By Matt Ramirez – @Matt_J_Ramirez
Liverpool saw off a brave FC Porto side 2-0 at Anfield in their first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final tie.
Naby Keita opened his European account – and scored his second in as many games – for Liverpool when he opened the scoring, before Roberto Firmino capped off the win before the break.
Jürgen Klopp made three changes to the side that triumphed over Southampton on Friday night. Andrew Robertson was unavailable through suspension, meaning James Milner made a reappearance at left back.
Jordan Henderson reclaimed the captains armband as he replaced Gini Wijnaldum, and Dejan Lovren earned his first start since January, playing in the place of Joel Matip.
Liverpool fans also had some positive news before kick off, as Joe Gomez returned to the squad, making an appearance on the bench. The young defender played a vital role in Liverpool’s backline at the start of the season, but suffered an unfortunate leg break at Burnley in December.
The good fortune continued beyond kick off as the Reds got themselves into an early lead in the fifth minute. Milner released Sadio Mané down the left flank, who drilled the ball into the box towards Roberto Firmino.
The Brazilian controlled the ball well before turning and finding Keita arriving at the edge of the penalty area. The Guinean midfielder continued his scoring form by dispatching a deflected shot into the top corner of Iker Casillas’ net. The goal marks the first time that a Liverpool number eight has scored in the Champions League since Steven Gerrard netted against Basel in 2014.
The early goal only urged Liverpool on, as the Reds continued their domination of the visitors. Klopp’s men pressed high up the pitch with an intensity which didn’t allow Porto anytime to relax on the ball. In terms of attack, the home side always had an out-ball in the presence of Trent Alexander-Arnold, as the young right-back was almost always available down the flank.
It was because of this freedom that the second goal materialised, with the young full back notching himself another assist for the season. Henderson played a beautiful defence-splitting pass into the box and into the path of the marauding Alexander-Arnold.
The number 66 lifted his head before drilling the ball across goal, putting it on a plate for Firmino who tapped into the empty Porto net. After 26 minutes, the Reds were 2-0 up.
Despite their clear dominance, Liverpool needed to avoid complacency at the back. The Reds had to call upon the safe hands of Alisson Becker twice in quick succession to ensure that they maintained their lead.
The Brazilian, who had been nothing more than a spectator in the match, denied Moussa Marega first with his left boot before clutching at a close range volley following a corner.
Following Alisson’s participation, those in attendance were treated to witnessing the use of VAR, as referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lopez conferred with his video assistant on a potential Porto penalty.
The act under review took place after Alisson palmed out the ball for a corner which appeared to strike Alexander-Arnold on the arm. Upon reviewing the play, it was judged that Alexander-Arnold came in contact with the ball off the pitch therefore no penalty was given.
Following this, the Reds continued their dominance over Porto for the rest of the half, going into the break with a two goal lead.
When the second half got under way Liverpool looked to continue their first half dominance and they had the ball in the back of the net within minutes.
Another brilliant ball by Henderson this time found Sadio Mané who volleyed the ball into the corner of the net. Unfortunately for the Reds, as the Senegalese wheeled away in celebration the referee blew his whistle for offside which VAR quickly confirmed.
Despite having the goal ruled out, Liverpool continued to control the game and looked the more dangerous side, with Mané and Mohamed Salah in particular looking the most likely to find the net.
As time ticked away in the second half, it became very clear that the Porto game plan was to avoid conceding a third goal. The game plan quickly shifted to a one man strike force, with the Portuguese visitors getting as many men behind the ball as possible whenever the home side had possession.
With this being said, and despite finding himself alone up front, Marega consistently made a nuisance of himself, taking advantage on multiple occasions of a lack of communication between Virgil van Dijk and Alisson.
Fortunately for Liverpool, Marega and the rest of his teammates were unable to find a crucial away goal and had to succumb to a 2-0 defeat.
Jurgen Klopp’s attention will now turn to Sunday, when his squad is back on Premier League duty as they host Chelsea at Anfield.