Thiago and Fabinho fit for Liverpool as Klopp makes three changes for Champions League final

By Sports Desk May 28, 2022

Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho were included in Liverpool's starting line-up for Saturday's Champions League final against Real Madrid.

Fabinho had not played since the win over Aston Villa on May 10 due to a hamstring injury, while midfield colleague Thiago also damaged a hamstring against Wolves last week.

Manager Jurgen Klopp initially appeared to rule Thiago out of the Stade de France showpiece, but the Spain international – as well as Fabinho – returned to training earlier this week.

The pair were included from the beginning against Madrid, with Klopp making three changes from the 3-1 win against Wolves.

Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah, rested last week with an eye on the Madrid clash, were recalled to the XI along with fit-again Thiago.

Jordan Henderson was named in the side for his 57th appearance of the campaign – the most of any player from Europe’s top five leagues this campaign – while it was also his 50th Champions League appearance, making him the fourth English player to hit that milestone for Liverpool.

There were no surprises in Klopp’s line-up, with Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold named in the full-back spots, the latter surpassing Thomas Muller (23 years, 254 days) as the youngest player to start three Champions League finals. Alexander-Arnold featured in this game at the age of 23 years and 233 days.

Saturday's contest marked the third time Liverpool and Madrid had met in a European Cup or Champions League final, making it the most contested trophy match between two sides in the history of the competition.

Liverpool XI: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Thiago; Diaz, Salah, Mane.

Subs: Kelleher, Milner, Keita, Firmino, Gomez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jones, Minamino, Jota, Tsimikas, Matip, Elliott.

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    Brighton were taught a harsh lesson on their Europa League debut as Greek champions AEK Athens ran out 3-2 winners after a pulsating encounter at the Amex Stadium.

    Substitute Ezequiel Ponce struck the winner on the counter attack six minutes from the end of normal time as Roberto De Zerbi’s side failed to heed the signs after falling behind twice previously in the first half.

    Joao Pedro equalised from the penalty spot in the first period then again in the second, both times after VAR had intervened in Brighton’s favour.

    The hosts had the better of the play but they lacked the clinical edge of AEK, who scored with two excellent finishes from set-pieces. The first goal was a superb header from Djibril Sidibe, followed by a sliding finish from Mijat Gacinovic as Brighton were undone by nerves and their own naivety.

    The opening goal came after 11 minutes and was against the early run of the play.

    AEK’s first attack saw them win a corner on the left after a low cross was turned behind. As the ball was whipped in, no one had picked up the lurking Sidibe who with a late dash into the box caught Brighton out with a superb 15-yard diving header that whistled past Jason Steele.

    De Zerbi’s side had been badly caught out, and seconds later it could have been two. Levi Garcia, who would torment Brighton in the first period with pace and clever movement, raced beyond the defence and went through on goal, but the hosts were saved by Garcia’s tame finish that was too close to Steele.

    Brighton were dominating the ball and largely camped in AEK’s half, but they could not plug the gaps that their opponents were finding on the counter attack.

    Garcia wasted another glorious chance to double the visitors’ lead from an almost identical position when he again stole in behind the defence, this time slipping his effort just beyond the far post.

    Yet Brighton’s play with the ball gave home fans reason for hope and soon they converted it into chances. Pedro nodded wide from a free header inside the six-yard box as Brighton finally put together an attack to concern the AEK defence, but within a minute he had made amends for his profligacy.

    When defender Ehsan Hajsafi dangled a leg as Pedro looked to cut inside to shoot the referee initially booked the striker for diving. But after a pitchside VAR review the booking was rescinded, Pedro stepped up and coolly rolled his penalty beyond Cican Stankovic to score Brighton’s first European goal.

    At that stage it appeared that they had had their reprieve for the way they had left themselves vulnerable to AEK’s threat, but five minutes before the break, another fine delivery from a set-piece, and another critical lapse in concentration.

    Brighton held a high line on the edge of their own box as a free-kick was whipped in from 40 yards out, but as blue shirts charged back towards their own goal none of them could prevent Gacinovic from sliding to get a foot on the ball to turn it beyond Steele.

    There was still time for Jan-Paul Van Hecke to deny Orbelin Pineda what would have been a deserved third for AEK on the stroke of half-time.

    There was relief then around the Amex when the referee was directed pitch-side for another VAR review after Pedro’s tumble inside the box under Damian Szymanski’s challenge had at first been waved on. As in the first half, the decision was overturned, and Pedro got to his feet to replicate his earlier composed finish to draw Brighton level again.

    De Zerbi was booked for remonstrating too forcefully on the touchline, before Pedro was handed the chance to seal his hat-trick and an opening night win when he spring the offside trap and went one-on-one with Stankovic. This time the goalkeeper got the better of their duel.

    Then came AEK’s final sting. A raking ball from the back was nodded out wide by Ponce to Niclas Eliasson, who returned the ball to his fellow substitute. Although Steele blocked Ponce’s shot, the rebound ricocheted off the Argentinian and into the net for the winner.

  • Jurgen Klopp plays down value of 50th European win after Liverpool beat LASK Jurgen Klopp plays down value of 50th European win after Liverpool beat LASK

    Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp played down his record-breaking 50th European win after the 3-1 victory over LASK in Austria.

