MILAN: When a breakthrough is proving elusive, Liverpool can still prosper from a set piece.
After 75 minutes of caution – even tedium – in the Champions League at Inter Milan, Andy Robertson swung in a corner that was met at the near post by Roberto Firmino glancing in a header, with his back to goal.
It was Liverpool’s fifth goal from a set piece in the Champions League this season, ranking first in Europe just like in the Premier League. Once Mohamed Salah found the net in the 83rd minute it ensured the six-time European champions secured a 2-0 win in the round of 16 first leg on Wednesday.
It was a free kick from Robertson that created the opening for the second at San Siro as Liverpool scored from the game’s only two shots on target.
The hosts only partially cleared before the ball found its way back to Trent Alexander-Arnold, whose cross into the penalty area was nodded down by Virgil van Dijk. Salah was primed unmarked centrally to produce a shot that deflected past goalkeeper Samir Handanovic for his 10th goal in his last 12 Champions League appearances.
By securing a fourth successive away win in Europe for the first time since 2006, the 2019 Champions League winners gained a crucial cushion to take back to Anfield for the second leg next month. “I think we both took a lot of risk in the pressing. It’s about the hard fight, the battle when you have the ball – be brave, make the right decisions and keep it tight at the back,” Van Dijk told CBS.
Inter Milan didn’t manage a single shot on target in the 90 minutes and now faces missing out on a first quarterfinal appearance since 2011 in European football’s elite competition. “In the Champions League small details make the difference. We have created a lot, but we did not manage to score,” Inter defender Milan Škriniar said.
How differently it might have turned out for the Italian champions had Hakan Calhanoglu’s first-half shot from a tight angle not hit the crossbar. “We don’t have much hope now. But we will go Anfield to play the best possible match and we will see,” Inter coach Simone Inzaghi said.
It was a night when Alexander-Arnold lost his place in the Liverpool record books as the team’s youngest-ever Champions League player as Harvey Elliott was handed his first appearance in the competition at 18 years, 318 days.
Elliott played for the first 59 minutes, during which Liverpool were largely underwhelming and came closest to scoring when Sadio Mane headed over in the first half. The only blot on the trip was Diogo Jota being forced off at halftime with an ankle injury, although that paved the way for the arrival of eventual scorer Firmino.
“Firmino needed time to get into the game. After his goal you could see the confidence back. All of a sudden, the ball was our friend again and we won the game,” Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp said on BT Sport. The night’s other first leg produced a far tighter result with Bayern Munich needing a goal from Kingsley Coman in the 90th minute to recover a 1-1 draw at Salzburg.
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