Liverpool to face Villarreal in semi-final after thrilling six-goal draw with Benfica

Roberto Firminio scores twice at Anfield but Benfica fight back from 3-1 down

Liverpool 3 Benfica 3 (Liverpool win 6-4 on agg)

Benfica salvaged pride at Anfield but Liverpool preserved their dreams of a seventh European crown and unprecedented quadruple. Jürgen Klopp’s side advanced into the Champions League semi-finals, where they will meet Villarreal, on a fluctuating night when VAR had a hand in all three Benfica goals and Liverpool were made to fight to the finish.

Ibrahima Konaté and a brace from Roberto Firmino put Liverpool on a comfortable course for the last four before VAR intervened in the form of two late Benfica goals. They were ultimately no more than consolations.

A 12th European Cup/Champions League semi-final awaits Liverpool, who have equalled Manchester United’s record for an English club, and they remain in sight of a third Champions League final appearance in five seasons under Klopp. On the two previous occasions Liverpool defeated Benfica in the quarter-finals – in 1978 and 1984 – they went on to lift the trophy.

Klopp made an eyebrow-raising seven changes from the team that started Sunday’s draw at Manchester City, defending his selection on the basis Liverpool needed the “freshest legs” to reach the semi-finals.

Their schedule necessitates rotation, with City looming again in the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday, but there was no doubt the team sheet will have raised Benfica’s hopes before kick-off. They appeared slender hopes, in truth, following last week’s 3-1 defeat in Lisbon. This was Liverpool’s 200th European game at Anfield. Only seven of the previous 199 had ended in a loss of two goals or more.

There was a minute’s silence before the game in memory of the 97 Liverpool fans who were unlawfully killed at Hillsborough 33 years ago this Friday. It would be nice to report that it was impeccably observed but a few moronic individuals in the Benfica section, ignoring the “shushes” that came from the majority around them, decided otherwise.

A much-changed team caused no immediate disruption to Liverpool's dominance of possession or control of the tie. With Mohamed Salah rested on the bench for the first time in a Champions League game this season Klopp tasked Luis Díaz with troubling Benfica from the right.

The former Porto winger again impressed against his old rivals, with his pace, touch and movement a constant thorn in the visitors' defence. A threaded ball through midfield from Jordan Henderson enabled Díaz to exchanges passes with Firmino before darting to the byline and crossing dangerously across the Benfica goalmouth.

Goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos, injured moments earlier when saving bravely at the feet of Diogo Jota, fumbled under pressure from James Milner but recovered just in time to claw the loose ball away from Firmino.

Liverpool remained on the attack and opened the scoring with almost a replica of their first goal at Estádio da Luz. Kostas Tsimikas, starting in place of Andy Robertson, swung a corner deep into the Benfica penalty area where Konaté rose above a statuesque Jan Vertonghen and Nicolas Otamendi to head inside Vlachodimos's left-hand corner. Konaté had opened his Liverpool account in similar style eight days ago. Lessons had not been learned in the Benfica defence.

There were warning signs for Liverpool, however. Everton curled a shot just wide of Alisson’s top corner in the opening minutes and Darwin Núñez thought he had quickly cancelled out Konaté’s header with an exquisite chip over the Liverpool goalkeeper. The powerful centre forward was offside when racing through on to Everton’s pass, however.

Díaz drew a fine save from Vlachodimos and teed up Firmino for a header that was deflected over by Vertonghen when another Tsimikas corner spread uncertainty in the Benfica area.

The Portuguese side were growing more confident on the ball, however, encouraged by some loose Liverpool play, and levelled on the night when Goncalo Ramos beat Alisson with a convincing finish as he sprinted clear on goal. Liverpool looked to VAR to save them with an offside call against Ramos but Milner, while challenging Diogo Goncalves in central midfield, had inadvertently played the goalscorer through.

Liverpool should have restored their lead before the interval when a defensive error by Benfica allowed Firmino to bear down on goal with Díaz unmarked to his right. Firmino delayed his pass and gave left back Alejandro Grimaldo time to take the ball off Díaz's toes with a fine recovery. The Colombia international was evidently aggrieved. But the Brazilian would make amends with two goals in quick succession early in the second half.

His first was a shambles from a Portuguese perspective. Naby Keïta instigated the move with a piercing pass into the Benfica area towards Diaz. Vlachodimos got there first but the goalkeeper, impressive in the first leg, fumbled once again and forced Vertonghen into a desperate clearance that he sliced to the unmarked Jota. The Liverpool striker scuffed his shot across goal but Firmino was on hand to convert into an empty net. Onside too, confirmed VAR.

Firmino’s second, Liverpool’s third, was a controlled volley at the back post from a Tsimikas free-kick that sailed over the Benfica defence. But there would be no repeat of the first leg scoreline.

Benfica substitute Roman Yaremchuk was initially flagged offside when he raced on to Julian Weigl's pass, rounded Alisson and rolled into an unguarded net. VAR spotted he had been played onside by Gomez and Benfica's second stood. Remarkably, a third followed via an identical source. Darwin Núñez's cool finish was also disallowed for offside only to be overturned by VAR. Núñez then forced a fine save from Alisson as Benfica went in search of an unlikely winner. – Guardian