Liverpool fail to put Porto away after brilliant start at Anfield

Moussa Marega wastes chances to grab away goal for Portuguese side

Liverpool’s  Roberto Firmino celebrates after scoring Liverpool’s  second goal during the  Champions League quarter-final, first leg against Porto at Anfield. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino celebrates after scoring Liverpool’s second goal during the Champions League quarter-final, first leg against Porto at Anfield. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

 

Liverpool 2 Porto 0

Jürgen Klopp appeared to indulge in promotional duties for Uefa when giving this quarter-final a billing Liverpool’s recent history with Porto did not merit. The Liverpool manager had suggested the reunion would be awkward against an opponent with revenge on the mind. It may not have been a rout but it was another comfortable win that sets his team on course for the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Had Porto forward Moussa Marega converted even one of several presentable chances for an away goal than Klopp’s pre-match prophecy would have come true. He squandered them all.

Naby Keïta, courtesy of a deflection, and Roberto Firmino, at the end of a fine team goal, converted their chances to give Liverpool a commanding first leg advantage. It said everything about their control of the quarter-final that Klopp was able to withdraw Firmino and Sadio Mane in preparation for Sunday’s vital Premier League game against Chelsea.

Sérgio Conceição claimed “negative thoughts are in the past” when dismissing the impact of Porto’s 5-0 defeat by Liverpool last February on this tie. Klopp was equally unconvincing in his assertion that the two-times European champions were the last team he wanted to face in the last eight.

With a defining, demanding period in the Premier League title race to come for Liverpool and Manchester City, the Portuguese side were the best remaining option available. That said, Porto’s line-up featured only four players who started the heaviest home defeat in the club’s proud European history 14 months ago. Liverpool fielded eight starters from that clinical night at Estadio do Dragão and experienced an almost identical start.

As in the first leg of the last-16 tie Porto opened confidently and sharply, with their coach showing no thought of containment away from home in his deployment of a three-pronged attack and a high defensive line. And, once again, they were two goals down and looking ripe for a hiding before the half-hour mark.

Liverpool commenced their routine win earlier this time when they punctured Porto’s optimism and tame resistance with their first attack.

James Milner, deputising for the suspended Andy Robertson at left back, justified his inclusion ahead of Alberto Moreno immediately as he swept a raking pass out to Sadio Mane on the left. The Senegal striker found Firmino inside the penalty area, he teed up Naby Keïta lurking unmarked outside and the midfielder’s shot sailed into the top corner via a kind deflection off Oliver Torres. Iker Casillas had no chance but every right to question the marking in front of him.

For Keïta it was a second goal in two games for Liverpool having gone 27 appearances without. Another Klopp selection had been vindicated in quick-fire fashion.

The hosts created several chances to double their advantage before Firmino eventually tapped them further ahead. Porto’s shape and composure disappeared in the immediate aftermath of Keïta’s opener.

Jesus Corona was unsure whether to persist in midfield or help Maxi Pereira stifle the threat of Mane. Liverpool prospered in the gaps around the two-man central midfield that remained with Jordan Henderson applying the cuts and the thrusts almost unchallenged.

Firmino had a shot deflected wide. Mohamed Salah, who brought Anfield to its feet by chasing back to dispossess Otavio on the corner of the Liverpool penalty box, had a glorious opportunity when the Porto forward pierced his own central defence with a ridiculous pass. It would have been a great one had it been sent in the right direction, mind. Salah pounced, rode what could easily have been a foul by last man Felipe and rolled a shot beyond Casillas but also the far post.

Porto were not reprieved for long. Firmino started and finished the second when he picked out Henderson unmarked in central midfield. The captain threaded a superbly weighted pass behind the left back Alex Telles into the run of Trent Alexander-Arnold, and his first time cross was tapped home by the Brazil international.

Liverpool were coasting as expected towards the semi-finals yet the complexion of the tie should have been altered completely when Moussa Marega had two clear sights of goal in as many minutes. The powerful Porto striker, who came into the game with six Champions League goals to his name this season, found himself one-on-one with Alisson when a clearance deflected into his path. Marega had to score to give his side hope. The legs of the Liverpool goalkeeper ensured he did not.

The attack stayed alive and VAR was called on to assess a handball by Alexander-Arnold after Alisson clawed the ball onto his full back. Porto were awarded only a corner, VAR spotting the incident occurred off the pitch, and Marega was given a second bite when the ball dropped at his feet on the penalty spot. His shot on the turn was straight at Alisson, to his obvious and understandable despair.

Henderson thought he had a second assist, and Liverpool a third goal, when he floated an inch-perfect cross over the visiting defence for Mane to volley precisely under Casillas, who was making his 176th Champions League appearance at the age of 37. The assistant referee spotted a fractional offside, however, and VAR backed him up to the audible disappointment of the Kop.

It was to Porto’s credit how they refused to wilt under Liverpool pressure and the sense of deja-vu that the two first-half goals must have triggered. They continued to cause Klopp’s defence problems in the second half without crafting an opening for a precious away goal to take back to Portugal. – Guardian

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