Liverpool close in on Champions League semi-final spot
|(Naby Keita 5, Roberto Firmino 26)|
Liverpool closed in on a Champions League semi-final meeting with Barcelona or Manchester United as Porto were swept aside 2-0 in the first leg of their quarter-final tie at Anfield on Wednesday morning (April 10, Singapore time).
Naby Keita and Roberto Firmino struck inside the first 26 minutes to put the hosts in command and Liverpool’s only regret may be not building a more emphatic lead to take to northern Portugal for next week’s second leg.
However, a fourth clean sheet in five home Champions League games this season means an away goal at the Estadio do Dragao on April 17 will leave Porto needing four to progress.
Liverpool thrashed the Portuguese giants 5-0 in the first leg of their last-16 tie last season and the scoreline could have been just as embarrassing for Sergio Conceicao’s men had the hosts been more accurate in front of goal.
It took Juergen Klopp’s men just five minutes to open the scoring as Keita got his second goal in as many games, having waited nine months to open his Liverpool account.
The Guinean got the benefit of a big deflection off Oliver Torres as his strike from the edge of the area left veteran goalkeeper Iker Casillas helpless.
Minutes later, Firmino was galloping into acres of space in behind the Porto defence, but this time his deflected effort drifted just beyond Casillas’ far post.
Mohamed Salah ended his eight-game goal drought as Liverpool returned to the top of the English Premier League table with a 3-1 win at Southampton on Friday, but the Egyptian got his angles wrong when he failed to hit the target with just Casillas to beat.
Porto’s slack defending
Conceicao was visibly furious with his side’s slack defending, but Porto could easily have got back into the tie when Alisson Becker saved well with his feet from Moussa Marega.
Liverpool then had to survive a VAR review for a potential handball against Trent Alexander-Arnold as Alisson palmed the ball into his fullback.
Soon, though, Alexander-Arnold was helping twist the knife into Porto at the other end with his eighth assist of the season.
Jordan Henderson, playing in a more advanced midfield position than normal, cut the visitors’ defence open for the England international to square for Firmino to tap into an empty net.
Liverpool have become accustomed to winning games late in recent weeks in their bid for a first EPL title in 29 years.
However, Klopp’s men seemed keen to kill the tie off before their trip to Portugal as Firmino blazed a great chance from Henderson’s pinpoint pass off target.
Only a matter of centimetres denied Liverpool a third early in the second half when another excellent Henderson cross picked out Sadio Mane to volley home, but the Senegalese was flagged offside.
Marega kept plugging away to try and find the away goal that would pull Porto back into the tie, but only one of his many second-half efforts forced Alisson into a comfortable save.
The fine balance Liverpool must strike in maintaining their quest for European glory alongside ending a long wait for a top-flight title was in evidence as Klopp withdrew Mane and Firmino in the final quarter with one eye on Sunday’s league visit of Chelsea.
However, that proved a luxury that Liverpool could afford to take as they look set for a second Champions League semi-final in as many years. – AFP