Rangers 1-7 Liverpool: Mohamed Salah hat-trick puts gloss on Liverpool’s demolition of Rangers

Mohamed Salah hat-trick puts gloss on Liverpool’s 7-1 demolition of Rangers

In the end, it was a story of the brilliance of Roberto Firmino; the perfectly timed runs, the probing and the velvet smoothness of his touch.

That, and a most outrageous substitute’s cameo from Mohamed Salah. It was 3-1 to Liverpool when he came on in the 67th minute. He scored his first goal on 75 minutes; by the 81st, he had gorged on a hat-trick. A limited Rangers team was broken.

And so Liverpool eased to a second Champions League group-phase win over them in a little over a week and they are as good as qualified for the last 16. When Salah got his first, benefiting from extraordinary generosity in the Rangers backline to poke into the far corner, it was the prompt for the home fans to make for the exit.

When he added his second from the edge of the area, many more followed. His third – shaped into the far corner – brought him the fastest hat-trick in Champions League history.

The strange thing was that Liverpool had been dreadfully passive in the first half, falling behind to a smart Scott Arfield goal and fortunate to be level at the interval thanks to a Firmino header.

But all of that was forgotten as Firmino moved his team into the lead, setting up a riotous closing quarter when Liverpool subjected Rangers to an ordeal. Firmino’s backheel for Darwin Núñez to make it 3-1 was sumptuous and, late on, there was time for Harvey Elliott to add the seventh.

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Rangers knew the size of the challenge, how it was win or bust for them in terms of progress in the competition. At the very least, they needed a reaction to the defeat at Anfield – a humbling in all but the scoreline; an occasion when the manager, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, was forced to lament an “obvious gap” between the teams.

Klopp shuffled the deck. With the visit of Manchester City looming on Sunday, the Liverpool manager knew that he had no other option – even if those options were restricted by a lengthening injury list. The headline omissions from the starting XI were Thiago Alcântara, Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota. In came Fabinho, Harvey Elliott and Fábio Carvalho.

The Liverpool manager persisted with his new-look formation at the start, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho in front of the back four and Firmino playing up and around Núñez; frequently more up alongside him. The first half would be a slog. Liverpool were disjointed – startlingly so – their moves lacking direction, their patterns predictable while they were open at the back.

There is something special about this old-school venue, particularly when the floodlights are on. It felt as though the home crowd were ready to get behind any spark from their team at the outset, however small – be it a tackle, an assured pass or a player in space.

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They got something rather bigger in the 17th minute, a slick opening goal, their first of the group stage and Ibrox was bouncing. The move was simple but precise and Liverpool had no answer, Antonio Colak laying the ball off to Ryan Jack after Carvalho had been caught in possession. Jack’s through-ball was on the money and Arfield strode through to pick out the bottom corner.

Liverpool were rattled and Joe Gomez was fortunate to get away with a backpass that went straight to Colak. It had been Rangers who pressed on to the front foot, Liverpool flickering only briefly through Elliott in the early running.

The visitors would dig out a lifeline from very little. Carvalho had unloaded their first shot at goal on 23 minutes, which flew wide. He took aim again, watching the effort deflect for a corner, which Kostas Tsimikas dropped over to the near post.

Up went Firmino and, under minimal challenge, he flicked home from point-blank range. It was so soft from a Rangers point of view, a passion killer for the crowd and they began to show their frustration, howling when passes were misplaced.

Klopp’s team failed to build on the equaliser before the interval and it was Rangers who continued to look the more threatening. Liverpool’s control was missing; Rangers sensed they could win the ball and hurt them. Colak fluffed a final pass when Liverpool were on their heels and, when Fashion Sakala beat Tsimikas to pull back for Arfield, Ibrahima Konaté jumped into a vital block.

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Klopp had been chipper at his pre-match press conference on Tuesday night, insisting that his team’s situation was not as grave as painted. He had vowed to fight, to embrace the challenge and he had to have reinforced the message to his players at half-time. They did not get the memo in the first period.

There was greater urgency from Liverpool after the break. Elliott crackled back to life while Carvalho had a few nice moments. It was appreciably better straight away.

Firmino schemed, finding Núñez, who was stopped by a fine Ben Davies challenge. Núñez also shot high with Allan McGregor off his line following a Gomez pass. Liverpool played higher, they kept the ball and showed more confidence on it. The second goal was coming.

When it did, it was all about the weight of Gomez’s low cross after a break up the right and Firmino’s predatory movement. The pair were perfectly in sync and Firmino seemed to relish taking his time over the close-range finish. He was never going to miss.

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