Jurgen Klopp’s tactical trick gave Liverpool a welcome 2-0 Champions League win and only Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor prevented a major win in a one-sided affair at Anfield.
The 40-year-old former Scotland international was easily the busiest player for the visitors, who struggled to bridge the gap between the Scottish Premier League and the Premier League, even against unlikely opponents.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side came to Merseyside emboldened by Liverpool’s inconsistent form and incoherent defense but Klopp’s decision to switch formations to resolve a mini crisis of confidence had the desired effect.
They were undoubtedly backed by a team who have struggled to retain possession, let alone make progress in the attacking third, but have never been under the pressure, which saw Brighton score three goals here at the weekend to prompt Klopp’s change of plan.
The fact that they didn’t get more than Trent Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick and Mohamed Salah’s penalty at the start of each half was thanks to McGregor, who made four saves against Darwin Nunez in the first half alone.
Liverpool’s Uruguay international hasn’t scored since the opening day of the Premier League season but after a pep talk from Klopp and his coaching staff he became the focus of attack again and did a good job of re-acquainting himself with the competition in which he is Benfica performances last season contributed to his £64million summer transfer.
The win, coupled with Ajax’s defeat by Group A leaders Napoli, gave the Dutch a three-point lead and a win at Ibrox next week would secure their place in the knockout stages significantly.
However, Rangers are still waiting for their first Champions League goal in 12 years after scoring just one shot on target at Anfield – in the 86th minute.
Klopp’s quick fix to their defensive woes appeared to be to get more attacking, with Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation behind Nunez.
The echoes of fans booing the Champions League anthem in protest at UEFA’s handling of May’s final in Paris had barely died down when Nunez, after McGregor saved an early try, conceded a foul from the former Liverpool defender Ben Davies drew – on his first Anfield appearance.
A free-kick from 28 yards left of center was Alexander-Arnold’s main area and the right-back, being scrutinized on his defense, rolled a shot into the top corner.
McGregor then denied Salah, who was sacked by Nunez, who had a free hand to streak down the forward line, and the Uruguayan a further three times before the break as Liverpool created regular chances without looking clinical.
Rangers would have been relatively happy to come into the break just a goal behind, but even they must have sensed the inevitability of running direction and it took just eight minutes from the restart for their fears to be realized.
Former Everton academy graduate John Lundstram nibbled at Luis Diaz as he sliced in from the left, but it was the heavier, clumsier challenge from Leon King that brought down the Colombia international.
Salah confidently put the penalty in to give the goal line a more realistic look and from that point it seemed a question of how badly the hosts wanted to score more and whether Nunez could end his five-game hiatus.
It wasn’t because he was struggling for the willing striker, but Jota came closest when McGregor overplayed his shot.
Rabbi Matondo’s cross was cleared over his own crossbar by Liverpool left-back Kostas Tsimikas and his substitute Antonio Colak’s shot was knocked down by Alisson Becker as Rangers finally bounced in the final five minutes, but it was a symbolic effort on an unsuccessful night.
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/liverpool-mohamed-salah-champions-league-darwin-nunez-trent-alexanderarnold-b2195662.html Tactical change helps Liverpool get back on track against Rangers