The end result may have looked spectacular, and one can make any number of rationalisations as to why the Reds looked quite so shellshocked in the first 25 minutes of the match, but it is undeniable that up until Sadio Mané effectively put the tie out of reach with Liverpool’s first shot on target, it looked like this could be another uninspiring away performance in Europe — the sort the club has seen too many of this season.
It wasn’t, though, in the end, and having qualified for the Champions League semi-finals in consecutive seasons for the first time in a decade, the Merseysiders will feel good about their chances of going all the way. Here are some of the standout
Winners and Losers
LiVARpool LiVARpool LiVARpool. Here at TLO towers we have always been proponents of VAR and no critical mention of the system has ever passed our fingertips — there is certainly no need to check the masthead’s Twitter archives for proof! Our unswerving faith in the Video Assistance Referee apparatus was rewarded on Wednesday night, as what seemed at first to be a goal correctly ruled out for offsides was reviewed... and subsequently overturned, giving the Reds a crucial — if immensely anticlimactic — three-goal advantage.’
The Reds had not produced a single effort on goal until the situation that lead to the score — in which they managed three — and were heavily on the backfoot, but with the tie effectively decided with a simple Sadio Mané tap-in, the pressure on Jürgen Klopp’s men dropped significantly, and the ensuing 65 minutes were a walk in the park.
(Also, there was apparently some excellent VARing taking place in Manchester tonight.)
That front three. Mohamed Salah may have come in for some criticism this season — mostly by people not noticing the extra attention defenders are giving him after he broke the single-season Premier League scoring record last year — but the Egyptian is and always was only part of a unit, and that unit is chugging along with nary a hickup.
The trio all scored in a single match for the 12th time since they began playing together — a run that has seen Liverpool win 11 and draw one — and have combined for 61 goals in the club’s two major competitions this season. Seemingly finding a rich vein of form just as the season reaches its pointiest end, only a fool would bet against the holy trinity firing the Reds to a gold or two.
Merseyside Molasses. At the start of the new year, the Reds went on a pair of warm-weather training camps when their schedule allowed, ostensibly to allow the players a chance to recharge and return full of vigour and energy. Instead, the Merseysiders tended to come out flat, giving up vital points in lifeless draws with Leicester City and Manchester United.
The opening stanza of tonight’s match saw Klopp’s men revisit some of that energy, or lack thereof, and while credit should and does go to their opponents for making conditions difficult, the Reds’ inability to deal with any sort of pressure, the half-heartedness of their pressing, and the apparent confusion among the players as to what the gameplan actually was and where they should position themselves relative to each other would have been disconcerting on a night where they didn’t end up walking to a comfortable win.
Moussa Marega may not have punished Liverpool for their confusion tonight, but make no mistake, Lionel Messi absolutely will.
Philippe Coutinho. The former Red with the unpredictable back troubles has claimed it a dream to return to Anfield in the Champions League. Should he be allowed to leave the bench for a spell, he may see that dream come true, and experience what it feels like when European Night Anfield™ turns wholly against you.
Credit To The Visitors
They may have lost 11-1 to Liverpool over the past two seasons and were given only a four percent chance to advance to the semis heading into tonight, but up until Sadio Mané combined with the VAR team to break their hearts, Porto had a proper go at the Reds. In the opening 25 minutes, the Dragons produced 13 shots — well, 12, plus one that would have been called back for offsides — averaging an effort on goal every two minutes, the sort of pace that even Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker cannot be expected to resist for long.
Pushing six and seven players high up the pitch, Sérgio Conceicão’s men harried their opponents at every opportunity, forcing the Reds into an abysmal 62% pass completion rate and denying the Liverpool frontline a sniff of the ball. Big chances would likely have followed at some point and had the Reds not scored their decisive goal when they did, they could have been in for a long night.
What Happens Next
Four games to go in the Premier League, two or three in the Champions League, including a trip to the famous Camp Nou where the greatest player of all time awaits. Massive European nights are in the Reds’ immediate future, but first, the grind of the EPL and a trip to the Millennium Stadium, where Cardiff — unnecessarily resurgent following a win over Brighton on Tuesday night — look to take points of a top six side for the first time this season. If the Reds are to keep their sneaky double hopes alive, this is a hurdle that must be overcome.