Oxlade-Chamberlain on target twice as Liverpool ease past Genk
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made the most of a rare start by scoring twice while Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah also netted as holders Liverpool eased to a 4-1 win over Genk in their Champions League clash in Belgium on Wednesday.
The England international, who missed almost all of last season due to injury, opened the scoring in the second minute at the Luminus Arena and scored the visitors’ second — a sumptuous finish also from outside the box — just before the hour mark.
Mane and Salah then set up each other for late goals to wrap up the victory before substitute Stephen Odey pulled one back for Genk.
This was Liverpool’s second consecutive victory in Group E since they began their defence of the trophy with a 2-0 loss at Napoli last month. They remain a point behind group leaders Napoli, who won 3-2 at Salzburg on Wednesday.
Perhaps most importantly, this was an overdue away win in the group stage of the competition for Jurgen Klopp’s side, who had won just once in seven away group matches before this trip.
They went all the way last season despite losing all three away group games.
Klopp used this game to give starts to several players who have been on the fringes of his squad recently, with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Dejan Lovren coming into a team deprived of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joel Matip in defence.
Naby Keita made his first start since a League Cup win at lower-league side MK Dons a month ago, and Salah also returned after missing the weekend draw at Manchester United because of an ankle injury.
However, it was Oxlade-Chamberlain who got the visitors off to the perfect start with a goal from their first attempt, his right-foot strike from 25 yards finding the bottom-left corner with the aid of a slight deflection.
It was difficult not to fear for Genk after that, but the Belgian champions were defending a decent record at home in the Champions League group stage.
They had drawn their last five home matches taking in appearances in 2011-12 and back in 2002-03.
Among the teams unable to win here in that time were Real Madrid, Valencia and Chelsea, while Napoli was held 0-0 here recently.
– Genk denied equaliser –
Genk was encouraged by an extremely high Liverpool defensive line which almost allowed their skipper Mbwana Ally Samatta to grab a quick-fire equaliser.
The Tanzanian ran from halfway all the way to the penalty area only to fire wide of Alisson Becker’s far post. His strike partner, Paul Onuachu, and Japanese international Junya Ito both squandered decent chances soon after.
Genk was also unlucky though — they thought they had drawn level before the half-hour when Samatta rose above James Milner to head in an Ito cross.
However, the Slovenian referee disallowed the goal and a VAR review confirmed Ito was marginally offside in the build-up.
Still, Liverpool looked like scoring almost every time they attacked, with an outrageous Roberto Firmino touch setting up Mane for a shot that was saved by Gaetan Coucke.
Firmino was the provider of the second goal in the 57th minute as he laid the ball back for Oxlade-Chamberlain to send a first-time effort on the outside of his right boot off the underside of the bar and in from 20 yards.
That was Liverpool’s 200th Champions League goal, but it was not their last of the night, as Salah slipped in Mane for a dinked finish to make it 3-0 in the 77th minute.
Mane then returned the favour by supplying Salah with his back to goal just inside the box three minutes from time. The Egyptian turned away superbly from Carlos Cuesta and slotted in.
Another Liverpool win when these teams meet again at Anfield next month will leave Klopp’s men on the brink of the last 16.