Firmino the hero as Liverpool sink PSG to claim top spot in Group C


LIVERPOOL, England — Three points from Anfield as Liverpool struck late on to defeat Paris Saint-Germain 3-2 in their Champions League Group C opener Tuesday.

1. Firmino strikes late to seal dramatic Liverpool win

Roberto Firmino’s stoppage-time winner secured a dramatic Champions League victory against Paris Saint-Germain following a pulsating Group C clash at Anfield.

Firmino, who started the game on the substitutes’ bench due to the eye injury sustained against Tottenham at the weekend, won the game two minutes into added time after PSG had fought back from 2-0 down to equalise through Thomas Meunier and Kylian Mbappe.

Despite throwing away the two-goal lead given to them in the first half by Daniel Sturridge and James Milner, Liverpool never looked like losing this group-stage opener against the French champions. But last season’s beaten finalists bounced back from the blow of conceding the equaliser to Mbappe after 83 minutes by claiming the victory that takes them to the top of the group ahead of next month’s trip to Napoli.

In what is likely to be a tight group, this meeting of the two teams expected to progress to the round of 16 showcased the strengths and weaknesses of both Liverpool and PSG. Both clubs possess breathtaking attacking quality, but they also continue to have defensive issues that could cost both in the long term when it comes to their respective hopes of winning this season’s competition.

Liverpool showed last season, though, that they possess the ability to outscore virtually every opponent, and they repeated that against PSG, who once again appear too open at the back to make a genuine run in the knockout stages.

2. Liverpool’s strength comes from their unsung heroes

For once, Mohamed Salah was not the star man for Liverpool on a big European night at Anfield. The Egypt international certainly played his part against PSG, but the key men for Jurgen Klopp’s team were Milner, Andy Robertson, Sturridge and Georginio Wijnaldum — four of the most unheralded players in the team.

The quartet cost a combined £45 million — less than any of the figures paid for Naby Keita, Alisson Becker and Virgil van Dijk in 2018 — but their value to the team is far greater than the sum total of their transfer fees.

Milner and Wijnaldum have become integral figures in midfield for Liverpool, with Wijnaldum’s energy and Milner’s experience and toughness making them key figures. Scotland international Robertson has become one of the best left-backs in Europe since arriving from Hull City for £8m just over a year ago, and it was his cross that teed up Sturridge’s goal on 30 minutes.

Sturridge, of course, looked destined for the Anfield exit last season after moving to West Brom on loan and then suffering a miserable spell at The Hawthorns. But he played his part with the opening goal before the man he replaced, Firmino, struck the winner late in stoppage time.

Liverpool are a team of stars — expensive ones, too — but the glue that holds the best sides together are the players who fly under the radar, and Klopp has plenty of those who make a big difference.

3. PSG all style and no substance

Unai Emery, Laurent Blanc and Carlo Ancelotti all paid a heavy price for failing to turn Paris Saint-Germain into Champions League winners — losing their jobs as coach — but if Thomas Tuchel is to buck the trend, he must cure the team’s perennial imbalance.

PSG possess some of the most fearsome attacking talent in world football with Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani. But while they are A-list up front, they are distinctly also-rans defensively, and that weakness cost them again at Anfield.

Even before Sturridge put Liverpool ahead with a 30th-minute header, when he was left unmarked in the six-yard box, PSG keeper Alphonse Areola had been called upon to make a series of crucial early saves. The French champions simply could not keep Liverpool at bay, with their defence and deep-lying midfielders not up to the job of stifling the rampant home team.

It was a different matter at the other end of the pitch, with Mbappe, Neymar and Cavani all looking dangerous on the break. Even Angel di Maria, one of football’s most inconsistent players over the past few seasons, was a threat, and it was the former Manchester United winger’s cross that led to Meunier reducing the arrears to 2-1 shortly before half-time.

PSG’s problem is that they have invested heavily in their attacking players, but far less so when it comes to boosting their defensive options. They are half a team, but the weakness of Ligue 1 means that their defensive shortcomings are exposed only in Europe.

None of Emery, Blanc or Ancelotti was able to iron out that flaw, but Tuchel will have to do it if he is to have any hope of succeeding at the club. The way Tuesday’s game played out, though, suggests he is still searching for the formula.

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