    His side came from behind for the fourth time in six matches as goals from Darwin Nunez, Luis Diaz and substitute Mohamed Salah secured the German’s 50th European victory for the club – surpassing the record he held with Rafael Benitez.

    “Let me say it like this, if I still have 50 after the group stage, then even if I’ve still got the most wins in Europe as a Liverpool manager then everybody will hate that,” he said.

    “The highest number of wins but everybody will hate it.

    “So it’s nice – we have played a lot of games in Europe, but it is good we have won that many and we have frequently qualified for finals.

    “No it’s great but probably because the competition now has so many more games than in the past.”

    Klopp made 11 changes from the weekend win over Wolves and that contributed to the disjointed, sluggish start.

    LASK, in the biggest game in their history, took full advantage as they flew out of the blocks and scored through Florian Flecker’s expertly taken strike from a well-rehearsed corner.

    “Tough start, yes. Obviously the first shot on target after a set-piece and we conceded,” the Reds boss added.

    “We had very good moments but I saw the boys didn’t feel that. It was not that we could gain confidence from our good moments – we didn’t seem to think we should do that again.

    “So we suffered from the less good moments confidence-wise and frustration grew. It makes no sense. Human, but it makes no
    sense anyway.

    “We showed them (at half-time) two football situations from the first half where we did pretty well. The boys clearly thought there was nothing good in the first half but that was not true.

    “We told them they had to get rid of the frustration getting back into the game again, and then we would have a good chance to turn it around, and that’s what we did eventually.

    “I’m really, really happy because I said before I knew it would be really difficult, and it was difficult, even if people didn’t believe me. Well-deserved win in the end and that’s it.

    “I know that people expect us to fly through this competition. In the group stage it will not happen, in the knockout it will not happen. We have to dig in, dig into it.”

    LASK coach Thomas Sageder was disappointed they could not capitalise on their good start.

    “We played very brave, we were aggressive and we had a chance to score the second goal but it was only 1-0 at half-time,” he said.

    “In the second half we saw how good a team Liverpool were but we fought to the end.”

  • Liverpool come from behind to secure Europa League victory against LASK Liverpool come from behind to secure Europa League victory against LASK

    Liverpool took time adjusting to life back in the Europa League but for the fourth time in six matches this season they came from behind to win 3-1 against LASK in Linz.

    It had been 2,682 days since they last appeared in UEFA’s second-tier competition, having played in three Champions League finals and won one, and that adaptation to a new reality took a while to bed in.

    The Austrians had no such problem in the biggest game in their history as the visit of Manchester United in 2020, when they were hammed 5-0, happened behind closed doors because of the pandemic.

    They were so fired up they predictably took an early lead through Florian Flecker’s brilliantly-taken goal but once Jurgen Klopp’s side came to the realisation the Europa League will be just as tough a task as the competition favourites this season’s familiar trait emerged.

    Within the space of eight second-half minutes Darwin Nunez fired home a penalty and Luis Diaz converted from close range and late on substitute Mohamed Salah clinched Klopp’s 50th European victory, the most of any Anfield manager.

    Pre-match the German had insisted this was not a competition for handing out “opportunities” but then proceeded to name a completely different side from that which won at Wolves at the weekend.

    Not to say that it was weak with first-choice centre-backs Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate at the back and Diaz and Nunez up front but in between was the untried midfield of newest signing 21-year-old Ryan Gravenberch, on his first start, and Harvey Elliott (20) either side of the 30-year-old ‘veteran’ Wataru Endo who had played just 89 minutes for Klopp’s team since his own summer move.

    The real excitement was reserved for livewire winger Ben Doak, who became the club’s fourth-youngest player to play in Europe at the age of 17 years and 314 days on his first start.

    But while his first real run at the LASK defence saw him glide past Rene Renner to win a corner he was starved of opportunities by a malfunctioning midfield which could not gain any control in the first half and the young Scot was replaced just past the hour.

    Stefan Bajcetic’s misjudgement, the 18-year-old midfielder asked to play the Trent Alexander-Arnold hybrid right-back role, in missing a cross led to a LASK corner and the opening goal.

    Flecker was picked out on the edge of the penalty area and he took a touch before drilling a shot through a crowd of players past Caoimhin Kelleher as a training-ground move paid off from their first shot on target.

    Liverpool were not so clinical as Nunez headed over an inviting Elliott cross before seeing his close-range nod towards goal from Van Dijk’s header at a corner clawed out by goalkeeper Tobias Lawal.

    The raucous home crowd cheered not only that but every block, every tackle, every Liverpool corner repelled, every corner won.

    Liverpool’s first move of any quality brought the equaliser when Diaz was brought down by Philipp Ziereis, after Elliott, Doak and Bajcetic had combined down the right, and Nunez powered home from the spot in the 56th minute.

    It was the signal for Klopp to make changes with summer signings Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister, two of his new first-choice midfield, replacing Doak and Endo with Joe Gomez giving Bajcetic a break after his first game since March after injury.

    They went ahead when Nunez brought down Gomez’s pass from deep, laid off to Elliott who sent Gravenberch racing down the right and his low cross was turned home by Diaz.

    If life was not difficult enough for the hosts Mohamed Salah was introduced in the 76th minute and created two chances and had a shot inside his first 60 seconds before weaving himself into a position to poke through the legs of the goalkeeper two minutes from time.

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