic off. That might be a change of shape for Salzburg, if not just an attacking move. He's scored 13 goals in 16 Austrian Bundesliga games...
68 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 2
ALEXANDER-ARNOOOOLLLLLDDDDD!!! Oh jeez that was close. The Liverpool full-back lines up a free-kick on the corner of the box and whips it with power towards the top corner, just catching the side-netting. The goalkeeper was completely and hopelessly beaten.
66 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 2
Mane fouls near the Liverpool box but the free-kick is chipped straight out for a goal kick. Salzburg's Champions League dream is fading... but they came back into it from nowhere in the first match. It feels like this one is over but it just takes one mistake for that to change.
64 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 2
Liverpool are finding gaps and threading the forwards in behind the Salzburg defence now. Salah is just beaten to another through-ball by the goalkeeper, who races 35 yards off his line to clear.
There were exactly 100 seconds between Naby Keita giving Liverpool the lead and Mo Salah doubling the score against FC Red Bull Salzburg.
61 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 2
Salzburg are a little bit dizzy from that two goal hit. They're not really doing anything wrong either, it's just a couple of mistakes that have led to Liverpool goals.
LIVERPOOL SCORE AGAIN!
WOW! What a finish! Salah has missed about three simple chances yet has managed to round the goalie and slot in from almost the goal line. He lifts the ball too so it misses the man in the six yard box!
LIVERPOOL HAVE THE LEAD!
Salzburg 0 Liverpool 1
Alexander-Arnold hits a brilliant cross-field ball, Robertson controls, plays in Mane and he easily bursts past the defender, chipping into the area for Keita. He heads at goal, just avoids hitting anyone on the line and gives Liverpool a really important lead.
57 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Brilliant defending from Kristensen who has to battle hard to stop Mane getting in at goal and comes away with the ball.
56 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Van Dijk comes over to the right to help out for a second but then switches back with Gomez to left centre-back. Alexander-Arnold shows a smart touch to push the ball one side of his man and run round the other but Salzburg win possession and then lose it and then win it and then lose it. Relentless. Alisson kicks the ball straight out for a throw with a mis-kick.
53 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Lovren has gone down with an injury and will need to leave the pitch. He's in a bit of pain and it seems to be something to do with his knee. Joe Gomez getting ready to come on in his place. This is interesting because Gomez will be playing next to Alexander-Arnold, who is really struggling against Haaland and the Salzburg overlaps on the left.
51 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Salzburg work another nice move up the left, Minamino tries to engineer room for a shot but is tackled. Liverpool then attack and Salah is in again! He tries to go round the goalkeeper but makes a total mess of it! The goalkeeper sticks out a hand and saves easily.
Salzburg then go up the other end, put Haaland in one v one with Lovren, he shifts the ball onto his left and shoots hard at goal... and it crashes into the side netting.
48 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Liverpool are prepared for the immediate Salzburg attack as Hwang is played in down the right. Robertson moves up the pitch and inside, lines up a shot from 25 yards... and it's way wide. An early effort at goal though.
Salzburg attack, Ulmer burns past Alexander-Arnold for pace, cuts a ball across the area and HAALAND SHOOTS! It hits a body but did it come off an arm? Liverpool don't care and attack up the other end, Salah is threaded in behind... and misses a one v one! He's forgotten how to shoot tonight.
KICK OFF 2
Right. We're back.
What do Liverpool need to do?
There's no way Salzburg can keep up the pressure and relentless running and Klopp's team started to get back into it towards the end of the match.
Klopp will be pumping his players up for the start of the second half. An early blitz and then some canny game management makes sense to me - it's impossible to control the outcome of the match if it's as crazy and open as the first half. If Liverpool can tease Salzburg further forward they've already shown they can tip-tap their way up the pitch.
The problem is how on earth they pop the Salzburg balloon when it's swooshing all over the pitch like a rogue firework. Or to use a better simile, like a balloon you've just let go of without tying up. Neeeeeeeoooooowwww. You know the noise.
Well that was fun. End to end, chances everywhere, tackles, running... it's great.
