Liverpool hit pitiful Porto for five to all but seal place in quarters
Sadio Mané the hat-trick hero at Estádio do Dragão
Sadio Mane scores Liverpool’s third against Porto. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty
How Liverpool’s forward line would cope without the creative industry of Philippe Coutinho remained a legitimate question on their return to the Champions League stage. By taking it in turns to inflict the heaviest home defeat on Porto in their rich European history was the emphatic answer. The highest scoring team in Europe’s premier competition will be one to avoid in the quarter-finals that beckon.
Sadio Mané struck a hat-trick, Roberto Firmino polished an immaculate display with a goal and Mohamed Salah claimed his 30th of the season as Jürgen Klopp’s side demolished the Portuguese league leaders. Salah became the second-fastest player in Liverpool’s history to reach the 30-goal milestone, only George Allan got there quicker than his 36 games, as the visitors also became the second highest goalscorers away from home in any Champions League campaign. Porto were simply steam-rollered.
Klopp dispensed with his usual touchline habit of patrolling the technical area and spent most of the first half sitting in the dugout. If it was a show of confidence in his side, and the Liverpool manager was brimming with it during his pre-match press confidence, it was accurately placed and well-rewarded.
Porto initially impressed with Yacine Brahimi and Otávio prominent down the flanks and Moussa Marega causing problems with powerful runs at the Liverpool defence. But the visitors were rarely ruffled and with another of the goalscoring bursts that have become their trademark in this Champions League campaign, the five-time winners of the competition placed one foot firmly into the quarter-finals. Not that Klopp will allow any complacency to creep into his team.
Liverpool tested the strength of the Portuguese league as well as the European ambitions of its leaders. Sérgio Conceição’s team are unbeaten in 21 domestic league games, sitting two points clear of Benfica at the summit with a game in hand, but were beaten by both Besiktas and RB Leipzig in their Champions League group. Porto’s quality in possession was undeniable but so too was their mental fragility when the tie turned against them. It took only a sliced clearance from goalkeeper José Sá, one that gave Salah his first opening of the game, for Porto players to begin castigating each other and lose their composure. Liverpool took full advantage.
The opening 20 minutes were balanced. Otávio was close to opening the scoring for the home side with a shot that deflected off Dejan Lovren and looped just over Loris Karius’s crossbar while the central defender Iván Marcano, making his first appearance since 24 January, justified his recall with two vital interceptions to thwart Firmino. Porto’s concentration at the back then evaporated.
Mané changed the complexion of the tie and the mood inside Estàdio do Dragão with his first goal in six matches and 10th of the season. It was a scrappy effort that will cause Sá sleepless nights but the 3,200 Liverpool fans tucked away in the upper reaches of the rainswept stadium cared not a jot. The Senegal international initially combined with Firmino on the left and made the wrong decision to look for Salah inside the area – understandably enough given his prowess in front of goal – when Georginio Wijnaldum was unmarked at the back post. Porto were unable to clear their lines, however, and Wijnaldum fought to regain possession before driving into the penalty area. His run swept the ball out to Mané on the left and his low shot squirmed under the Porto keeper and trickled over the line. Sá beat the floor in justifiable rage.
The second followed within three minutes and brought up Salah’s 30th goal of a truly stunning debut season as a Liverpool player. It also maintained the team’s European tradition this season of blitzing their opponents when they are down.
James Milner orchestrated the goal when he beat Marega in the challenge and, while Porto stopped to appeal for a non-existent free-kick against the Liverpool midfielder, he beat Sá with a curling effort from distance that crashed against the far post. The rebound dropped to Salah who showed what supreme confidence does to a player by controlling the ball on his chest, flicking it over the keeper and taking another touch with his head before sliding home. The Egypt international stood still for the acclaim that accompanied his latest milestone and Liverpool’s latest rapid-fire display in the Champions League. Against Hoffenheim in the play-off they scored three in an 11-minute spell. There were also three goals in 15 minutes away to Maribor and three in a blistering 14-minute rampage against Spartak Moscow at Anfield. Three goals in 28 minutes away to Sevilla looks almost lackadaisical by comparison.
Their third in Portugal put paid to any hope that Conceição’s side had of hauling themselves back into the game or the tie. Francisco Soares was a fraction wide of converting with a low shot on the stroke of half-time and, in their efforts to attack the deficit after the interval, Porto were punished by a quick and clinical counterattack involving all three of Liverpool’s commanding forward line. Salah played provider with an exquisite pass that released Firmino through the heart of the home defence. The Brazilian aimed low to Sá’s right and, though the keeper pushed clear, Mané was on hand to convert his second of the game with ease.
The fourth, and the cue for many home fans to head for the exits, was deserved reward for Firmino’s relentless team work. The referee Daniele Orsato played a good advantage when Mané had his shirt pulled by Jesús Corona and allowed the striker to release Milner on the left. The midfielder pulled back an intelligent cross into the heart of the penalty area and there was Firmino to sidefoot his eighth goal of the campaign into the bottom corner.
That was Milner’s sixth assist of the campaign and Mané’s hat-trick arrived in style when he swept the ball beyond Sá from 25 yards late on. Liverpool roll on imperiously without Coutinho.