Liverpool vs Toulouse: Gravenberch shines in five-star victory
Liverpool have turned the Europa League group stage into a procession. Qualification for the knockout phase is already close at hand after Jürgen Klopp’s side maintained their 100% start with a resounding victory over Toulouse.
The Liverpool manager could afford to ring the changes before Nottingham Forest’s visit in the Premier League on Sunday and still enjoy a fluent, dominant display polished by goals from Diogo Jota, Wataru Endo, Darwin Núñez, the impressive Ryan Gravenberch and Mohamed Salah.
Rivalry was forgotten and friendship remembered as Liverpool paid a warm tribute before kick-off to Bill Kenwright, the Everton chairman who died on Monday. The Hollies’ He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother – the song Kenwright chose for a Hillsborough tribute at Goodison Park and became a fund-raising single for the justice campaign – was played to mass applause from the Liverpool fans inside Anfield.
Kenwright’s powerful speech at the Hillsborough memorial service in 2013 and lasting support for the bereaved families will not be forgotten across Stanley Park.
Comfortable wins in the first two games had underlined why Liverpool are favourites for this season’s Europa League. The gulf in quality between Klopp’s team and their opponents, and absence of jeopardy against either Lask or Union Saint Gilloise, had threatened to make progress from the group stage appear almost mundane for Liverpool. Game three brought another emphatic victory, but the visit of French Cup winners Toulouse proved a far more entertaining affair than the previous two fixtures. Granted, Toulouse’s terrible defending was a contributory factor to the entertainment, but so too was the midfield presence of Gravenberch and quality finishes for all three first-half goals from the hosts.
Liverpool, with 19-year-old Luke Chambers making his full debut at left-back, swept into an early lead through Diogo Jota. Joe Gomez turned defence into attack with a smart interception on Toulouse striker Thijs Dallinga. Jota picked up the loose ball deep inside the visitors half, spun away from central midfielders Cristian Cásseres and Niklas Schmidt and advanced on goal. The Portugal international breezed into the area past a nonexistent challenge from Logan Costa before beating goalkeeper Guillaume Restes with a confident low finish.
Liverpool almost doubled their lead courtesy of a lovely one touch move around the Toulouse area involving Joël Matip and Jota that found Núnez lurking in space on the right. Nuñez cut inside the despairing challenge of Rasmus Nicolaisen but his low shot was well saved by Restes.
Moments later the travelling Toulouse contingent were in uproar as their side stunned Anfield with a fine equaliser. Aron Dønnum, receiving a brave pass out of defence near the halfway line, dissected the Liverpool defence with a first time ball to Dallinga, who kept his cool on the long run towards Caoimhín Kelleher’s goal and drilled his shot beyond the stand-in keeper.
More pedestrian defending allowed Liverpool to regain the lead via the first goal of Wataru Endo’s Anfield career. Harvey Elliott played a short corner to Jones, he found Trent Alexander-Arnold, and the Japan international guided the captain’s exquisite cross beyond the Toulouse keeper with a precise header. The towering Moussa Diarra epitomised Toulouse’s defending around the goal by standing back to admire Endo as he headed home.
It was soon three when Gravenberch surged through the Toulouse midfield and found Jones in space on the edge of the penalty area. The midfielder’s shot was blocked by Mikkel Desler but rebounded off Jones into the path of Núñez, who lashed a thumping finish into the roof of Restes’ net. The goal stood following a VAR check for a possible handball by Jones when Desler’s block struck him at close range.
The second half was memorable mainly for misses. Gabriel Suazo squandered a glorious chance to haul Toulouse back into the contest when Kelleher sliced a clearance into the path of Dallinga. The goalscorer squared for Suazo who had a free shot on a goal with only Alexander-Arnold standing in it. To his despair, he managed to find the defender’s thigh.
Not to be outdone, Núñez failed to complete what should have been a stunning individual goal when he left Nicolaisen floundering with a superb footwork and then rounded the Toulouse goalkeeper. The Uruguay international managed to hit a post instead of the open goal and was on his knees in disbelief when Gravenberch finished the job from the rebound.
Salah, on as a late substitute, completed the rout with the final kick of the game, converting via the underside of the crossbar.