Liverpool overcame a thorough examination from Salzburg to prevail 2-0 in Austria and book their place in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League. (More Football News)
Jurgen Klopp's men needed to avoid defeat to be sure of continuing their European title defence – something that looked far from assured in a high-octane first half, where there were openings at both ends.
Naby Keita made the 57th-minute breakthrough against his old club before Mohamed Salah added a wonderful second 100 seconds later, although goalkeeper Cican Stankovic will rue his part in both goals
Highly-rated Salzburg striker Erling Haaland was unable to add to his eight Champions League goals this season, but few Europa League opponents will relish facing him and his relentless team-mates when they drop down after the turn of the year.
GET IN THERE!!— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 10, 2019
GROUP E WINNERS. BRING ON THE LAST 16! pic.twitter.com/rfubyYuaMk
Stankovic was forced into a save from Salah when the Liverpool forward beautifully brought down Dejan Lovren's raking ball, but Salzburg made much of the running in a frenetic opening.
Hwang Hee-chan and Takumi Minamino's invention and clever movement was causing the Reds problems and Alisson made a brilliant double save in the seventh minute to deny each man from close range.
Haaland's pursuit of a goal in every Champions League group game ran into Alisson in the 24th minute after he sprung onto a Minamino pass behind Lovren.
Salah dragged woefully wide of the near post and Stankovic stood firm when the Egypt star played Keita through in first-half stoppage time.
Haaland blasted a promising chance into the side netting and Salzburg would rue their marksman's unusual wastefulness as they conceded twice in quick succession before the hour.
Stankovic had charged out boldly to check Salah near the edge of his box shortly after the restart but was too ambitious when ex-Salzburg forward Sadio Mane rounded him down the left channel and crossed for Keita to head in.
Salah then danced around the over-zealous Austria international but still had plenty to do – the finish from a tight angle on his weaker right foot was sublime.
Roberto Firmino, Salah and Mane all went close to a third goal during the closing stages as Salzburg's exertions took a clear toll.
What does it mean? Klopp's Reds stay on the road to third straight final
Considering the first-half fright handed to them by Jesse Marsch's men, Liverpool might feel they have cleared one of the biggest obstacles in the way of a third consecutive Champions League final. If that sounds like an exaggeration, consider the fact they have never lost a two-legged knockout tie under Klopp.
Before they resume their European season in the Europa League, Salzburg might find themselves inundated with enquires for the star performers in their vibrant, youthful side. Haaland has stolen the headlines, but Hwang, Minamino and midfielder Enock Mwepu were all wonderful for an hour here.
Keita nabs another goal
A big-money arrival from RB Leipzig, Keita remains a rare example of a Klopp signing not to give a handsome return on the investment.
Form and fitness issues have hindered the Guinea international so far this season. He will hope back-to-back goals against Bournemouth and Salzburg amount to a corner turned.
Salzburg undermined by Stankovic stinker
The ambition in Salzburg's play was clear for all to see but Stankovic needlessly overplayed his hand by haring towards two of the most lethal attackers in world football. Mane, in setting up Keita, and Salah duly punished him.
Key Opta Facts
- Liverpool have now progressed from all three of their Champions League group stages under Klopp; they had been knocked out at this stage in both of their last two group stages in the competition before the German’s arrival (2009-10 and 2014-15).
- Salzburg's 16 goals scored is the most by a side to be eliminated from their Champions League group since Chelsea also scored 16 but finished third in 2012-13; this was the only one of Salzburg’s six Champions League matches in 2019-20 that they failed to score in.
- Liverpool kept a clean sheet in an away Champions League game for the first time in 11 such matches, having conceded 18 goals in their previous 10 away games in the competition before.
- Salzburg have lost back-to-back home games in European competition for the first time since October 2016 (three in a row); they were unbeaten in 19 home European games before losing to Napoli in October and Liverpool.
- Excluding qualifying games, English sides are unbeaten in 18 meetings with Austrian clubs in major European competition (W14 D4), with Liverpool winning both games against Salzburg this campaign.
- Salah has been involved in 27 Champions League goals for Liverpool (19 goals, eight assists) - only Lionel Messi (28) has been involved in more since the Egyptian joined the Reds in 2017.
- There were nine shots on target in the first half of this match, the most in the first half of a Champions League game without a goal being scored since Schalke v Manchester United in April 2011 (10).
Liverpool will hope to continue an almost-flawless 2019 in the Premier League when they entertain Watford in a top-versus-bottom clash, while Salzburg travel to Hartberg in the Austrian Bundesliga.