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UEFA Europa League Matchday 1: LASK 1-3 Liverpool

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LASK produced a valiant performance in the opening game of their UEFA Europa League Group E campaign at home to Liverpool but ultimately slipped to a 3-1 defeat to the Reds.

It was the visitors who created the first half-chance of the match in the third minute when Núñez beat Branko Jovičić in a footrace, only to fire the ball well over Tobias Lawal’s goal. The star-studded Reds settled into their passing rhythm in the period that followed, with the majority of the action unfolding in the LASK half of the pitch, but it was the home team that had the next glimpse of goal when Robert Žulj’s shot on the turn was deflected behind for a corner in the 13th minute. The resultant set-piece was played by Sascha Horvath to the edge of the box, where Florian Flecker met the ball with a stunning low strike that zipped into bottom corner and sent the vociferous home crowd into raptures. LASK 1-0 Liverpool!

Thanks to their aggressive closing down and hard-running approach, Sageder’s charges limited Liverpool to one half-chance in the ensuing 10 minutes, with Kostas Tsimikas dragging a low left-footed shot wide of the back post in the 22nd minute. Tsimikas was again in the thick of the action as the game approached the half-hour mark, whipping in a low cross from the left that bounced up and struck Andrade, but any half-hearted claims for a penalty were quickly dismissed. The closest Liverpool came to scoring before the interval was when Virgil van Dijk met a Tsimikas corner at the back post with a downward header that was scrambled clear by a mixture of goalkeeper Lawal and his outfield team-mates 10 minutes before the interval. A flurry of cautions for Konaté, Havel, Bajcetic and Žulj aside, that header was to be the final notable action of the opening period.

Nunez and Diaz turn the game in the second half

Neither coach opted to make changes at the break and sent the same teams back onto the pitch for the second half. Liverpool began to ramp up the pressure, with Núñez weaving his way into the box but failing to find sufficient space to get a shot away (50’). With the Linzers now camped in and around their penalty area, the English outfit began to lay siege to the home team’s goal and eventually restored parity at 1-1 when Núñez slotted home a spot-kick following a foul in the penalty area on Díaz by Philipp Ziereis (56’). LASK responded strongly and almost re-established their lead in the 58th minute when Elias Havel drew a save from Caoimhin Kelleher, with Virgil van Dijk forced to scramble the ball clear. An even better opportunity fell to the Linzers a matter of minutes later, only for Ljubičić to fire at the outstretched leg of Kelleher from point-blank range. The hosts were made to pay for that profligacy soon after when Díaz completed the turnaround and fired the hosts in front with 63 minutes on the clock.

LASK boss Sageder responded to the goal by bringing on two pairs of fresh legs in Moussa Koné and Ibrahim Mustapha, with goal-getter Ljubičić and youngster Havel making way, but it did little to turn the tide as a dominant Liverpool continued to push forward – especially after the introduction of Salah, who drew a save from Lawal within seconds of making his entrance from the substitutes’ bench (76). The Egyptian cut a lively figure on the right flank for the Reds and saw several promising through-balls cut out by the alert LASK rearguard, but he eventually found the net by slotting home from a tight angle with two minutes to spare to seal a 3-1 victory for the visitors. LASK will next be in UEFA Europa League action when they pay a visit to France to take on Ligue 1 side Toulouse – who drew their opening game 1-1 away to Belgian outfit Union Saint-Gilloise – in a fortnight’s time.

The line-ups

LASK: Lawal; Ziereis, Andrade, Luckeneder (Darboe, 80’); Flecker (Ba, 89’), Horvath, Jovičić, Renner (Bello, 89’); Havel (Mustapha, 68’), Žulj, Ljubičić (Koné, 68’)

Subs: Siebenhandl; Talovierov, Balić, Usor, Ljubicic, Stojković, Goiginger

Yellow cards: Havel (42’), Žulj (45’), Ziereis (56’)

Goals: Flecker (14’)

Liverpool: Kelleher; Endo (Mac Allister, 61’), van Dijk, Konaté (Matip, 81’), Díaz, Núñez, Elliott, Tsimikas, Gravenberch (Salah, 74’), Bajcetic (Gomez, 61’), Doak (Szoboszlai, 61’)

Subs: Becker, Jaroš, Jones, Gakpo, Jota, Robertson, Quansah

Yellow cards: Konaté (40’), Bajcetic (43’)

Goals: Núñez (56’, pen.), Díaz (63’), Salah (88’)

Author: TOB