Sadio Mané sets up Liverpool for comfortable passage past Porto

Andy Hunter at the Estádio do Dragão
Wed 17 Apr 2019 22.03 BST

It was a fight before it became a procession and, in keeping with the story of the season so far, nothing could derail Liverpool from their objective in Porto. Resilient and reactive when necessary, incisive and clinical when opportunity arose; the attributes that make Jürgen Klopp’s team feared throughout Europe were all on display as they marched into the Champions League semi-finals for a second year running. Messi awaits.
Liverpool have never lost to Porto. Under Klopp, they have never lost a two-leg European tie either and that impressive sequence, allied to outstanding quality, will fuel belief they can reach a third European final under the manager who has revitalised their club. Barcelona represent a formidable obstacle to that ambition and a captivating semi-final complete with Anfield reunions for Luis Suárez and Philippe Coutinho. Liverpool will savour the prospect.

The Premier League leaders were set on course for the last four by Sadio Mané’s predatory strike. Second-half goals from Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Virgil van Dijk ensured an ultimately comfortable victory and another heavy aggregate win over Sérgio Conceição’s team. But it was a cruel scoreline that did not reflect Porto’s performance nor the huge defensive effort Liverpool needed to get there.

Klopp’s players warmed up in a deluge as the rain that had poured on Porto all day intensified half an hour before kick-off. They then weathered a different storm as the hosts started with an urgency and ambition that demonstrated the depth of their belief in an unlikely comeback. After 17 minutes it was 8-0 in shots in the home side’s favour. After 28 it was 13-0, although Alisson had not been stretched significantly. Not for the first time against Liverpool, Porto failed to make a bright start count and were punished by far more clinical opponents.
That said, it seemed ludicrous when Liverpool took the lead having spent the entirety of the game until Mané’s goal clearing and reorganising their defensive lines. Alisson was spoken to for time-wasting by the Dutch referee, Danny Makkelie, as the visitors tried various tactics to disrupt their opponents’ rhythm. In seeking fresh legs to stretch a Porto defence containing the 36-year-old Pepe, the Liverpool manager turned to Divock Origi for the first time since the Merseyside derby on 3 March, the last time his team did not win. Origi spent most of his 45 minutes trying to combat the right-wing raids of Éder Militão, the stylish defender who is bound for Real Madrid this summer. He had limited success and was replaced by Firmino at half-time.

Merely 39 seconds had elapsed when Porto created their first opportunity. Jesús Corona weaved his way between Van Dijk and Andy Robertson into the Liverpool area before curling a shot just over. The noise level inside Estádio do Dragão cranked higher. Porto were playing at a frenzied pace and their supporters responded in kind.

Moussa Marega had squandered several chances to change the complexion of the tie at Anfield and continued in the same erratic fashion in front of goal. Powerful, with good movement and awareness, he would be some striker if he could finish. Thankfully for Liverpool, he could not. The Mali international had already shot straight at Alisson and failed to connect at a corner when he headed a Corona cross that caught him by surprise harmlessly wide. A deep cross from Alex Telles picked him out unmarked on the penalty spot but, to the home crowd’s obvious disgust, he volleyed hopelessly off target on that occasion too. Porto besieged the Liverpool defence for 28 minutes and in the 29th they fell behind.

Liverpool’s first attack caused problems for the home defence with Georginio Wijnaldum and Salah finding space inside the area. Salah worked the ball from under his feet to deliver a superb cross between four defenders to the back post where Mané, at full stretch, converted beyond Iker Casillas. An offside flag appeared justified to the naked eye. After a lengthy VAR review Mané was found to have been onside, and he wheeled away in a one-man celebration when Makkelie pointed to the centre circle.
The Premier League leaders were close to doubling their advantage over a stunned Porto before the interval. Origi was slow to react to Fabinho’s fine ball behind Militão and gave Casillas time he should not have had to clear the danger. James Milner was inches away from converting a cross by Trent Alexander-Arnold, the only available England international who started for the watching Gareth Southgate, but his improvised flick drifted wide of Casillas’s far post.
Porto persevered and continued to take the game to Liverpool in the second half but, in truth, belief evaporated from their players and fans the moment Mané’s goal stood. They needed four goals to reach the semi-finals and knew four would not be forthcoming against a team with Liverpool’s European and defensive expertise.

The visitors delivered another lesson in clinical finishing when Salah latched on to a sublime pass from Alexander-Arnold. The right-back sent the striker clean through on goal and he swept a convincing left-foot finish beneath Casillas.

Militão finally gave Porto reward when powering home a header from Alex Telles’s corner. Their energy levels inevitably flagged as the contest wore on and Firmino guided a sharp header home from a delightful cross by fellow substitute Jordan Henderson. Van Dijk completed the scoring with a close-range header from a Milner corner.

Let’s Make History pleaded a large banner above the Porto fans before kick-off. It is Liverpool who are dreaming of that.

Copyright - The Guardian.

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