Jordan Henderson ended his long wait for a Champions League goal with a superb winner to settle an Anfield thriller.
The Liverpool captain struck a first time shot on the half volley from 25 yards midway through the second half to ensure Jurgen Klopp’s started their group stage campaign with three points after a dramatic night.
Henderson’s first Champions League goal since November 2014 eased his team’s frustration in a game when they should really have been out of sight against a Milan team returning to the competition after a seven-year exile.
They made a flying start, dominated the game, created chance after chance – including a rare missed penalty by Mo Salah – only to find themselves having to come from behind after the Italians – runners- up in Serie A last season – had stunned them with two goals in two minutes just before half-time.
Despite meeting in the finals of 2005 – the miracle of Istanbul – and again in Athens in 2007, these two clubs had remarkably never met in the group or knockout stages. But Milan’s first visit to Anfield didn’t disappoint.
Klopp rotated his squad by making four changes from the team that won at Leeds. He rested Virgil Van Dijk to give Joe Gomez his first game for 10 months and the other changes saw Divock Origi, Jordan Henderson, and Naby Keita come in for Sadio Mane, Thiago Alcantara, and youngster Harvey Elliott, who faces a long-term lay-off after dislocating his ankle at Elland Road.
But the personnel re-shuffle made little difference as Liverpool made a flying start with Milan struggling to cope with the pace and intensity of their game.
Origi had an early chance but failed to get his foot on Andy Robertson’s cross, Diogo Jota had a shot blocked while Joel Matip’s header was comfortably saved for Mike Maignan.
The pressure was unrelenting and it was no surprise when Liverpool took the lead after only nine minutes – although there was a degree of good fortune involved.
Trent Alexander-Arnold played a one-two with Salah and left Raphael Leao trailing as he raced unchallenged into the box. As he attempted to play the ball across the six-yard box former Chelsea player Fikayo Timori’s sliding challenge deflected the ball into his own net.
It was credited as an own goal meaning Alexander-Arnold’s long wait for a Champions League goal continued but Liverpool should have been 2-0 up after 13 minutes when Polish referee Szymon Marchiniak awarded Liverpool a penalty after Ismael Bennacer’s outstretched arm had blocked Robertson’s shot.
But the normally reliable Salah – who had scored from his previous 17 spot kicks – saw his shot saved by Maignan who followed up by saving Jota’s header from the rebound.
Anxious to make amends Salah tried his luck with a first-time effort from the edge of the area but it flew into the Kop. He went closer with a fierce half-volley but it was tipped round by the over-worked Maignan, who also saved from Matip’s header.
There was some welcome relief for Milan when the ball had to be replaced. Klopp kicked the punctured original ball into the crowd to the delight of a fan. TV pundit Glenn Hoddle joked it had become tired because of Liverpool’s possession and pressure.
At this point, it seemed just a question of how many Liverpool would score but Milan grew into the game and stunned Liverpool by scoring twice in two minutes as half-time approached. Both came from flowing moves that sliced through Liverpool’s hesitant defence.
Anton Rebic swept in the first from Leao’s pass and one minute and 48 seconds later former Manchester City youngster Brahim Diaz tapped in the second after Alexis Saelemaler’s shot had been blocked on the line by Robertson.
There was a massive let-off for Liverpool in the first minute of the second half when Simon Kjaer had a goal disallowed for offside after Henderson had inexplicably missed his kick.
But moments later Salah made amends for his penalty miss by equalising after a clever lofted return pass from Origi left him to flick the ball past a hesitant Maignan.
Liverpool continued to dominate and carve out chances and fully deserved Henderson’s fine strike.
They could have had more in the final 20 minutes with substitutes Sadio Mane and Curtis Jones both going close but Klopp will just be hugely relieved his side picked up maximum points in their opening game in what has been termed “the group of death” with experienced campaigners Atletico Madrid and Porto also in the mix.
Alisson 6; Alexander-Arnold 8, Matip 7, Gomez 6, Robertson 7; Keita 6 (Thiago 71, 5), Fabinho 7, Henderson 7 (Milner 83, 5); Salah 7 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 83, 5), Jota 6 (Jones 71, 5), Origi 7 (Mane 62, 6).
Adrian, Kellher, Van Dijk, Konate, Minamino, Tsimikas, Phillips.
Maignan 8; Cabria 6, Kjaer 7, Timori 7, Hernandez 6; Kessie 6, Bennacer 6 (Tonali 71, 5); Saelemaekers 6 (Florenzi 62, 5), Diaz 6, Leao 6 (Giroud 62, 5); Rebic 7 (Maldiini 83, 5).
Tatarusanu, Jungdal, Ballo-Toure, Romagnoli, Kalulu, Gabbia.
Szymon Marchiniak (Poland).