Martínez cracker gives Inter hope but Liverpool advance after Sánchez red

Winning run comes to an end but Jürgen Klopp’s side advance to quarter-finals

Liverpool 0 Inter Milan 1 (Liverpool win 2-1 on agg)

For Inter Milan, it had the feel of an impossible job. In 34 previous European ties in which Liverpool had won the first-leg away from home, the Premier League team had never failed to progress. Liverpool had brought all-conquering form into the tie as they sought to confirm their place in the Champions League quarter-finals. Inter had been patchy.

Yet the Italian champions had a blueprint to manoeuvre the ball efficiently and, when Lautaro Martínez aimed a firecracker into the top corner just after the hour – it had Alisson beaten from the moment of discharge – they had the scent of something more.

Liverpool had hit the post twice – through Joel Matip and Mohamed Salah – and they faced a test of their nerve. To great delight and no little relief, they passed it.

Their task was made easier when Alexis Sánchez was sent off almost immediately after the goal for a second bookable offence. Salah would rattle the upright again but, if the ball would not go in for him or his team, at least Inter could not find the equaliser.

Simone Inzaghi had to find a way for Inter to trouble Alisson in the Liverpool goal much more than his team had managed to do three weeks previously. Sánchez in, Edin Dzeko out was his big move for the starting XI.

The visitors had an easy confidence on the ball, able to find their men in their well-drilled 3-5-2 system and they wondered whether they could spring either Sánchez or Martínez in behind a Liverpool backline that was positioned typically high.

Jürgen Klopp could be grateful to the pace of Andy Robertson and a couple of important defensive interventions from Trent Alexander-Arnold in the opening quarter.

Liverpool wanted to win the ball high up and they brought the pressure from the first whistle but Inter did not panic. The first goal always stood to be crucial and, in a strange way – despite Liverpool’s advantage from Milan – it felt delicately poised.

There was a break in play on 25 minutes so that medics could attend to a medical emergency in the Kop and, as everybody hoped for the best and the home crowd sang supportively, their team took stock. Virgil van Dijk had headed straight at Samir Handanovic from a corner but that was it in terms of chances and there had been one or two mutters from the fans as moves broke down.

Liverpool resumed with more force and, as in the first-leg, they threatened from set-pieces. If Inter were unhappy at how they had lost Roberto Firmino and Salah for the goals in Milan, they were relieved after they did the same thing with Joël Matip on a 31st-minute Alexander-Arnold free-kick and watched him direct a header against the crossbar.

From the next action, an Alexander-Arnold corner, Van Dijk almost got in only to glance his header off Milan Skriniar and past the post. Alexander-Arnold would also whistle a free-kick wide in first-half stoppage-time.

Inter have never lost a European first-leg at home by a two-goal margin and the setback came during a string of poor results – four games without a victory in Serie A, a run that has seen them edged out of top spot by their city rivals AC, and which only ended last Friday with the 5-0 victory over bottom-of-the-table Salernitana.

Could they get anything before the interval from a performance featuring plenty of polish in possession? The answer was no. Marcelo Brozovic tried to usher Martínez through only to see Van Dijk hoover up the ground and slam the door shut while their big moment came in the 41st minute when Hakan Calhanoglu whipped in a low free-kick from the right, bouncing it just in front of Alisson. The goalkeeper was not distracted by the onrushing Inter players and showed strong and safe hands to push the ball.

Salah ought to have eased any potential for anxiety early in the second half when the ball broke to him inside the area.

The chance had been sparked by a lob forward by Thiago and it led to a dramatic full-length dive by Handanovic, although he could not clear. Salah had plenty of the goal to aim at. He hit the post.

Inter fashioned their lifeline moments after Martínez had seen a shot deflected wide by Robertson when he had been well placed. Ivan Perisic collected a loose ball up the line from Matip and Sánchez worked it forward for Martínez.

What followed was a celebration of technique and audacity, the right-footed shot from outside the area fizzing into the far top corner.

Inter had hope. Then they had 10 men. Sánchez had been booked at the end of the first half for a horrrible lunge at Thiago, raking his studs down the lower leg of his opponent. The second yellow card was more contentious. Sánchez stretched to play the ball but he then caught Fabinho with his follow-through. According to the letter of the law, he was out of control.

Liverpool pushed again and, when Sadio Mané crossed, Salah arrived to guide a first-time effort against the post. At the death, Arturo Vidal would somehow deny the substitute, Luis Díaz. Liverpool had done enough.– Guardian

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