Five-time champions Liverpool have effectively booked their place in the 2017/18 Champions League quarter-finals after a 5-0 away leg demolition of FC Porto…
Liverpool’s love affair with the European Cup was alive and well on Wednesday night as they continued their phenomenal group stage goalscoring exploits in the first leg of their last-16 tie with FC Porto.
The Merseysiders hit five goals without reply in the Valentine’s Day encounter, taking their goals scored tally in the last five matches in the competition to 25.
There was little sign of what was to follow in the opening stages however, with Porto attacker Otávio having the first chance of note, after breaking free from some weak tackling, only for Dejan Lovren to make a timely block to divert the ball over the bar.
The hosts were looking particularly dangerous down their left, via the pace of Yacine Brahimi, although Liverpool were already having plenty of possession as a result of Porto’s tactic to drop deep and stand-off their opponents when without the ball.
Other than an ambitious Andrew Robertson effort from distance, which went well over, there had been little in the way of a goal threat from the Reds until the 25th minute when they suddenly took the lead.
The goal, scored by Sadio Mané, owed plenty to a goalkeeping howler as the nervy José Sá dived over the top of a tame side-footed effort from the Senegalese winger.
One become two four minutes later when a stunning effort from James Milner cannoned back of a post and Mohamed Salah brilliantly controlled the rebound, dinked the ball over Sá and slotted home.
The quick-fire double visibly stunned Porto and it could have been even better for the visitors before half-time as they continually troubled the hosts with their pace and directness.
In an increasingly rare moment of promise, Otávio did go close to pulling a goal back on the stroke of the interval following a nice passing move that unlocked a previously secure Liverpool backline.
For much of the first half though the men in orange had simply been too quick and too determined and, following a brief improvement from Porto at the start of the second half, the Merseysiders were soon back in full flow and extending their lead; Mané tucking home after Sá had saved Roberto Firmino‘s initial effort.
Following an even period either side of the hour mark, Liverpool got the better of yet another midfield skirmish all too easily, this time through Mané, allowing Milner to advance forward and pull the ball back for Firmino to tuck away.
Remarkably there were still 20 minutes to play at this stage and, with home fans leaving a wet and depressed Estadio do Dragão in their droves, the situation allowed Kop boss Jürgen Klopp to make a host of changes, including the withdrawal of Firmino and captain Jordan Henderson.
Neither the alterations, nor the fact the game was effectively already over, changed the visitors’ positivity though, and, shortly after missing one opportunity to complete his hat-trick, Mané brilliantly fired beyond Sá from the edge of the area.
In doing so the ex-Southampton man, who had previously been out of sorts this term, became only the second Liverpool player ever to score a hat-trick away from home in Europe, following Michael Owen in 2002.
It was a record-breaking night all-round with the result representing Porto’s heaviest home European defeat and the first time they have conceded more than three goals in a home European match.
By notching five, Liverpool became the first English side to score such an amount in an away Champions League knockout match.
Asked about his team’s display at a post-match press conference, Klopp remarked: “We did the right things in the right moments, so we won the game…
“Porto are top of the league here and you are not top of the league if you don’t play football, so it was clear they have clear movements, patterns, they know what to do in each moment. Good crosses, often an offensively-orientated team, so yes, defending was really important.
“Both centre-halves were really spot-on, both full-backs were spot-on. Robbo tonight, wow, what a performance. Sometimes you forget Trent’s age, so it was really, really good tonight.
“All the midfielders worked fantastic and then it’s most important that the three boys up front help us and they did tonight in an outstanding manner and I am very happy about that.”
With no game this weekend, as a result of their surprise FA Cup exit to West Bromwich Albion last month, Liverpool’s players will now make the short trip from Porto to Marbella for a four day training camp.
For those who love an omen, Liverpool’s only other two victories in Portugal – against Benfica in 1978 and 1984 – were precursors to European Cup success that season.
Of course, that remains a long shot at this stage but the result will certainly make Europe’s elite stand up and take note.
So that’s what both we and Klopp thought about the game, how about you? Let us know your views below…
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