Liverpool 2 - 0 Porto
Liverpool: Keita 5’, Firmino 26’
Quarterfinals of the Champions League. Regardless of the opponent, the excitement and nerves are building as the match nears. Dejan Lovren comes in after his lengthy injury spell, displacing Joel Matip from the starting XI. James Milner is deputizing at leftback, leaving a midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, and Naby Keita. While another 5-0 probably isn’t in the cards today, any victory-to-nil would go a long way toward booking another trip to the semifinals.
Liverpool open proceedings looking the more nervy of the two sides, with several players misplacing easy passes. But never mind! Keita continues his goal scoring form! Milner picks out Mane with a perfect chipped pass over the top. Mane finds Firmino near the penalty spot, and Bobby lays it off for Keita. The Guinean benefits from a very kind deflection, which completely wrong-foots Casillas and the Reds are in the lead early!
Roberto Firmino makes it two! Bobby starts the move by finding Henderson with a cross, who plays Trent Alexander-Arnold through on goal with a perfectly-timed pass. TAA squares the ball across the face of goal for an easy finish at the back stick. Porto follow up the second goal by coming out and deciding to attack. Liverpool survive a little flurry and a VAR-worthy penalty shout, after Alisson inadvertently pushes the ball into Trent’s arm. It would have been harsh, to say the least, and the VAR crew agrees.
Although he’s not (yet) on the scoresheet, Mohamed Salah is at the races tonight! He is, indeed, running down the wing. And he’s helping out defensively as well, tracking back when Porto tried to counter off a Liverpool corner. It feels like it’s a matter of “when” not “if” he scores tonight. That said, he missed a fantastic opportunity after latching onto a poor backpass, and getting 1 on 1 with the keeper, forcing the shot just wide of the target. Regardless, he’s been a constant threat this whole half. Also, Hendo seems to be enjoying the extra freedom afforded by a more advanced position. It’s not one of the vintage, blow ‘em away in a half an hour performances from last season, nor is it the more composed and controlled performance that we’ve grown accustomed to this year. Regardless, another half like this, and Liverpool should go to Porto well in control of the tie.
Sadio Mane, who has been fairly quiet so far, nearly makes it three to open the second period. But he was offside—only just—but a good call by the Spanish officiating crew.
The pace has certainly slowed down this half, with the Reds far more in control, both in and out of possession. At the moment Liverpool seem to be fairly content to pass it around and patiently seek a third. That task would be easier if other Liverpool players stopped getting in Mo’s way when he’s taking on a shot. Meanwhile, Liverpool survive yet another VAR review over a handball after a ball deflects off Lovren’s shoulder during a corner. Once again, the crew gets the call correct.
With 20 minutes to go, Klopp makes his first change of the evening, bringing on cult hero Divock Origi for Mane. Sadio wasn’t exactly messin’ tonight, but Bobby, Mo, and Naby have been more than a handful for Porto defenders. Ten minutes later goal scorer Bobby Firmino makes way for Daniel Sturridge.
If you were hoping for a win-to-nil, this match certainly fulfilled that requirement! It wasn’t the 5-0 masterclass from last season, but it was a far more level-headed, professional, and experienced European performance. Porto put Liverpool under more pressure tonight than they did over two legs last year, and the Reds will be happy to have kept that vital home clean sheet.