Champions League: Liverpool blows 3-0 lead but Mohamed Salah saves day against Jesse Marsch's Salzburg

Liverpool's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah (R) celebrates with Liverpool's Senegalese striker Sadio Mane (L) and Liverpool's Brazilian midfielder Roberto Firmino after scoring their fourth goal during the UEFA Champions league Group E football match between Liverpool and Salzburg at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on October 2, 2019. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (right) scored two goals, including the game-winner, in Wednesday's 4-3 victory over RB Salzburg. (Paul Ellis/Getty)

Two weeks ago, Red Bull Salzburg’s first UEFA Champions League contest in 14 years went about as perfectly as American manager Jesse Marsch could have envisioned, his relentless young side thrashing Belgian foe Genk 6-2.

On Wednesday, Marsch and Salzburg produced almost as impressive a performance, scaring the life out of reigning European champions Liverpool by scoring three straight goals at Anfield to erase a 3-0 deficit before Mohamed Salah converted the winning goal with 20 minutes left in the Reds’ 4-3 victory.

Liverpool was the heavy favorite beforehand. But after dropping their Champions League opener at Napoli last month, they couldn’t afford to have an off night against their young and relentless Austrian opposition. Anything less than three points at home just wouldn’t do.

But fears among the faithful soon disappeared after Sadio Mane slalomed through the visitors’ defense and finished off a slick give-and-go with Bobby Firmino less than nine minutes in (via Bleacher Report):

Andrew Robertson doubled the home side’s advantage off a gorgeous pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold, and when Salah added a third with 10 minutes remaining in the first half, the rout was on:

But rather than fold, Salzburg came roaring back. Patson Daka fired just over the bar before Marsch’s side pulled one back, and they were the better team through much of the second half.

Meantime, the Reds looked far from convincing, as has been the case for the last few weeks both domestically and in Europe. Captain Jordan Henderson was dispossessed on the play that led to Salzburg’s opener, which gave the guests some momentum heading into halftime. Liverpool backup keeper Adrian — who is filling in for the injured Alisson — almost gave away another goal with a sloppy pass out of the back just after the break.

Salzburg’s second goal, from the excellent Takumi Minamino, had been coming long before it arrived in the 56th minute. It was little surprise, then, when blue-chip 19-year-old forward Erling Braut Haland tapped in the equalizer on the hour mark.

That goal woke the Reds up, though, and Salah, as he has for much of the last three seasons on Merseyside, ended up saving Jurgen Klopp’s squad when he raced onto a headed Firmino pass to poke home the decisive strike:

The victory wasn’t pretty, and Klopp and Co. will surely be wary of their December trip to Red Bull Arena to close out the group stage. But in the end Liverpool did just enough to get what they needed from this one. When the points are tallied up, that’s all that matters.

For Marsch’s men, the defeat no doubt stings. Still, Salzburg’s players should hold their heads high. Anfield is considered one of the least hospitable venues for visiting teams in all of Europe. Few teams go there and score three goals.

But Salzburg has quality. Its first two strikes on Wednesday were superbly taken, and Haland, who had a had a hat trick against Genk, came off the bench and produced yet again, stunning the home crowd in the process:

Salzburg is already tearing up the Austrian Bundesliga; now the club is beginning to forge a reputation on the rest of the continent as well. That’s no small feat.

In September, Marsch told Yahoo Sports that his team’s goal is to win the Champions League. That’s probably not realistic. But if they can get a result against Napoli in their next Champions League match later this month, not only will their confidence grow, but any talk of them potentially sneaking into the knockout stage at the expense of one of the Group E big boys won’t sound all that farfetched.

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