Naby Keita steps out of Steven Gerrard's shadow
Liverpool verdict - Naby Keita steps out of Steven Gerrard's shadow in Champions League win against Porto
James Pearce watches on as Keita inspires Liverpool to victory against Porto in the Champions League quarter-final first leg
11:00, 10 APR 2019
Liverpool beat Porto 2-0 at Anfield last night to put themselves in a very strong position in the Champions League.
The Reds travel to Portugal for the second leg of the quarter final tie next week with a decent lead and - crucially perhaps - a clean sheet.
Goals from Naby Keita and Roberto Firmino were enough to secure victory last night.
Porto were dangerous on occasion, chiefly through forward Moussa Marega, but Jurgen Klopp's side had enough to see off the threat.
Here is the match verdict from the ECHO's Liverpool reporter James Pearce...
It's a sight Anfield has witnessed many times down the years.
There was Liverpool's No 8 providing the inspiration on the European stage. But this time the identity of the man leading the charge was different.
Steven Gerrard's iconic shirt has weighed heavily on Naby Keita's shoulders over the past eight months.
The Guinean midfielder, who dreamed of following in his hero's footsteps when he was growing up in Conakry, has struggled to live up to the hype that accompanied his £52.75million move from RB Leipzig last summer.
Hampered by both fitness and form, he's been unable to nail down a starting spot in Jurgen Klopp's side. He's been a peripheral figure in Liverpool's thrilling pursuit of glory.
But not any more. Keita has belatedly arrived. The shackles are well and truly off.
All the reaction to last night's 2-0 can be found HERE
It was Keita's name which echoed around Anfield in the closing stages of an ultimately routine victory over Porto which puts the Reds on the brink of a mouthwatering Champions League semi-final against either Barcelona or Manchester United.
Having opened his account in Friday's win at Southampton, he duly celebrated his first goal on home turf to keep Klopp's men firmly on course for Madrid.
Suddenly, confidence abounds. This was the dynamic Keita from his Bundesliga days as he won battles in the centre of the park and was a creative force throughout.
Jordan Henderson was equally influential throughout with Klopp's decision to utilise his captain's qualities further forward vindicated. The past week has provided a timely reminder that Henderson is so much more that simply a midfielder capable of putting out fires.
It was Henderson who helped create the second for Roberto Firmino as Liverpool raced into a commanding lead inside half an hour.
The expected demolition job failed to materialise with the Reds unable to steamroller the Portuguese champions like they did at the last 16 stage a year ago.
Standards slipped and Klopp's men rode their luck at times en route to keeping a precious clean sheet.
There's still some work to be done at the Estadio do Dragao next Wednesday night. Porto proved they're no mugs but Liverpool will head for Portugal in a position of real strength.
With the firepower at their disposal, they will fancy their chances of finishing the job off.
Klopp had opted to freshen up his side with Dejan Lovren handed a first start for three months alongside Virgil van Dijk.
Joel Matip and Gini Wijnaldum were both rested with Henderson and James Milner recalled after their impressive cameos off the bench against Southampton.
Having shone at right-back at St Mary's, Milner showcased his versatility as he expertly filled the void on the other flank created by Andy Robertson's one-match ban.
It was Milner who helped launch the slick attack which brought the breakthrough inside five minutes.
His sweeping pass found Sadio Mane, Firmino darted into space to receive possession and then teed up Keita, whose strike from the edge of the box took a wicked deflection off Oliver Torres and gave Iker Casillas no chance.
It was fortunate but it was another sign that things are starting to go Keita's way. His hard graft is being rewarded.
The early goal was a body blow for Porto who had actually looked composed and positive in the opening exchanges.
Energised by the opener, Liverpool threatened to run riot. Alex Telles simply couldn't handle the pace and movement of Mohamed Salah down the right flank.
Having written his name in the record books by reaching a half century of league goals for Liverpool in fewer games than anyone else, Salah received his first ovation of the night for his efforts at the other end of the field.
It was typical of the team ethic and burning desire running through Klopp's side. When Porto broke away dangerously, there was Salah operating as an emergency left-back on the edge of his own box and making a crucial challenge on Otavio before winning a free-kick.
Salah really should have made it 2-0 midway through the first half after latching on to a woeful backpass. But having shrugged off Felipe, he rolled the ball past Casillas and wide of the post. He couldn't hide his disgust at failing to punish the error.
Liverpool's second goal arrived soon after. With Fabinho sitting deep, Henderson had a licence to get forward and the skipper carved the Porto backline open with a perfectly weighted pass for Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The young full-back drilled across the face of goal and Firmino slotted home goal number 15 for the season.
To their credit, Porto didn't simply retreat into their shell. They tried to fight fire with fire and they should have reduced the deficit before the break.
Moussa Marega was through on goal but Alisson Becker stood firm as he made a fine save with his boot.
The biggest difference between this team and the one beaten in Kiev last May is that now Liverpool boast a world class keeper.
Mali striker Marega scuffed another decent chance straight at the keeper after a corner had only been half cleared.
In between, Liverpool had rightly survived a VAR check for a penalty after Alisson had palmed the ball against Alexander-Arnold's arm at point-blank range.
Within three minutes of the restart Liverpool were agonisingly close to celebrating a third.
Mane ensured that Henderson's inviting delivery got the finish it deserved but the offside flag went up. It was a desperately tight call but the decision stood.
The visitors continued to commit players forward in search of the away goal they craved.
But they repeatedly ran into the colossus that is Van Dijk. Time and time again the Dutchman was in the right place to make tackles and interceptions.
Marega nearly stole in after a rare moment of indecision from Alisson but Van Dijk took control and hooked the ball to safety.
Klopp's men went in search of greater reward. One blistering counter involving Henderson and Alexander-Arnold ended with Salah's strike being blocked.
However, it was far from one-way traffic. Errors started creeping in and Alisson had to thwart Marega once again.
Klopp rung the changes with Divock Origi replacing Mane and Daniel Sturridge soon followed for Firmino.
Liverpool wobbled with Marega lashing high and wide after darting away from Lovren.
It was a scrappy end to a decent night's work.
Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Milner, Fabinho, Henderson, Keita, Salah, Firmino (Sturridge 81), Mane (Origi 73).
Not used: Mignolet, Gomez, Matip, Wijnaldum, Shaqiri.
Porto: Casillas, Maxi Pereira (Fernando 77), Felipe, Militao, Telles, Corona, Danilo, Torres (Costa 73), Otavio, Marega, Soares (Brahimi 62).
Not used: Vana, Leite, Hernani, Andre Pereira.
Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz
Goals: Keita 5, Firmino 26.
Bookings: Soares, Felipe.
Man of the match: Jordan Henderson. Another big contribution from the captain.
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