UEFA’S promotional material around Stade de Toulouse hyped up the ‘road to Dublin’ and this trip across the Channel proved there will be plenty of unforeseen blocks and bumps in the journey if Liverpool are to get all the way to the Europa League final in Ireland’s capital.
Jurgen Klopp’s men were not just beaten by their French hosts but outplayed and, though they were left furious at a controversial VAR call chalking off a stoppage-time equaliser, this sub-par performance demonstrated that no opposition must be written off – even in the Europa League.
But then in the dying seconds of a dismal display, Liverpool thought they had claimed a valuable point that would have seen them all but through to the knockout stages. Young defender Jarell Quansah was cruelly denied his first goal for the club due to a handball in the build-up.
Alexis Mac Allister was adjudged to have handled the ball nearly a minute before Quansah poked the ball home and Liverpool fumed at the fact a new phase of play had started, meaning VAR should not have had the jurisdiction to look so far back in the move to rule out the goal.
‘For me it’s not a handball,’ said Klopp. ‘It was with his chest and I don’t see any contact with the arm to be honest. But I’m more concerned that I would have loved us to play better. That’s my main issue tonight.
Aron Donnum opened the scoring for the hosts after a terrible mistake from Kostas Tsimikas
Thijs Dallinga scored the second after having one ruled out for a foul to put the hosts on top
Liverpool had the ball in the back of the net late on, but the equaliser was duly ruled out for a handball by Alexis Mac Allister in the final added minute
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‘We deserved to lose because they (Toulouse) won pretty much all the decisive challenges. There were too many situations where we should have won the ball and didn’t, and on top of that we gave the ball away easily at least twice.’
Perhaps the controversy distracted from the fact it was a much sub-par performance, as midfielder Harvey Elliott agreed with after the game. ‘I don’t think we deserve anything from tonight, ‘he said. ‘Nothing was going for us and we didn’t deserve a draw.’
Of course, this was only a minor bump in the road. Liverpool are still well on course to cruise through this group and they are bookies’ favourites to go all the way before third-placed Champions League sides drop into the competition.
But they were sloppy, lethargic and lacked attacking threat until the dying embers of the match. The Reds made a habit of slow starts and shoddy first-half performances in the early weeks of the season and this was another example that there are still cracks to iron out.
Joe Gomez, who led the team out as captain, had their best chance of the first half after just four minutes when he turned Cody Gakpo’s free-kick on to the crossbar with a header. Gomez, who has made just shy of 200 Liverpool appearances, is still searching for his first goal.
Toulouse had the greatest day in their history last season when they won the French Cup for the first time and their fans unveiled a giant banner with a nod to the classic film Les Bronzes. Their fans, a sea of violet shirts, bounced up and down all match and created a raucous atmosphere.
The energy in the stands was matched on the pitch as Liverpool’s second-string side, consisting of nine changes to the side that started at Luton on Sunday, looked off the pace. They had a warning sign on 28 minutes when Gabriel Suazo fired just wide from close range.
But the next lapse in concentration cost Liverpool dearly, as Kostas Tsimikas needlessly lost possession to Aron Donnum in his own half. The Norwegian winger then charged through on goal and finished confidently, albeit he was helped by a slight deflection from Jarell Quansah.
Liverpool were second to each loose ball, losing every 50-50 battle and Klopp acted quickly by sending on Mohamed Salah, Trent-Alexander-Arnold and Dominik Szoboszlai at half-time. But the trio’s introduction barely changed the game’s pattern and, if anything, Liverpool got worse.
Suazo missed another gilt-edged chance seconds into the half after Thijs Dallinga exploited gaping gaps behind the Reds defence. Dallinga then had a goal ruled out for a foul on Joel Matip but was celebrating minutes later after a wonderful touch and finish doubled their lead.
The Reds were handed a lifeline by Toulouse as a Cristian Casseres own goal made it 2-1 on 74 minutes
But within two minutes Frank Magri – who had just come off the bench – restored the two-goal cushion
Diogo Jota came off the bench to make it 3-2 and set up the grandstand finish with a fine solo effort
Jarell Quansah thought he had secured a late, dramatic equaliser for the visitors before a VAR intervention
The strike was ultimately chalked off for handball by Mac Allister to give Toulouse a memorable win
Toulouse continued to cause problems and had a second disallowed goal on 66 minutes after Donnum poked home. Darwin Nunez was the next big name to be sent on by Klopp and seconds later they pulled a goal back after Cristian Casseres headed a cross into his own goal.
It was a much-needed slice of luck and the comeback looked under way but Toulouse soon restored their two-goal advantage minutes later when Caoimhin Kelleher failed to fully deal with a cross and Frank Magri fired home at the back post.
Diogo Jota entered the fray and made an instant impact, pulling a goal back on 89 minutes with a tidy left-footed finish after good battling from Mac Allister. Then Quansah thought he had produced a magical moment with seconds remaining after a melee in the penalty area.
Liverpool’s players wheeled away in jubilant celebration and were ready to restart the game with the ball in the centre circle but, after a three-minute delay, it was chalked off for handball. ‘It hit my chest… but we can’t use it as an excuse, it’s a fair result,’ said an honest Mac Allister.
Luis Diaz started the game for Liverpool just hours after his father was rescued in Colombia
Dallinga had the ball in the back of the net once already before his goal in the second half
The home supporters produced an impressive noise throughout the match for their team