Liverpool brush aside Porto to set up Barcelona blockbuster

Sadio Mané’s goal took the wind out of home side's sails

Liverpool striker Sadio Mane celebrates his goal during the  Champions League quarter-final second leg  match against  Porto at the Estádio do Dragão. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

Liverpool striker Sadio Mane celebrates his goal during the Champions League quarter-final second leg match against Porto at the Estádio do Dragão. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

 

Porto 1 Liverpool 4 (Liverpool win 6-1 on agg)

It was the fight Jürgen Klopp had envisaged, not always the procession another heavy aggregate defeat of Porto might suggest, and Liverpool passed every test at a raucous Estádio do Dragão. Strong, resilient, clinical and cutting; every attribute that has honed Klopp’s team into a fearsome European unit was in evidence as they sailed into the Champions League semi-finals for a second year running. Messi awaits.

Liverpool do not lose to Porto. Under Klopp, they do not lose two-legged European ties either and a 10th consecutive knockout victory maintained their prospects of a third Uefa final under the German manager who has revitalised this club.

Barcelona represent an intriguing prospect in the last four, a reunion with Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, and Liverpool will savour the prospect. Sadio Mané pounced to put Liverpool on course for an ultimately comfortable victory before Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Virgil van Dijk inflicted heavy punishment on Porto in the second half. Firmino and Van Dijk both scored with close-range headers to deliver a convincing win.

Liverpool warmed up in a deluge as the rain that had poured on Porto all day intensified half an hour before kick-off. They then weathered a different storm as Porto tore into Liverpool from the opening whistle with an intensity and quality that illustrated the depth of their belief.

After 17 minutes it was 8-0 in shots in the home side’s favour. After 28 it was 13-0. Not for the first time against Liverpool, however, they failed to make a bright start count and were duly punished by a far more clinical opponent.

That said, it seemed ludicrous when Liverpool took the lead having spent the entirety of the game until Mané’s goal frantically clearing their defensive lines. Alisson was spoken to for time wasting by the Dutch referee, Danny Makkelie, as the visitors tried various tactics to disrupt their opponent’s rhythm.

In seeking fresh legs to stretch a Porto defence containing the 36-year-old Pepe, the Liverpool manager turned to Divock Origi for the first time since the Merseyside derby on March 3rd, the last time his team did not win. Firmino was rested after a run of seven successive matches alongside Mané and Mohamed Salah. His replacement spent most of the first half trying to combat the right-wing raids of Éder Militão, the stylish defender who is bound for Real Madrid this summer.

Sérgio Conceição made a tactical switch of his own, deploying Otávio behind a two-man forward line and outnumbering Liverpool in central midfield. Klopp’s constant gesticulations on the sideline as he sought a reaction reflected the impact of his opposite number’s move.

Merely 39 seconds had elapsed when Porto created their first opportunity. Jesús Corona weaved his way between Van Dijk and Andy Robertson into the Liverpool area before curling a shot just over from a tight angle. The noise level cranked higher. Porto were playing at a frenzied pace and their supporters responded in kind.

Moussa Marega had squandered several chances to change the complexion of the tie at Anfield and continued in the same erratic fashion in front of goal here. Powerful, with good movement and awareness, he would be some striker if he could finish. Thankfully for Liverpool, he could not. The Mali international had already shot straight at Alisson and failed to connect at a corner when he headed a Corona cross that caught him by surprise harmlessly wide.

A deep cross from Alex Telles picked him out unmarked on the penalty spot but, to the home crowd’s obvious disgust, he volleyed hopelessly off target on that occasion too. Otávio and Héctor Herrera also had good chances, the latter dispossessed inside the area by Van Dijk, as Porto besieged the Liverpool defence for 28 minutes. And in the 29th they fell behind.

Liverpool’s first attack of the game immediately caused problems for the home defence with Origi and Salah finding space inside the area. Salah worked the ball from under his feet to float an inviting cross to the far post where Mané, at full stretch, converted beyond Iker Casillas. An offside flag appeared justified and put paid to Liverpool’s hopes of ending the contest before half-time. After a lengthy VAR review Mané was found to have been onside, however, and he wheeled away in a one-man celebration when Makkelie pointed to the centre circle.

The Premier League leaders were close to doubling their advantage over a stunned Porto before the interval. Origi was slow to react to Fabinho’s fine ball behind Militão and gave Casillas time he should not have had to clear the danger.

The Belgium international was withdrawn after an anonymous first half. James Milner was inches away from converting a cross by Trent Alexander-Arnold, the only available England international on display for the watching Gareth Southgate, but his improvised flick drifted wide of Casillas’s far post.

Porto persevered and continued to take the game to Liverpool in the second half but, in truth, belief evaporated from their players and fans the moment Mané’s goal stood. They needed four goals to reach the semi-finals and knew four would not be forthcoming against a team with Liverpool’s European and defensive expertise.

The substitute Francisco Soares headed wide and Herrera shot straight at Alisson from distance as they pushed for an equaliser. Yet again Liverpool gave them a lesson in clinical finishing when Salah latched on to a sublime pass from Alexander-Arnold. The right back sent Salah clean through on goal and he swept a convincing left-foot finish beneath Casillas.

Militão finally gave Porto the reward their performance merited when powering home a header from Telles’s corner. But Liverpool responded with goals from Firmino and Van Dijk. Let’s Make History pleaded a large banner above the Porto fans before kick-off. It is Liverpool who are dreaming of that. – Guardian

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SEMI-FINALS

Tottenham v Ajax

Liverpool v Barcelona

Ties to be played April 30th/May 1st & May 7th/8th

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