Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson struck a rare Champions League goal to earn his side a 3-2 victory over AC Milan in a rip-roaring Group B opener at a rocking Anfield on Wednesday. Henderson rifled home in the 69th minute to settle an absorbing contest between the two European heavyweights whose only two previous meetings had been in finals.
With Anfield welcoming back fans for a Champions League night for the first time in 18 months, Liverpool had threatened to run riot when Fikayo Tomori’s own goal handed them an early lead in a barnstorming start. Remarkably, after weathering the storm which included a Mohamed Salah penalty miss, Milan struck twice in quick succession at the end of the first half with Ante Rebic and Brahim Diaz silencing the home crowd.
Milan then had a goal disallowed shortly after the break before Salah made amends for his penalty miss by equalising from close range in the 49th minute. The outcome was still in doubt until Henderson capped a memorable Anfield night with a thumping effort — only his second in the competition and first for seven years.
“First half an hour we blew them away,” Liverpool left back Andy Robertson said. “Then we got sloppy and stopped doing the things we were doing really well. We let them back into the game and walk in at halftime thinking ‘how have we let this happen?’”
Milan’s return to Europe’s top club competition for the first time in seven years began in torrid fashion as the seven-time champions were initially overwhelmed. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic unavailable and several players making their Champions League debut, Milan looked ill-equipped to compete and fell behind in the ninth minute when Trent Alexander-Arnold got in on the right side of the area and his cross struck former Chelsea player Tomori and beat Milan keeper Mike Maignan.
Before Milan could clear their heads they conceded a penalty when Ismael Bennacer blocked Robertson’s shot with his arm. But Maignan dived to his right to keep out Salah’s penalty. It was only the second time in 19 attempts that Salah had failed to convert a spot kick and it proved a turning point. Salah fired over and Joel Matip headed straight at Maignan as the chances kept coming but Liverpool were rocked on their heels as Milan turned the game on its head — Liverpool manager Klopp saying later that his team had got a bit “carried away”.
For the first time Liverpool’s high press relented and Milan worked the ball neatly forward before Franck Kessie’s pass played in Rebic to sweep a low shot past Alisson. Klopp wore a wry smile after that but one minute and 48 seconds later he looked as stunned as everyone else. Milan attacked down the left again with Kessie and Rebic combining to set up Alexis Saelemaekers whose shot was blocked on the line by Robertson only for Diaz to pounce and convert.
It could have got even worse for Liverpool a minute after the restart when Saelemaekers scored from close range following a corner but an offside flag spared Liverpool. The frantic pace continued and Liverpool were level in the 48th minute as Divock Origi, given his first action of the season, scooped a ball over Milan’s defence for Salah to dink a bouncing ball past Maignan for his 14th Champions League goal at Anfield, equalling former captain Steven Gerrard’s record. Milan did well to soak up Liverpool pressure but they finally cracked when a corner was cleared to the edge of the area and Henderson smashed the ball home.
Messi fails to provide spark as PSG disappoint
Lionel Messi failed to provide Paris St Germain with any sparkle as the Ligue 1 team’s potent attacking trio lacked inspiration in a disappointing 1-1 draw at Club Brugge in their Champions League opener on Wednesday.
Making his first start for the French team, the Argentine forward hit the woodwork but was otherwise far from his brilliant best alongside the hugely disappointing Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, who set up Ander Herrera for PSG’s first-half opener before being replaced injured after the break.
Brugge, who levelled before halftime through Hans Vanaken, were more aggressive and had the best chances against a PSG side lacking quality and defensive focus. The result left PSG and Brugge trailing Group A leaders Manchester City by two points after the Premier League champions crushed RB Leipzig 6-3.
“We didn’t play a fantastic game but to be fair we did enough to win, we deserved to win,” said Herrera. “Maybe they had opportunities at the beginning of the second half but I think we controlled the match, we had a lot of chances.”
Brugge keeper Simon Mignolet disagreed. “I didn’t have a lot of work, I just pulled a couple of saves. We played as a compact side, it was the right approach,” the Belgian said.
With Messi, Neymar and Mbappe together on the pitch for the first time, PSG made a confident start but Brugge responded well. Mbappe broke down the left flank and his low cross was met by Herrera, who opened the scoring in the 15th minute with a low finish for his fourth goal of the season – his third in his last two games. Messi set up Mbappe, who went close in the 23rd minute with an angled shot that was deflected by Mignolet but PSG were lulled into a false sense of security.
On a sharp attack, the visitors’ defence was overwhelmed on the right side and after a late run into the box, Vanaken connected with Eduard Sobol’s cutback to beat Keylor Navas after 27 minutes. Messi hit the woodwork with a fine curling shot from the edge of the box before Brugge threatened again as Vanaken forced Navas into a diving save with a low free kick.
The keeper was made to work again to tip Charles De Ketelaere’s rising shot over the bar before halftime. Danilo replaced Leandro Paredes as PSG’s holding midfielder while Julian Draxler took over from Georginio Wijnaldum as roving midfielder after the break. PSG suffered a blow six minutes into the second half when Mbappe limped off the pitch after taking a knock on his ankle and was substituted by Mauro Icardi. Messi had PSG’s first chance of the second half 20 minutes from time with an angled shot before picking up a yellow card, but Brugge did more than enough to claim a well-deserved point.
Nkunku hattrick can’t save Leipzig’s blushes as Grealish gets going for City
Manchester City, last season’s Champions League runners-up, crushed RB Leipzig 6-3 in a thrilling Group A game on Wednesday as Christopher Nkunku scored a hat-trick for the German side. It was a hugely entertaining match at the Etihad Stadium and although City manager Guardiola will be happy with the three points he will be concerned about the spaces his team left for the German side to exploit on the break.