45 mins+1 - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
The break is on for Liverpool as Salzburg lose possession high up the pitch. Salah does really well to disguise his pass through to Keita, who stabs a shot at the near post but is blocked and then accidentally carries the ball over the line for a goal kick.
44 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Haaland waits on the shoulder of Lovren and the ball is chipped over to him. He controls, another defender comes across to cover and Haaland passes inside to Minamino, who shoots from distance and is just wide.
42 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Hwang goes nuts at Haaland as he fails to bring the ball under control. It's not quite sitting or rolling for him yet.
Mwepu hits a beautiful looking shot from 30 yards fizzing straight down the barrel into Alisson's gloves. Would have been lovely.
39 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Salzburg attack, Hwang has no safe options and takes his time... then moves the ball out wide. The winger hits a curved, powerful cross into the box but it's cleared.
Jordan Henderson has had enough and goes on a mad pressing chase of the ball, something which some passes easily bypass and then all of a sudden it turns into something resembling an attack.
36 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Mane is ganged up on in the corner by two defenders, who aggressively tackle him and win the throw. It's really intimidating to play against teams like this... but they are starting to make mistakes and aren't able to get out from their defensive shape. The long balls over the top aren't quite as effective as earlier either.
34 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Salah punts the free-kick high and wide of the goal.
33 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Liverpool are starting to find ways to build play and get up the pitch but there's always this lingering suspicion that it might actually be a trap. Stringing passes together nicely though and they have Salzburg back defending. Salah wins a free-kick on the edge of the area.
30 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Salah. Oh Salah. What a dreadful miss. Liverpool escape from a dangerous Salzburg chance ruined by Hwang's poor pass and then play one and two touch passes up the pitch, working it from back to front until suddenly Salah and Firmino are two v one with the last man! Salah can shoot on his left foot but shanks it wide.
27 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Haaland pulls out left, Minamino threads him in and Lovren has to run hard to keep up. Inside the box he thumps a left-foot shot across the goal which Alisson blocks at the near post, then slams his fist into the ground in frustration.
I'm really enjoying this match. Super high tempo, unpredictable, neither side has control. Salzburg attack with loads of bodies through the middle of the pitch, it's like a cavalry charge every time they come forward.
24 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Ulmer turns up on the left, fakes a cross and ghosts past Alexander-Arnold into the box but the Liverpool defence is deep and numerous. Cleared.
Both teams are most dangerous in transition tonight and both are looking to exploit those situations whenever they can. The Salzburg manager is off the bench trying to get his players to cool their jets in midfield, which is where Liverpool are winning the ball most.
22 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Mane is scaring Salzburg on the left of attack, bursting behind the lines onto through-balls. He tries to curl one into the far corner but gives the goalkeeper an easy save, although that save is pushed straight back into Salah... who blasts over the bar.
Salzburg attack and Haaland just doesn't read a clever reverse pass sent his way. And Salzburg have a three v three!
An early forward pass, Hwang overlaps and tries to drag a pass across the box for Haaland and miskicks. It just needed a little more power and Haaland had a tap-in.
19 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Liverpool attack, Salzburg let them and then as soon as they win the ball instantly run forward. Mane is well managed by a few Salzburg players who try to stop him by fouling him. This is successful but also results in a free-kick wide left. Zonal marking from the home team... and it's cleared.
Alisson comes 20 yards off his line to head the next long ball away.
16 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Lovren isn't sure what's going on around him, seems to think Alisson is coming off his line to collect the ball he's shielding and has to react quickly as he realises this is not a good situation to be in. Nothing comes of the resulting throw.
The Salzburg press has gone from ARRRRGGGGHHH to about seven on the scale of 1-10.
14 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Salzburg run about the same amount as Liverpool. It's so intense. As soon as they get the ball they burst forward, as soon as they lose it they press. It's making Liverpool play poor passes and creating chances to break but I wonder how long they can keep up the energy.
11 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Van Dijk bounces Hwang to the floor. "Only one winner there" says McManaman.
