Trent Alexander-Arnold netted a superb goal on his European debut as Liverpool secured a timely 2-1 victory against Hoffenheim at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena.
The 18-year-old bravely stepped up to take the free-kick on 35 minutes and exquisitely whipped the ball into the far corner, beyond the reach of a helpless Oliver Baumann.
Thus the Reds struck first blood after a tricky first half which had seen the home side, offering a predictably stern test, denied from the penalty spot.
Then came a significant stride towards qualification in the 74th minute as Havard Nordtveit’s own goal gave Jurgen Klopp’s men breathing space.
Yet whilst this was far from the defensive calamity we witnessed at Vicarage Road, Liverpool remained shaky at the back and Hoffenheim finally capitalised in the 87th minute as an unchallenged Mark Uth fired home.
The visitors just about held on in a nervy climax and look set to progress to the group stages barring disaster at Anfield in eight days’ time.
Who, then, stood out in a morale-boosting triumph for the Reds?
It was an assured display for the Liverpool stopper as he continues a seemingly endless quest to earn the trust of the Anfield faithful. It was admittedly a routine penalty save, but it could have been a very different night had the Belgian not kept it out.
Mignolet made some critical saves at the end of last season and was again Liverpool’s saviour, denying Serge Gnabry late in the first half and Sandro Wagner in the second. Perhaps at the end of the tie, those stops will be viewed as the deciding moments.
A much-improved performance from a ‘keeper looking to fend off competition from two able deputies.
A night to remember for Liverpool’s most promising starlet. Perhaps just as impressive as the delightful free-kick was the confidence he showcased in taking it, filling a Philippe Coutinho-shaped void.
Defensively, it was a largely solid performance with only the occasional slip-up, but we must keep a lid on our expectations as the player continues to mature. Nonetheless, it is clear Jurgen Klopp has a difficult decision to make when the injured Nathaniel Clyne returns to the fray.
A “dream come true” for the local lad, who is now a serious contender for a regular starting berth.
He may have not have managed a customary goal or assist, but Mane was the best player on the pitch. All of the attributes which have elevated him from plucky menace to top-class winger were on show as he terrorised the Hoffenheim defence with his pace, power and attacking intelligence.
Many have dubbed Coutinho Liverpool’s most important player amidst the uncertainty over his future, but the Reds are undoubtedly a different team when Klopp has Mane at his disposal.
The Senegalese international is already beginning to shine on the continental stage.