Different continent, different competition, same old Liverpool. The Club World Cup semi-final proved a complication for the European champions but Roberto Firmino found a familiar solution with a stoppage time winner against Monterrey. “Staying on track is part of our game,” said Jürgen Klopp. The track leads to a final with Flamengo on Saturday, and the chance to be crowned best in the world for the first time.
The importance of the competition was writ large on the devastated faces of the Monterrey players after Firmino tapped home an intelligent cross from his fellow substitute Trent Alexander-Arnold to seal a slender and difficult victory. Liverpool were disrupted by illness and injury and grateful for Alisson’s commanding presence on the big occasion once again. Klopp’s team were also left in no doubt they must raise their game considerably against the Copa Libertadores champions to make the journey to Qatar, with all its complications and ramifications back home, worthwhile.
“It will be more difficult for sure,” said Klopp of the final. “I don’t know who exactly will be ready for the next game. I saw the Monterrey bench and it looked like it had 10 to 15 players on it. Flamengo’s season is over and they are here with a full squad. We just have to recover as quickly as possible.” Winning whatever the circumstances certainly helps.
This was an awkward assignment for the Liverpool manager from the outset. His concerns over a pitch that had staged two other games in the previous 24 hours were unfounded - 18 ground-staff were on hand to tidy an immaculate surface following the warm-up and at half-time - but selecting a defence to play on it proved problematic. Virgil van Dijk was confined to his hotel room by illness and, with Dejan Lovren, Joël Matip and Fabinho already sidelined through injury, Joe Gomez was the only central defender available. It fell to Jordan Henderson to partner Gomez in the heart of an all-British back line in which James Milner also replaced the rested Alexander-Arnold. Teething troubles were inevitable, and Monterrey were alert to their opponents’ vulnerability in the air, but Liverpool’s control of possession – and Alisson’s assured performance – helped alleviate the pressure on their defence.
The semi-final played out amid a strange atmosphere. One small pocket of Mexican supporters made an incessant noise while the rest of the stadium was subdued until the ball arrived in the vicinity of Mohamed Salah. The Egypt captain was determined to ensure his personal fanbase would be richly entertained. “The attention Mo gets in this part of the world is massive and I thought he dealt with that sensationally and played really well,” his manager said.
Salah crafted the breakthrough when he took possession from Milner with his back to goal and his man marker for the night, Leonel Vangioni, in close attendance. He not only held off the Monterrey defender but had the awareness to spot Naby Keïta’s darting run behind Nicolás Sánchez and thread a superb reverse pass into the path of the midfielder. Keïta provided the touch that Salah’s work deserved and beat goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero with an emphatic finish.
Keïta’s runs from deep troubled Monterrey throughout but Liverpool had no time to settle on their early lead. The Mexican side were level within two minutes as the European champions struggled to deal with a free-kick conceded by Milner’s foul on Rodolfo Pizarro. The set-piece was delivered to the corner of the Liverpool box where Stefan Medina towered above Keïta to head into the danger area. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cleared only as far as Sánchez, whose overhead kick caught a teammate flush in the face but teed up Jesús Gallardo for a left-foot volley that Alisson pushed away. But straight to Rogelio Funes Mori, and the former Everton defender’s twin made no mistake from close range.
Alisson prevented Funes Mori scoring again when getting a vital touch on a cross from Dorlan Pabón that was destined for the unmarked striker at the back post without his intervention. The Liverpool keeper also saved at full stretch from Pabón as Monterrey prospered in the space that Van Dijk would normally protect. His absence was felt.Quick guide
Match stats: Monterrey 1-2 Liverpool
Goals: Funes Mori 14; Keita 11 Firmino 90
Barovero; Montes (Layún 79), Sánchez, Vangioni (booked); Medina, Rodriguez, Ortiz, Gallardo (booked); Pabón (Meza 82), Pizarro (J González 90); Funes Mori Subs not used: Gutiérrez, Mejia, Urretaviscaya, Zaldívar, Basanta, A González, Cárdenas, Vásquez, Reséndez
Alisson; Milner (Alexander-Arnold 75), Gomez (booked), Henderson, Robertson; Oxlade‑Chamberlain, Lallana, Keïta; Salah, Origi (Firmino 85), Shaqiri (Mané 68) Subs not used: Adrián, Lonergan, Jones, Williams
Referee Roberto Tobar (Chile) Attendance 45,416
Possession: Monterrey 31%, Liverpool 69%
Klopp switched to 4-2-3-1 after the interval but Liverpool remained vulnerable to Monterrey’s pace and the strength of Funes Mori. Alisson saved twice from Pabón and again when Funes Mori tried to catch him out with a snap-shot from 30 yards. Monterrey demanded a red card for Gomez when the defender, already booked for hauling down Funes Mori as the last man, was penalised for handball. Antonio Mohamed’s protestations provoked a furious reaction from Klopp who left his technical area to berate the Monterrey coach for appealing for a dismissal. Both managers continued to exchange barbs and were shown yellow cards.
“For me it was a red card for the first foul and the second, so I spoke to the ref,” said Mohamed. “Maybe the Liverpool shirt has more weight and therefore the Liverpool player was not sent off.”
Klopp introduced the insurance policy of Sadio Mané, Alexander-Arnold and Firmino to avoid extra time. It paid dividends when Alexander-Arnold swept an intelligent cross to the near post after good work by Salah and Firmino tucked the winner beyond Barovero.