Firmino Clinches Liverpool's Control Of Champions League Quarter-Final With Win Over Porto

Jurgen Klopp is on course for a 100 per cent record as Liverpool manager. Every time he has led the club in Uefa competition they have rea...

Jurgen Klopp is on course for a 100 per cent record as Liverpool manager.

Every time he has led the club in Uefa competition they have reached the final. No wonder he calls this his dream team. The only problem was been the nightmare when trying to overcome those final hurdles.

Now his side is on the verge of another European semi-final, goals from Naby Keita and Roberto Firmino giving Liverpool a formidable if not unassailable lead to take to Porto next week. It was no formality, Porto enterprising approach creating several opportunities for an away goal. Liverpool, though, asserted their superiority when it mattered.
There was a maturity to the victory contrasting it with the bedlam of these knockout games a year ago.

It means Liverpool remain in position to achieve their extraordinary twin ambition.

A European and domestic double to put Klopp on the same pedestal as Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan is what is at stake now. Strangely, not too many are talking about the likelihood. Klopp will like that, but the lack of hype is not out of courtesy. Few are really convinced it is possible. Maybe they believe Europe is not enough of a priority. The evidence suggests otherwise.

It is not often a Champions League quarter-final is the second most important game of the week. Klopp said his players are living only for the moment – thoughts of the pending meeting with Chelsea on hold – but he knew the mood around this year’s European run vastly differs to a year ago.

“More enjoyable,” was Klopp’s observation. Less pressure? That sounds suspiciously like a psychological ploy, intended to relax his players.

The way his side started it worked, Liverpool striking twice in the first 26 minutes and missing enough chances to leave Porto fearing a repeat of their mauling in the competition a year ago.

These night used to summon memories from decades ago. Now the reference points go back 12 months. It was not as boisterous as the quarter-final against Manchester City last season – how could it be – the resemblance in the football was obvious.

Porto must have felt the scars of their 5-0 defeat, studying Klopp’s side and wondering how to stop them. Their conclusion was to be as ambitious as any side visiting Anfield this season. They came to play. Liverpool, given the chance to counter-attack even when it was 0-0, knew they would create plenty.

There is a fine line between ambitious and reckless, and when Keita and Firmino put Liverpool two-up Porto coach Sergio Conceicao’s strategy looked the latter.

It made for an entertaining game, Liverpool facing a rare problem on their own turf in having to monitor numerous attacking threats, powerful runner Moussa Marega especially dangerous. Porto were tidy in midfield, never shy of leaving their full-backs exposed.

Yet the Porto defence was playing such a high line they were virtually on the halfway line, ensuring the most basic ball over the top would exploit the pace of Salah and Mane. From the opening exchanges it seemed only a matter of time until Liverpool’s chances followed.

James Milner chipped over the Porto defence in the tenth minute, and after Mane found Firmino, Keita’s shot deflected off Oliver Torres leaving Iker Casillas helpless. Not a work of beauty, but effective. That’s two in two for Keita, finally delivering on his promise at a critical time.

So began one of those blitzes Anfield was so accustomed to a year ago. Salah could have scored twice. First he volleyed directly at the keeper. Then he scuffed a 22nd-minute shot wide with only Casillas to beat. Had he gone down under Felipe’s challenge, there most likely would have been a red card.

Inevitably, the second followed when Jordan Henderson demonstrated his playmaking abilities, his perfectly weighted pass to Trent Alexander-Arnold enabling the full-back to feed Firmino for a tap-on.

The prospect of a second leg formality was already plausible, but Porto have talent. Alisson was twice called upon to deny Marega, and a VAR call spared Alexander-Arnold the concession of a penalty when he handled off the pitch.

The incident showed Porto would not surrender, alt

Salah continued to look in the mood, two efforts blocked by his own players – Firmino and Henderson.

But the second half was an exercise in Liverpool bringing order to a frantic game, while Porto were willing to gamble by inspiring more chaos in pursuit of the away goal to change the complexion. It ensured Virgil van Dijk was again required to be at his most commanding and Dejan Lovren, recalled for Joel Matip, made an impressive return.

They ensured the similarities to last season did not extend to carelessness at the back and there were fewer nervous moments, the 2018 run typified by sprints out the blocks to plunder goals, and worrying about comebacks in Manchester and Rome. Had Marega had the finishing to match his pace and movement, Porto would have pulled one back when he was sent clear on 78 minutes, the striker wastefully slicing over, but generally Liverpool's defence was firm.

The Kop raised the noise levels seeking the second half goals that would surely end the tie. Klopp needed the patience to protect what his side had. His first nod to the upcoming Premier League duty was to take off the tiring Mane and Firmino, sending on the fresh Origi and Sturridge.

Porto showed enough to suggest they will be more of a force in their own stadium next week. They will do well to stop Liverpool adding to their goal tally.

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