By Matt Ramirez – @Matt_J_Ramirez
Liverpool have secured a place in the Champions League semi-final after beating FC Porto 4-1 at the Estadio do Dragao, securing a 6-1 win on aggregate.
Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino put the Portuguese Dragons to the sword as all of the fabulous front three got themselves on the scoresheet before Virgil Van Dijk popped up late on to notch a fourth.
Jürgen Klopp made three changes from the side that triumphed over Chelsea at the weekend. Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita and Roberto Firmino were all rested, making way for James Milner, Gini Wijnaldum and Divock Origi.
Given Porto’s second leg performance against Roma in the previous round, it shouldn’t have come as a shock that the Portuguese Dragons were very much in control in the early moments.
What wasn’t expected, however, was the apparent lack of cohesion at the back for Liverpool, with the home side cutting through at will – bossing both the possession and chances created stats after 20 minutes.
Moussa Marega, in particular, was proving even more of a handful than he was in the reverse fixture, constantly making runs in behind and repeatedly testing Alisson early on.
Despite trailing Porto on chances created by 13 to nil, Liverpool proved once again how they can strike out of nowhere, by taking the lead in the 26th minute against the run of play.
A rare venture into the Porto penalty area saw Gini Wijnaldum play the ball to Salah. The Egyptian, who was surrounded by three blue jerseys, swivelled on the spot before playing a delightfully curled ball to the back post for the arriving Mané.
The Senegalese hitman, who was all alone in front of goal, simply had to stick out a leg and guide the ball into the back of Iker Casillas’s net. The cheers from the Reds were paused, as VAR reviewed a potential offside, however the decision was overruled and the goal stood.
With Liverpool grabbing the vital away goal, Porto now needed to find four on the night to go through to the semi-finals.
Regarding the performance on the night, the goal didn’t change the flow of the match for the rest of the half. After going behind, Porto continued to dominate the game, putting Liverpool under ever-increasing pressure but remaining unable to breach Alisson’s net.
In terms of Klopp’s game-plan, it was becoming apparent that the German was looking for his players to conserve energy, as even when the ball was won back, the Reds would opt to play a possession-based game as opposed to the ‘heavy-metal’, all guns blazing style they are renowned for.
As the sides came out for the second half, both managers decided to make changes. For Porto, Francisco Soares replaced Otavio, with Firmino coming on in the place of Origi for Liverpool.
Much like in the first half, Porto looked the more likely of the two sides to get a goal, with Marega again in particular looking like their biggest threat.
With this being said, Klopp will be happy with his sides improved defensive organisation, as Van Dijk and co managed the Porto threat with relative ease.
As the tie rolled into the final half hour, Porto seemed to take their foot off the gas as Liverpool began to knock the ball about whenever possession was theirs.
With this being said, the half suddenly burst into life as Liverpool doubled their lead through Salah. The Reds advanced forward down the right flank when Trent Alexander-Arnold spotted the Egyptian sprinting through the middle.
The right back played a brilliant defence splitting pass that left Salah clean through on goal against Casillas. The veteran keeper rushed out and tried to hold his ground but was unable to stop Liverpool’s number 11 as he calmly slotted the ball down to the keeper’s right.
If the 4-0 score wasn’t enough to make Liverpool fans happy, then the introduction of Joe Gomez certainly will have. The young defender, who was an integral part of Liverpool’s backline at the start of the season, came on in place of Alexander-Arnold to make his first senior appearance since picking up an injury at turf moor back in December.
Unfortunately for Gomez, he wasn’t to have an easy reintroduction to the first team, as Porto deservedly had the ball in the back of the net two minutes after his substitution.
The goal came courtesy of the Real Madrid bound Eder Militao, who nodded the ball into the back of the net from a corner. The Brazilian defender climbed highest to meet the Alex Telles cross and gave Alisson no chance, expertly heading the ball into the corner to give the packed Estadio Do Dragao something to cheer in the 68th minute.
Following the Porto goal, Klopp made his final change of the game, bringing on skipper Jordan Henderson in the place of Andrew Robertson. Having recently found form in a more advanced midfield role, it won’t come as a shock to many that Henderson notched himself an assist minutes after entering the fray.
The captain broke away down the right flank before curling in a cross towards the head of Firmino. The Brazilian arrived at pace, flicking the ball into the back of the Porto net, leaving Casillas no chance of saving. After 77 minutes, it was 3-1 but the Reds weren’t done yet.
In the 84th minute Liverpool won a corner, and it’s from there that Van Dijk struck to make it 6-1 on aggregate. Milner swung the ball into the near post where it was flicked on by Mané. The Senegalese’s touch saw the ball travel to the back post where Van Dijk was unmarked and easily nodded it into the empty net.
The win sees Liverpool progress through to the semi-final of the competition where they will be reunited with Luis Suarez and Phillipe Coutinho as they take on Barcelona. Before that though, it’s back to Premier League duty for Klopp as the Reds take on Cardiff City on Sunday.