Going into the final matchday of the group stages of the Champions League, Liverpool knew that qualification going into the knockouts was already guaranteed at the top of the group. The team selected by Jurgen Klopp had eight changes from the lineup against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League and the youngest side to ever play for the Reds in this competition had to settle for shared honours after VAR plays its part once again in a Liverpool fixture.
The conversation before the game was geared much towards making note of the members of the Liverpool 25-man squad that retained their place in the team from the previous game. One of those players put Liverpool in control of the tie after just one minute on the clock.
Just as proceedings had begun and Midtjylland had time to process how Klopp’s men would setup and whether this when they would next be in the group stages of the Champions League after only in previous years making it as far as the second and third qualifying rounds in the 2019 and 2016 seasons respectively, a misplaced pass by Scholz allowed Mohamed Salah to skip past Sviatchenko and bundle the ball into the back of Hansen’s net.
After such a fast start to the scoring, it took twenty minutes for there to be another threatening chance on goal as Minamino’s cross from the right-hand side met its target of the man in form, Diogo Jota, but his volleyed effort on goal was met by the hands of Midtjylland’s goalkeeper this time.
With much of the first half gone, the Danish champions were struggling to cope with the quality of their English counterparts. Notably the right-back Dion Cools clashed with Jota with a step onto the ankle of the Portuguese forward that landed him in the referee’s book, and just a minute later the same player carved out the chance leading to Midtjylland’s first shot on target of the game.
Dreyer to Cools and a cross into the box met the Guinea International, Sory Kaba – his headed effort hooked away off the line from Fabinho. The final chance of the first half fell to another Guinean. Naby Keita thundered a half volley straight at the Midtjylland goalkeeper which he gladly caught.
Half time: Midtjylland 0-1 Liverpool
The second half opened with an effort rocking the crossbar of the goal that was under so much threat in the first. This time though the Danes peppered in on goal with Evander’s shot from a lazily thrown in cross from Dreyer had beaten the keeper but not the woodwork. Kaba’s acrobatic effort came from the ricochet off of the bar but did not hit the target.
The man who’s stepped into the sticks, boots, and gloves since the latest injury to Liverpool’s no. 1, Alisson, was culpable for giving away a penalty in the 58th minute. Caoimhin Kelleher raced out of his goal in an attempt to meet the long-range pass forward to Dreyer. Initially, the match officials ruled Dreyer offside, but VAR stepped in to call the attacker onside and showed the images of the Irishman missing contact with the ball and colliding with the Dane.
Alexander Scholz was the man to loft the ball forward to Dreyer and it was up to him to take the penalty which was converted – beating the goalie who dived the correct way but the power on the ball into the taker’s bottom-left corner was too much for Kelleher to keep out.
The chances did not stop there as Evander combined with substitute Isaksen outside the box and crossed the box through the Liverpool defence to reach Kaba. Too much power on the pass meant the goal was gaping as Kaba went to the ground and the ball rolled out of play.
The ball ended in the back of the net once again from Scholz’s shot. With 15 minutes left to play Kaba met another lofty ball in the box whilst in an offside position which was hooked onto Scholz who wheeled away in celebration as he powered the ball into the top of the net. This time the official’s original decision for offside stood and the score remained level.
All throughout the second half, it was Evander who was creating the chances and causing Fabinho and the rest of the Liverpool defence trouble as his corner was taken and met its target of Sviatchenko, a capped defender for Denmark and former Celtic centre-back. If not for Kelleher palming the ball away from goal and past Kaba, Midtjylland would have been ahead with only 5 minutes of regular time to play.
Another injury woe for Klopp as Kostas Tsimikas had to be taken off early for Andrew Robertson to come on and Diogo Jota did not finish the game but did play until the 87th minute. Sadio Mane came on for Jota and he linked up with Minamino as another substitute in the Liverpool captain, Jordan Henderson, crossed the ball in, Mane brought the ball down, gave it to Minamino, and put the ball into the bottom left corner of the net.
The whistle was blown but it was unclear for what offence. VAR found that Mane had brought the ball down using his head and onto his hand before it reached Minamino. Whether it was ‘clear and obvious’ though…that is, ironically, unclear. The ball may have hit the arm of Cools instead.
There were not too many protests from the Liverpool players as the goal was ruled out and that brought the game to an end.
Although Jurgen Klopp would’ve hoped for a winning end to the group stage of the Champions League for his side, at least some players were rested and Liverpool’s status as the group leader was already confirmed even before a ball had been kicked in Denmark.
Sunday 13th December has Liverpool face Fulham at Craven Cottage. Many supporters have called this game a routine three points for Klopp’s men before a ball has been kicked. It may be hard to not think about the clash against Spurs that comes the days later but stranger things have happened in the Premier League and indeed this season and The Cottagers may yet stun the champions.
Full time: Midtjylland 1-1 Liverpool
Midtjylland: Hansen (6), Cajuste (6), Cools (7), Paulinho (7), Dreyer (8), Evander (8), Kaba (7), Mabil (6), Onyeka (6), Scholz (7), Sviatchenko (7).
Subs: Isaksen (6), Anderson (6), Sisto (5), Madsen (n/a), Pfeiffer (n/a).
Liverpool: Kelleher (6), Alexander-Arnold (6), Fabinho (8), R. Williams (6), Tsimikas (6), Clarkson (6), Keita (7), Jota (7), Origi (5), Minamino (7), Salah (7).
Subs: Koumetio (6), Robertson (6), Henderson (6), Firmino (5), Mane (n/a).
Man of the match: Fabinho