Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes even the European champions have plenty of room for improvement after surviving a huge Champions League scare to beat Salzburg 4-3 after blowing a three-goal lead.
Sadio Mane opened the scoring against his former club before Andy Robertson and Mohamed Salah put the holders in command inside the first 36 minutes before Salzburg bared their teeth.
The Austrian champions’ teenage striking sensation Erling Braut Haaland was only fit enough for a place on the bench, but they still packed a punch going forward and were rewarded when Hwang Hee-Chan pulled a goal back just before half-time.
Takumi Minamino and Haaland, just four minutes after coming on as a substitute, then brought Salzburg level on the hour mark.
However, Salah had the final word as the Egyptian smashed home the winner 21 minutes from time.
“We opened the door and they were running through, chasing through the door,” said Klopp. “It’s better to learn the lessons during the game than talk about it after it. It was a very important lesson for us to learn. I knew before we have to improve and now everyone knows.”
Liverpool were under pressure to make fortress Anfield count after losing 2-0 to Napoli on matchday one.
Klopp’s men lost all three of their away group games last season, but won all three of their home games to sneak through before going on to win the competition for a sixth time.
Slick attacking football
Normal service looked set to be resumed as the holders roared into a 3-0 lead thanks to some slick attacking football.
“I thought we were outstanding in the first 30 minutes,” added Klopp. “The momentum changed and it was really difficult to get a foot in the game. We had to wait until they had scored the third goal, then we were able to strike back.”
The Reds are well aware of Salzburg’s pedigree of developing fine young players, and it was one of their former alumni that opened the scoring as Mane exchanged passes with Roberto Firmino before slotting into the far corner.
Another fine team move made it 2-0 as one full-back, Trent Alexander Arnold, crossed for another in Robertson to convert just his second ever Liverpool goal like a striker.
Salah was then on hand to finish from close range after Cican Stankovic could only parry Firmino’s header back into the danger area.
Salzburg have now scored 51 goals in their first 12 games this season and were given hope as Liverpool eased off the accelerator towards the end of the first half.
The visitors’ fightback began in earnest when Hwang left Virgil van Dijk on the floor as the South Korean turned inside and fired into the far corner.
Klopp was growing visibly frustrated on the touchline as his side failed to cope with Salzburg’s pressing and incisive passing through midfield and even the German could not find a solution at half-time as Salzburg came out flying.
The second Salzburg goal was coming and finally arrived when Minamino volleyed in from Hwang’s cross.
Haaland, who scored a hat-trick on his Champions League debut in the 6-2 thrashing of Genk on matchday one, was then introduced and instantly offered an even more direct threat.
The Norwegian should have scored when he fired into the side-netting with just Adrian to beat, but moments later the 19-year-old tapped in at the back post after a purposeful break from the impressive Minamino.
Anfield was shocked, but not silenced and the home fans helped rouse the Liverpool into a response of champions.
Salah was quickest to react to a Firmino knockdown inside the area and smashed past the onrushing Stankovic to restore Liverpool’s lead and secure a vital three points.
“At 3-3 we had put a lot into it, maybe our guys were a little bit tired and it’s an incredible team we’re playing against,” said Salzburg’s American manager Jesse Marsch. “The important thing is to learn from this loss to give ourselves a chance to get out of this group.”