Liverpool found its UEFA Europa League groove 2,500 miles away from home.
Liverpool defeated Rubin Kazan 1-0 on Thursday at the Kazan Arena in Russia with a performance that was better than the scoreline suggests. The result gives fresh impetus to Liverpool’s Europa League campaign, moving the Anfield club to within one point of first-place FC Sion with two games remaining in the group stage.
By ending its streak of European draws at three, Liverpool significantly boosted its prospects of advancing to the knockout phase of the tournament and maintained the momentum Jurgen Klopp’s arrival as manager sparked in early October.
Jordon Ibe’s 5th-minute goal confirmed the Reds’ superiority over Rubin Kazan and opened his Liverpool goal account. Ibe, 19, said earlier this week he’s feeling like a new player under Klopp’s guidance, but his well-taken goal was a product of the hard work he has done in 2015 to improve the end product in his game. Timing can be a funny thing.
The Reds appeared to suffer no ill effects from the lengthy journey deep into Russia. They started the game in dominant fashion and maintained that edge over their hosts until the closing stages of the contest. The organization, energy and belief, which are becoming hallmarks of Klopp’s Liverpool, once again were the central reasons for the outcome. What travel fatigue?
Rubin Kazan used a similar approach to frustrate Liverpool into a 1-1 draw with only 10 men on Oct 22 at Anfield, but those admirable traits curiously went messing on home soil.
Liverpool used the ball well when in possession, and there was nothing the Russians could do to get it back — other than wait for the Reds to end their attacking moves on their own. James Milner hit the crossbar from close range in the eighth minute. Christian Benteke probably would have scored the opener had Solomon Kvirkvelia not made a desperate clearance in the goal-mouth two minutes later. Roberto Firmino missed the target with a few first-half efforts, and Rubin Kazan goalkeeper Sergey Ryzhikov prevented an own goal on the stroke of halftime with a stunning save.
Time seemed to be the only thing keeping Liverpool from scoring, and Ibe delivered the inevitable when he completed a counterattack on his own early in the second half.
Liverpool remained calm and patient in the second half. Milner, Emre Can and Ibe came closest to doubling the lead before Rubin Kazan mounted a late charge, which Klopp’s introduction of Lucas Leiva for Firmino helped blunt.
Klopp is testing Liverpool’s physical and mental capacities by selecting strong squads for the Europa League. While he left Philippe Coutinho and Martin Skrtel and used Lucas and Martin Skrtel sparingly against Rubin Kazan, but the presences of the remaining regulars demonstrated the importance he’s placing on the competition.
Liverpool’s win over Rubin Kazan represents the latest challenge it met head on, and Ibe’s continuing development and emergence onto the score-sheet is an added bonus for the buzzing Reds.
Thumbnail photo via LiverpoolFC.com