Liverpool 3-2 AC Milan: The group-stage game ebbed and flowed until Jordan Henderson settled it with a fine half-volley
A beautiful night, barely believable in stanzas, condensed the magic of the Champions League into 95 minutes.
Liverpool and Milan, so tightly stitched into the fabric of this tournament, produced one of those matches you hoped wouldn’t end.
Jurgen Klopp’s side were the victors, only just, having initially shaped up to be ruthless vanquishers. Milan were on the ropes, then touching the sky, before falling to the turf.
A fixture oozing with European pedigree, historically reserved for the final of this elite competition, flicked the switch on Group B with five goals and bucket loads of ‘holy s***’.
What a glorious way to end a long, soulless 553 days here without continental football being painted by a backdrop of witty banners and soundtracked by relentless passion.
Liverpool felt alive amid the colour and noise: aggressive, irresistible, turbo-charged. Milan’s young side, one that thrived sans pressure in empty stadiums, looked lost in it. Until they… didn’t. Forget the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, their lion, Milan were playing possum.
And so an incredible first half provided more drama than any plot twist on Netflix. It started breathlessly: pass, move, shot. Before you could blink, so it went again. Liverpool swarmed, swirled around, and smothered Stefano Pioli’s side.
There were just nine minutes out the way when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s fine interplay with Mohamed Salah and his ball-carrying brilliance ended up with a sliding Fikayo Tomori deflecting the Liverpool right-back’s effort in.
The hosts didn’t stop coming at a shellshocked Milan and suddenly had a penalty when Andy Robertson’s shot thundered off Ismael Bennacer’s arm. It was a harsh handball call from referee Szymon Marciniak, but Salah’s penalty was wonderfully saved by Mike Maignan, who also thwarted Diogo Jota’s rebound.
It seemed only slight and short reprieve for Milan. Surely Liverpool would score more? Klopp’s men had 14 shots, 10 from inside the box before their counterparts suddenly sparked.
The half was in its dying embers when Milan had their first effort on target with Franck Kessie locating Ante Rebic in space, who sidefooted a low shot past Alisson.
There was no pressure on the ball from Liverpool, who’d be undressed again two minutes later. Rebic squared for Rafael Leao and Robertson did well to block his shot, but Brahim Diaz reacted sharpest and turned in the loose ball.
The whistle blew and sirens of being too comfortable and complacent rang for Liverpool. How on earth were they behind at half-time?
Milan began the second period with more of a scare for their hosts. Their first corner of the game was taken short and Jordan Henderson miskicked a low cross, which Simon Kjaer turned in — but it was ruled out for offside.
Liverpool had enough wake-up calls and shook off the slumber. The lesser-spotted Divock Origi supplied a delicious, chipped return pass for Salah to happily finish.
Then up stepped the captain, with as sweet a strike as you could like. Alexander-Arnold’s corner was cleared to Henderson, who barrelled it on the half-volley into the bottom corner.
Substitutions flowed and chances were still being carved out – primarily by Milan – at the death.
Klopp had predicted Liverpool’s games in this group would be “exciting from the first second to the last”. A beautiful night, barely believable in stanzas, is some start in declaring that truth.