Liverpool came from behind to win for the fourth time in their last five matches as they kicked off their Europa League campaign with victory over LASK.
Jurgen Klopp made 11 changes to his starting XI and must have been concerned when his team went in at half-time 1-0 down after Florian Flecker smashed into the bottom corner from the edge of the box. Darwin Nunez saw a point-blank range header kept out brilliantly by LASK goalkeeper Tobias Lawal and it took a moment of good fortune to make the breakthrough.
Luis Diaz was felled in the box and Nunez buried the resulting penalty into the corner to draw Liverpool level at 1-1. They were ahead seven minutes later when Ryan Gravenberch crossed low for Diaz to convert on the break. Klopp brought on the big guns off the bench and Liverpool comfortably held off their Austrian opponents for the three points, but, despite Mohamed Salah’s classy late finish, it was not vintage stuff and Gravenberch limping off won’t help things.
Liverpool have a problem with starting slowly. LASK had done their homework and used two blockers to get Flecker space on the edge of the box. He used it well, smashing a brilliant effort past Caoimhin Kelleher.
But Klopp will be aware of the wider issue at play here: this was the fourth time Liverpool have conceded first across their past five games. LASK joined Bournemouth (three minutes) Newcastle(25 minutes) and Wolves (seven minutes) in taking the lead against the Reds.
And although they came back to win all of those three matches, Liverpool are giving themselves an uphill to climb. That is not a sustainable approach. It is something Klopp needs to address because it’s starting to look a lot more than a coincidence.
At 17, Doak became the fourth youngest player to start a European match for Liverpool on Thursday night. His youthful looks may have given away his status, but you wouldn’t have known his inexperience from watching him.
Doak has Liverpool fans excited and it’s easy to see why. The young Scot is a bundle of energy on the right wing and he was bright from the off in Austria.
Completely unafraid of losing the ball, he constantly committed his man by running at him. He has quick feet and a nice burst of pace which shows why he has Klopp’s confidence. As Mohamed Salah’s understudy, he will have to remain patient, but he clearly offers something different. He was brought off in the 60th minute having made a good impression.
Gravenberch joined Liverpool because he was frustrated with the lack of game time at Bayern Munich. Liverpool shelled out £34million on his promise, but he has been forced to wait for his first start.
Immediately it was clear how much he wanted to impress his new manager. There was a point in the first half where he was seen beating the turf in frustration after giving the ball away a few times in quick succession.
With fellow new arrival Wataru Endo anchoring the midfield, Gravenberch was given a freer No8 role, one which he seemed to enjoy. The 21-year-old has a good engine and an eye for the pass: he played three key passes before grabbing his first assist for Liverpool, bursting forward on the counter to cross for Diaz to score.
His eagerness did present itself as trying too hard a bit later as he burst forward and bungled a three-on-three chance with a sloppy pass. He was substituted moments later, having run himself into the ground. He limped gingerly off the pitch and Liverpool will hope it’s nothing serious.
Klopp opted to make 11 changes to the side which beat Wolves 3-1 on the weekend and he made reference to the need to rotate in his pre-match interview. “The reason we made the changes is because we want to give our all in this competition,” he told TNT Sports.
Opportunity knocked for Doak, Gravenberch and fit-again Stefan Bajcetic and in the first half they did not take their chances. Nunez’s point-blank header was Liverpool’s only shot on target and Klopp must have been wondering just how strong his squad is.
But as LASK tired and Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai, Joe Gomez and Salah came off the bench, Liverpool took control. With the Thursday-Sunday routine setting in, they will need better performances from their fringe players in the future.
Nunez scored from the spot, Diaz finished a swift counter and Salah put the icing on the cake when he danced through the defence and toe-poked in a third goal. Klopp won’t mind, it was about winning and winning only.
But it goes to show the gap between the first-choice attackers and their back-ups, although LASK’s tiring legs should be taken into consideration as well. Liverpool go again against West Ham on Sunday in the Premier League.