Porto 1 - 4 Liverpool
Porto: Militao 69’
Liverpool: Mane 26’, Salah 65’, Firmino 77’, Van Dijk 84’
An interesting call from Jurgen Klopp, giving Divock Origi the call over Roberto Firmino. Bobby remains an option off the bench (where hopefully he will not be needed). Likewise the captain Jordan Henderson starts on the bench, and a trio of Fabinho, James Milner, and Georgino Wijnaldum get the nod in the center of the park. The math is very simple for Liverpool: avoid losing by two goals or more if they cannot get an away goal, or by three goals if they can. While the Reds would like to get through by any means possible, they’d surely prefer going through with a win.
Porto nearly get the dream start they want, when Corona gets a bit of space at the edge of the area, and unleashes a curling effort that just goes over the crossbar. The opening fifteen minutes or so feel like the start of last year’s away tie, where Porto came out and attacked. Let’s hope this also ends with them not scoring and conceding five.
An opening five, turned into an opening fifteen, which has since become an opening twenty-five for the home side. Thankfully Porto have been extremely wasteful with their chances (and half chances), but Liverpool have yet to really get a foothold in the game.
Liverpool manage to put the ball into the back of the net with their first real attack of the night. Mohamed Salah’s shot is deflected into the path of Sadio Mane, who taps in at the back post from close range. The goal was initially judged to have been offside, but it was overturned with VAR. In addition to taking a commanding 3-0 aggregate lead, Liverpool have that all-important away goal, meaning Porto will need at least four to advance.
Liverpool not only survive, but vastly improve their position in a half where they were out-shot 15-3. Of course, it’s not just quantity, but quality that counts, and Liverpool crafted the best chance for themselves of the half, and duly converted. Porto seem to have punched themselves out in that opening twenty-five minutes or so, and haven’t really troubled Liverpool since the opening goal.
Klopp makes a rare halftime sub, with Bobby Firmino coming on for Origi. Divock was largely M.I.A. in the first half, finding his pace rather ineffective when not running at a tired defense. Either that or Kloppo wanted to hear the Traveling Kop sing Firmino’s song for 45 minutes straight (both reasons are good enough for me).
An hour on, and this tie appears more likely to end in a whimper than a bang. The home side have not been able to keep up the early intensity, and Liverpool appear more than happy to sit back and try to create a chance on the counter when possible. Speaking of Mo makes it 2-0 on a counter attack. Porto have been leaving more and more space, and it doesn’t take much for these Reds to punish the home side. Trent Alexander-Arnold picks out a Salah run in behind, and the Egyptian is left one on one with Casillas, and cooly slots it. Klopp rewards TAA by immediately subbing him off, giving Joe Gomez his first minutes since early December.
We’ve been warned about Porto’s set play prowess, and they finally punish Liverpool from a corner. But if you’re going to concede, it might as well be when you’re up by four goals with twenty to play. Klopp responds by pulling his other starting fullback, bring on Hendo in his stead. Milner fills in at leftback.
Bobby Firmino adds a third! The visitors hit on the break again, this time Henderson leads the charge, and picks out Firmino with a perfect cross into the box. The Brazilian nods it home with a glancing header, and the Traveling Kop will definitely be singing his song for the rest of the match. Minutes later Virgil Van Dijk makes it 4-1 as if there was any doubt left in the tie. Liverpool win a corner, and Sadio flicks on Milner’s cross, finding the Dutchman at the back post for an easy finish.
These. Fucking. Reds. Top of the league and in the last four of the Champions League (again). It was nervy in the early goings of the match, but as Porto could not keep up the intensity, and Liverpool made them pay time and again. The scoreline might slightly flatter Liverpool on the night, but there can be no doubt that these Reds outclassed their Portuguese foes over two legs. Up next? A semifinal against Barcelona.