In the end, his side came up just short, but not before fighting back from three goals down against the European champions. Red Bull Salzburg's American coach Jesse Marsch may have come of age on a night in Liverpool.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Red Bull Salzburg have paid Liverpool the ultimate compliment.
Five months after the last European visitors to Anfield were on the end of the most astonishing comeback in Champions League history, the Austrian side came agonisingly close to topping it; coming back from 3-0 down to draw level, only for a Mo Salah strike to break their hearts. But never their spirit.
“Wow. They were really good, honestly," said Liverpool's former Salzburg winger Sadio Mane after the game. "I think we deserved to win but it was a very tough game. I know this team – they never give up, they try to score all the time and they caused us problems.”
For the first third of the game, it had all looked so easy for the hosts. All the talk of Salzburg sharing Liverpool's predilection for pressing, of their American coach Jesse Marsch sharing Jürgen Klopp's compassion and nous and of their scouting system unearthing a string of exceptional young talents felt like so much hot air. "We had way too much respect for them in the first half," admitted Marsch.
Fittingly enough, Mane, the best example of that diamond-polishing player recruitment policy, sprinted away down the left touchline, exchanged passes with Roberto Firmino and gave his side a deserved ninth minute lead. As the ground erupted, Marsch hollered above the din to get the attention of his right back, Rasmus Kristensen. Somehow he managed to be heard and the Dane trotted over to receive his instructions, or perhaps admonishment.
Stuttering start for Salzburg
The width of a set of goalposts away, Klopp's celebrations were muted, the German saving his animated moments for his men turning the ball over in midfield or shifting vertically through the lines at speed. He knows that it's the dirty work, the effort and the unity of purpose that gives his men the platform to play. Marsch has also been keen to instill similar virtues in his side but 16 minutes after Mane's opener, he must have wondered whether that would be anywhere near enough.
With the hosts sensing blood, Andy Robertson surged forward with the ball. Marsch sensed the danger quicker than Kristensen and left his technical area to physically point out the Liverpool fullback's advanced position, his outstretched finger just inches from the Scot.
He may have wished he'd gone for a quick tug of the shirt and taken the booking when Robertson arrived in the box to slot home a low cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold. It was another ruthless demonstration of breakneck but controlled football, executed so perfectly as to appear automatic - the kind of move that takes years to groove, and special players to perform. One of those special players, Salah this time, added a third on 36 minutes, surely game over.
The visitors had played themselves in to decent positions a few times only for touch and composure to let them down, with South Korean striker Hee-Chan Hwang a particularly guilty party. As such, his smart turn past Virgil van Dijk and crisp finish to pull the score back to 3-1 just before the break offered Marsch evidence that his players can respond to adversity, something they've become unaccustomed to domestically.
Unlike Barcelona, the team from the birthplace of Mozart weren't prepared to face the music and built towards a crescendo in the second half, with Adrian almost gifting them a goal before Hwang again scuffed a presentable chance wide. "We opened the door and they came running through," said Klopp.
On the touchline, Marsch sensed that door was swinging on its hinges. He pumped his fist and whirled his hands in the air, giving his striker the thumbs up despite his miss. Moments later he was celebrating the real thing as Hwang, once again demonstrating a rare resilience, picked out a cross to Takumi Minamino on the edge of the box and the Japanese midfielder lashed it home on the volley.
Celebrations and loss of control
But amidst the celebrations, Marsch was planning. He'd yet to bring out his biggest weapon and turned to Erling Braut Haaland, the 19-year-old whose hat-trick against Genk on matchday one had captured the imagination of Europe and the eye of scouts from the biggest clubs. Less than three minutes after coming on, he was hugging his boss after drawing his side level. Marsch finally lost any semblance of control and eventually got that booking, for sprinting on the pitch to celebrate with the players who'd done him so proud.
"I think that the main lesson to be learned from this is that we can play at this level, against an opponent like this, on this ground. If we play our football we will always have a chance," concluded Marsch
Thier first experience of the biggest stage suggests that Salzburg will earn themselves more chances. And if there's a team worth imitating, the champions of Europe are a decent place to start. But, on Wednesday night, Marsch and Red Bull Salzburg proved they're much more than a facsimile.