Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool juggernaut is rolling inexorably towards footballing immortality.
This was the first and potentially toughest of five matches, in 11 days, in four competitions, across three countries and two continents. Last season’s Champions League trophy success and Premier’s League runners-up spot will seem small fry in comparison if the Anfield reds take this form into 2020.
Make no mistake, this ultimately comfortable victory was not a formality for the six-time Champions of Europe, who went to the home of the perennial Austrian champions knowing defeat would end their trophy defence without getting out of the group stage.
But, after a clean sheet against a side that had scored in every previous game this season and two unanswered goals of their own, they topped Group E and will be one of the teams every side will want to avoid in the draw.
And more of this form means they could easily come out of a fixture-congested December as Club World Cup champions (they kick off in Qatar next Wednesday ), in the Champions League last 16, League Cup semi-finalists and with their healthy Premier League advantage — currently eight points from Leicester and 14 ahead of Manchester City — intact.
Klopp, who seemed a touch edgy the day before this match, looked as calm as he can, which is not saying much for someone who works right on the edge, as the game began to unfold.
He has been masterful in his team and squad rotation in recent matches with players such as crucial goalscorer Naby Keita finally emerging as an influential member of the Liverpool squad.
Like ever-improving central defender Dejan Lovren, who went off injured tonight, Keita can also now be counted to deliver when Klopp needs him most. Lovren is easily covered by England international Joe Gomez, so no big worries there for the Liverpool boot room.
Liverpool would have taken a qualifying draw, not that it showed in their attacking intent and there were numerous chances at both ends after Salzburg set the tone with a great scoring opportunity less than two minutes into the match.
Uncharacteristic unconvincing finishing by Mo Salah was the main reason Liverpool did not get on the scoresheet ion the opening 45 minutes with honours rightly even at the break, meaning they still had work to do going into the second half.
And, of course, Klopp did not send his side out to sit on the draw for the biggest 45 minutes of their season so far, knowing their best form of defence is usually to play to their strength and attack. Salzburg had scored in all 25 of their previous matches so Liverpool needed to be mindful of that threat.
Klopp’s side score for fun too, of course, so it was not the biggest surprise when two former Salzburg players combined to give them a 57th minute lead — Sadio Mane’s wonderful run and cross confidently headed in by Keita for only his second goal of the season, four days after his first.
Just 100 seconds later and Salah made amends for all of his relatively easy misses with a finish of sheer class on his weaker right foot, from the narrowest of angles after rounding the keeper to his right and shooting just before the ball would have gone off for a goal kick. The through ball from Jordan Henderson wasn’t bad either!
That double strike was the mark of a side that knows how to keep calm in an intimidating atmosphere, against lively opponents and get the job done — how to win. The Salzburg fans kept singing in vain hope, but Klopp could start thinking ahead to the third of his 10 games in 30 days and Saturday’s early kick-off against Watford.
Considering they have taken 73 from their last possible 75 points it is almost impossible to imagine they will not win yet again. It would seem only a serious injury crisis would be a potential weak spot in Liverpool’s quest for greatness.