The stage was set. Anfield was ready to welcome home their recently crowned European champions for the first home match since beating Tottenham Hotspur in the 2019 Champions League final three months prior. The expected glitz and glamour of a European night under the floodlights was there for all to see, as well as a banner celebrating Liverpool’s sixth title — the most by any side in England by some stretch. For the Reds, that night just over two years ago now was business as usual.
Few would have expected anything but a routine home win for the Reds in their first home defence of the Champions League, a match against Red Bull Salzburg. Even if their opening group game ended underwhelmingly, with a 2-0 loss at the hands of Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli, they were only facing an Austrian Bundesliga side.
The Reds entered as clear favourites with betting sites like Betdaq, despite the visitors winning a league and cup double the season before. Salzburg had also won their first game, going top of the group with a resounding 6-2 win over Genk, having been 5-1 up at half time thanks to a hattrick from an exciting young talent who was finally growing in prominence — Erling Håland, although the Norwegian would have to settle for a place on the bench at Anfield.
Few could rebuke bookmakers for heavily backing Liverpool when they stormed into a commanding 3-0 lead. For all the good football Jesse Marsch’s side played in the first game, the bearpit atmosphere at Anfield, combined with the Reds current momentum domestically simply overwhelmed the visitors and they crumbled in the first half. Goals from Sadio Mané, Andy Robertson and Mohamed Salah looked to have put the game to bed on the interval.
Hwang Hee-Chan pulled back a consolation goal just before half time but that was surely it, right? The Reds created a handful of chances again before the whistle blew for half time as Salzburg had felt the full effects of an Anfield blitz, barely escaping out of the rummage to trot into the changing rooms for further instruction.
In one of the most infamous half time dressing downs, mainly due to videos emerging of the team talk online, Marsch inspires a capable Salzburg side, consisting of Håland, Takumi Minamino, Hwang and Patson Daka, all players that have gone on to enjoy prosperous careers, with the American manager demonstrating a great tactical nous as well as impressive man management, never overly frustrated but assertive and informative. It is clear to see why he was being touted with moves to a plethora of top sides after.
It took until the second half for Håland to be introduced, and once he took a step on the pitch his presence was felt immediately. A well worked move starting in their own half led to Minamino pulling another one back. Surely not. The away end erupted having been drowned out for the majority of the first hour. The momentum had suddenly shifted in the visitor’s direction. The European champions were stunned.
With Alisson starting the season injured for Liverpool, they were left to rely on backup keeper Adrián who, despite saving a crucial penalty in the European Super Cup win, had looked less than convincing in his initial matches in between the sticks. It was a poor clearance from the Spaniard which Salzburg capitalised on and some clever movement from Minamino to allude Fabinho and Virgil van Dijk let him reverse the ball across the penalty area for a Hålandtap in. 3-3. Dreamland.
The miracle of Anfield was trending on Twitter. Few could believe what they were witnessing as the European champions listlessly wandered back to the centre circle for kick off, meanwhile Klopp was furious on the touch line. It is still hard to believe that Salzburg’s moment was so short lived. Just eight minutes and some admittedly lazy defending on the Austrian’s part allowed Salah to grab his brace and put his side in the ascendancy once more. Now it was the Kop’s turn to take over, jeering and whistling their way to see a Liverpool victory. Klopp’s side took all three points but they were made to work for it.
Sadly, that was the peak of Salzburg’s powers as a European entity. They failed to qualify for the round of sixteen and then lost Håland to Borussia Dortmund and Minamino to Liverpool — for a combined fee of less than £20 million, which is still staggering to think of. Marsch would remain in the RB family but join the organisation’s parent club Leipzig in Germany when their coach Julien Nagelsmann departed for Bayern Munich.
Only time will tell if Salzburg will ever reach those peaks again, but during that short-lived run in the Champions League, they certainly kept everyone on the edge of their seat.