A heavily modified Liverpool drew 1-1 in their last Champions League Group D game Midtjylland after VAR Takumi Minamino denied a late winner.
Liverpool had already been confirmed as group winners, and Jurgen Klopp made eight changes, naming the youngest Reds to ever start the competition (24 years and 26 days), including a Champions League debut for 19-year-old Leighton Clarkson.
But it was one of the older players who gave them the lead when Mohamed Salah shot home through the legs of goalkeeper Jesper Hansen after 55 seconds, scoring Liverpool’s fastest Champions League goal.
But Midtjylland, who already finished last in Group D, pushed for an equalizer, especially after the break, and got the breakthrough when VAR awarded them a penalty. Caoimhin Kelleher was punished for sending Anders Dreyer over with a stray leg, and after a lengthy review, Alexander Scholz (62) took home the penalty.
Klopp threw up his big guns as the game progressed and Liverpool believed they scored the winning goal when Minamino shot home in the 89th minute, but VAR were back to rule out the handball upfront against Sadio Mane.
How VAR dominated in Denmark
Liverpool started their last Champions League group game of the season with a bang when Salah scored a goal within a minute. It was a bad pass for Midtjylland that he took advantage of when he drove through midfield and captain Erik Sviatchenko could not stop him. Hansen came towards him, but Salah’s well-timed thrust through the goalkeeper’s legs did the job as the ball slowly shot over the line.
Salah almost made it two-way after collecting a beautiful, abandoned pass from Minamino, but his hit was saved by Hansen on the near post, with the offside flag also hoisted. The goalkeeper denied Liverpool shortly after when he pushed Diogo Jota’s shot away from close range.
Central Jutland: Hansen (6), Cajuste (6), Cools (7), Paulinho (7), Dreyer (7), Evander (7), Kaba (7), Mabil (6), Onyeka (6), Scholz (7), Sviatchenko (7).
Used subs: Isaksen (6), Anderson (6), Sisto (5), Madsen (n / a), Pfeiffer (n / a),
Liverpool: Kelleher (6), Alexander-Arnold (6), R. Williams (7), Fabinho (8), Tskimikas (7), Clarkson (7), Keita (7), Minamino (7), Jota (7), Origi (6), Salah (7).
Used subs: Koumetio (5), Robertson (6), Henderson (6), Firmino (5), Mane (n / a).
Man of the game: Fabinho.
Both sides closed shortly after half an hour. Salah shot the ball for Divock Origi, but the striker shot his diagonal shot past the far post and didn’t show any rust until his fourth start of the season. Liverpool had never conceded a Danish team in the Champions League before Wednesday and had Fabinho to thank for keeping that record intact in the first half. Sory Kaba nodded his right flank into the back post to Dion Cools, but the make-up defender was there to chop the ball off the line.
It didn’t seem to be Midtjyllands evening when they hit the bar at the start of the second half. Billy Koumetio’s miss, coming on at halftime, caught Evander, but he could only rattle the woodwork. Kaba then tried his luck with an overhead kick, but it just missed the post. The striker missed again shortly afterwards, but his header from Paulinho’s cross also missed the goal.
- Liverpool made eight changes – Caoimhin Kelleher, Fabinho and Mohamed Salah kept their seats while Naby Keita, Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi finished up front.
- Trent Alexander-Arnold also returned and was Liverpool’s first captain. 19-year-old Leighton Clarkson also made his Champions League debut in midfield.
But there was VAR controversy when Midtjylland received a penalty in the 61st minute. Dreyer was initially played through with a long pass and run over by a dangling Kelleher leg as he stretched to rescue. The linesman’s flag was originally hoisted as offside, but VAR reviewed the incident and found that Dreyer was actually on its side during setup.
The next question depended on whether Kelleher had fouled the midfielder and after consulting the pitchside monitor, the referee missed a penalty and the Liverpool goalkeeper was booked. Scholz confidently sent the penalty past Kelleher for his second goal of the season in the Champions League.
Despite the introduction of a number of Liverpool stars, it was Midtjylland most likely to hit next. In fact, they had the ball in the back of the net in the 77th minute, but Scholz’s second of the evening was correctly excluded as offside after another VAR intervention.
The technology wasn’t carried out there either as Minamino was denied a late winner. Mane nodded down Jordan Henderson’s cross, which the striker had slashed home, but the linesman had raised his flag. VAR stepped in and eventually banned the handball goal against Mane. His header hit his own arm before a defender was under construction when the game ended across the board.
Man of the Game – Fabinho
Yes, Fabinho only played 45 minutes but it was his absence in the second half that really showed how important he was to a young Liverpool defense.
The Brazilian international was there to take decisive blockades (1), interceptions and clearances (5) in the first half of the year. This became epitome when he erased the line from Kaba’s header. The credit must also go to Rhys Williams in the central defender, who once again looked safe in this position.
Fabinho was replaced by debutant Billy Koumetio in the second half and despite some good early touches from the 18-year-old, he looked more nervous as the game progressed and Midtjylland’s attack continued. In fact, they had 15 to five shots in the first 45 minutes in the second half and Fabinho’s withdrawal was certainly a big part of that.
With Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez out for most of the season, Fabinho’s performance in the first half and his noticeable absence after the break shows its enormous importance.
Opta Statistics – Midtjylland Test Liverpool
- Liverpool have scored 13 points in their six Champions League games this season (W4 D1 L1). only in 2008/09 (14) did they earn more in a single group stage of the competition.
- Midtjylland FC tried 20 shots against Liverpool. It was the best they had in a single Champions League game and the most that Liverpool have faced in a group stage match against Real Madrid (27) since November 2014.
- At 18 years and 25 days, Billy Koumetio became Liverpool’s youngest ever Champions League player tonight, overtaking Miki Roqué (18y 150d).
Liverpool will find out who their last 16 opponents are when the draw takes place on December 14th. Before that, they will travel to Fulham in the Premier League live on Sky Sports on Sunday. Kick-off at 4.30 p.m.