Liverpool show their best and worst in thrilling win over AC Milan as Virgil van Dijk rested by Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool were totally dominant against AC Milan in their Champions League opener at Anfield but their defensive lapses in the 3-2 win showed what they lose without Virgil van Dijk; Jurgen Klopp rested the Dutchman and started Joe Gomez instead

Mohamed Salah, left, celebrates with Fabinho after scoring Liverpool's second goal against AC Milan
Image: Mohamed Salah celebrates his goal with Fabinho

For around half an hour of Wednesday night's game at Anfield, the pressure on AC Milan's goal was unrelenting.

Rafael Leao, disorientated amid the onslaught, could be seen passing the ball straight to Trent Alexander-Arnold in his own box. Ismael Bennacer, terrified as Andrew Robertson snapped at his heels, was spotted dribbling at full speed in the wrong direction.

This Liverpool side can do strange things to their opponents when they are in this kind of mood; rampant in their pursuit of victory and roared on by a feverish Anfield crowd. Implausibly, their shot count stood at 13 after just 15 minutes of the game.

"We started incredibly well," said Jurgen Klopp afterwards. It was an understatement. By the time their opener arrived, Alexander-Arnold's cross-shot bouncing in off Fikayo Tomori in the ninth minute, Liverpool could have been out of sight already.

Milan kept trying to play out from the back and Liverpool kept swarming all over them. Stefano Pioli's side barely made it out of their own defensive third let alone their half. "Super, super, super intense," added Klopp in his description of that opening period.

This was Liverpool at their most electrifying.

The full-backs flew forward, the front three interchanged positions, and in midfield, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson enjoyed total control. Neither of them misplaced a single pass in the opening half hour.

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Even after Mohamed Salah missed his penalty, it felt inevitable the lead would be extended. Mike Maignan saved from Joel Matip and then thwarted Salah again. But Liverpool kept pushing.

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Jurgen Klopp gives his verdict on the 3-2 win over Milan

Gradually, though, the tempo began to ease off and soon Milan were able to gain a foothold in the game.

Liverpool had been utterly dominant but the contest was turned on its head when Ante Rebic and Brahim Diaz scored in the space of just 110 seconds shortly before the break.

To most, the turnaround came from nowhere.

Klopp, though, had seen it coming.

"We got punished in the last few minutes before half-time but it started earlier," he explained. "We got a bit carried away by our own football. We didn't keep it simple anymore, offensively, and we were not well organised anymore defensively.

"When we are organised, Fabinho is absolutely incredible and he can pick up all the challenges we need him for. But when the spaces are too big, even he can't solve it."

Mohamed Salah scores Liverpool's second goal against AC Milan
Image: Salah scored Liverpool's second goal against AC Milan

There were numerous errors for both Milan goals.

For the first, Diaz was given too much space to find Alexis Saelemaekers, who had eluded Naby Keita too easily between the lines. Joe Gomez then allowed Rebic to run off him, while Matip and Alexander-Arnold were too far away to be of any help.

Liverpool's defence was in disarray and it was the same story for Milan's second. Alexander-Arnold and Fabinho were too slow in tracking Leao, Matip missed his interception and suddenly Liverpool were behind. "Not nice," was how Klopp described it afterwards.

As Milan celebrated each goal, the camera panned to Virgil van Dijk on the Liverpool bench. The Dutchman was conspicuous by his absence in those error-strewn passages of play.

Liverpool did improve defensively after the break but it is a testament to just how quickly Van Dijk has re-established his presence in their defence that he can be so sorely missed after only four games back in the side.

Van Dijk has been his commanding self since returning to action last month. In his four Premier League appearances so far, Liverpool have only conceded one goal. Only Manchester City and Wolves have allowed their opponents fewer shots.

Liverpool had to manage without him for almost the entirety of last season as he recovered from his cruciate knee injury but that chaotic period against Milan was another reminder of what they lose when he's not there.

Van Dijk's physical and technical qualities are unrivalled and so too is his ability to organise what happens around him.

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Jordan Henderson described Liverpool's 3-2 win against AC Milan as a rollercoaster

Indeed, the communication breakdown between Gomez and Matip for Milan's first goal wouldn't have happened had he been there. Alexander-Arnold wouldn't have been allowed to wander so far out of position either.

"Virgil could have played but I have to force myself to be really sensible," explained Klopp before the game, citing Liverpool's hectic schedule and the 30-year-old's recent return from injury.

"It's not exactly what Virgil wanted, or what I wanted, but I had to do it anyway."

In the end, Klopp was right to be sensible. Many supporters would have welcomed the sight of Van Dijk appearing from the bench but Klopp trusted the others to recover and that's what they did.

Van Dijk will be better for the rest and, with the Dutchman restored to the starting line-up, Liverpool will hope the next time they subject their opponent to a barrage like the opening half-hour at Anfield on Wednesday night, there will be no defensive errors to jeopardise the result.

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