9 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Salzburg are really good. It's all about intensity. The defender pumps it forward and the midfield and strikers chase the second ball, swarming around Liverpool and dancing in the chaos of it all. Alisson has to block a shot and then another and it's a bit of a pinball machine until the ball is cleared.
Liverpool get forward quickly - the game is so direct - and Mane lines up a shot at the top corner from 20 yards which is juuuuuust wide. The goalkeeper looked beaten.
7 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Mistake by Hwang! He's helping out in defence but passes inside to where a body should be and hands possession straight to Mane! Liverpool have players over, try to work it around the box but eventually Mane's shot is across the box and Alexander-Arnold's attempt at the back post to convert it is high.
Great game so far.
5 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
The first thought by Sazlburg's midfield is to knock it up the pitch for a forward to chase. Napoli have scored in the other match which means they are now top of the group... but for how long?! Because SALAH IS IN BEHIND! The defender stays close, Salah takes the shot on his right and boots it straight at the goalkeeper. Corner.
3 mins - Salzburg 0 Liverpool 0
Salzburg are on the attack from the start! Van Dijk is tested for pace by Haaland and the Liverpool defender is tested again seconds after, forced to give away a corner. Intense start from Salzburg.
Liverpool try and slow it down as they pass out from the back. Looks like Salzburg want to lure them out their defensive shell. And a shot from Mwepu forces Alisson into a save!
And they're off!
One of my takeaways from the last match
It's kinda hard to see it without actually being there but Salzburg's shape is dead interesting. It seems like it should be a 3-5-2 but is actually more of a 2-2-2-2 with 2 wingers chasing Andy Robertson. If it worked for my Leyton Orient save in FM15, it can work for Salzburg. pic.twitter.com/auoXZgkYQl
— JJ Bull (@jj_bull) October 2, 2019
Salzburg are something between a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-1-2 but also a back three. The full-backs do a lot of running. In the last game Liverpool absolutely flew into a 3-0 win before Salzburg clawed one back and tipped the momentum. Klopp's side were lucky to come away with the three points... and that was at Anfield.
I love Haaland
Haaland's numbers are even more mental than they were when I wrote this (he's now on 21 goals in 28 matches). He is amazing. Michael Owen doesn't see it and says "he doesn't get me off my seat" and that he's "not excited to watch him" because usually great players do something different like be "great at dribbling". The boy is 19 and has scored eight goals in five Champions League matches. He's just like a massive version of Owen at the same age.
Did Naby Keita impress so much at the weekend he gets in the team?
Jurgen Klopp says:
Yeh. He makes sense for this game as well, where we need to play him and in which positions. He knows the stadium. That's not the reason for it but it's an easy decision.
Erling Haaland on the old iPhone
Here he is:
According to the picture database this is Haaland inspecting the pitch before the match and not him Facetiming one of his pals. When I was 19 not only did Facetime not exist, but the most exciting thing I'd be able to share with a friend on a phone was how many pints I'd poured that night in my job in a pub. This guy is about to scare the life out of Virgil Van Dijk and Dejan Lovren.
What do Liverpool need to do to progress?
If you're not quite sure how all the tables and away games and goals scored work, we have a list of all the permutations right here for you. The tl;dr is all the English clubs would be best off if they won tonight. Imagine that.
Champions League football is here
Will Liverpool defend their Champions League title? Can Salzburg cause a massive upset? Is Erling Haaland really that good? The only answer we know for sure is yes. In reference to the third one. He is legit.
In this liveblog you have found yourself reading we, or I, will spend the next while providing updates and analysis for this evening's early match in Austria. Liverpool really need to win. To do that they'll need a high tempo performance, composed defending and a strong team. Here it is:
"Everybody knows it's a final and we're prepared. Salzburg has to win against us," said Jurgen Klopp as part of the pre-match buildup.
"We are not a typical Champions League winner, we're still ambitious like crazy, we will go for everything and run for our lives. It's not that I expect us to go through, I expect us to play the best game we can play."
Stay with us for all the action, kick off is the new normal time of 5:55pm.