In the second leg of the Champions League round of 16, Liverpool welcomed FC Porto to Anfield.
Having beaten the Portuguese side at their Estadio do Dragao in the first leg by 0-5, the Reds entered this match somewhat comfortably, with a big cushion to soften any potential blow.
Manager Jurgen Klopp clearly stated he wouldn’t be sending out a weakened team, despite the fact that Liverpool play a Premier League game on Saturday, a Premier League at Old Trafford. But he still decided to rest Andy Robertson completely, with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mohamed Salah all named on the bench. Their respective places were taken by Alberto Moreno, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip, James Milner and Adam Lallana.
As was the case for the game against Newcastle last Saturday, Ben Woodburn and Georginio Wijnaldum were still out.
On the other hand, Porto head coach Sergio Conceicao had to make do without forwards Francisco Soares and Moussa Marega, midfielder Danilo and defender Alex Telles.
— FC Porto (@FCPorto) March 6, 2018
Before the game started, everybody in the stadium paid their respects to Fiorentina captain Davide Astori, who tragically passed away at the weekend.
The First Half
In the first half, Porto showed they were still capable of giving Liverpool an even contest, at least this team without several key players.
Liverpool were slightly the better side still, but could only produce an occasional glimpse of the usual attacking flair. The visitors on the other hand played patiently, like this was the first leg, defending with discipline and trying a lobbing pass for their attackers from time to time.
After eight minutes Gomez whipped in a good cross from the right and Milner was about to run onto it, but Maxi Pereira rather composedly got in front and chested down for Iker Casillas to pick up.
Three minutes later, Pereira stayed down after a tackle from Milner. Milner clearly went for the ball, got it and nothing was given, but Pereira still got the sharper end of the stick and needed some medical help before he could continue.
Rather uneventful 15 minutes followed, after which Roberto Firmino had a good opportunity. Around 10 yards from the goal he managed to chest down a good cross from deep right by Mane, and then he tried to trick his marker and turn goalwards, but couldn’t do it properly and he lost the duel. Two minutes later he was beaten in the air to a similar cross from Lallana.
Just after half an hour was gone, the best chance of the half fell for Mane. Milner aimed a cross towards him from deep left to the far post. His marker stepped in front, misjudged the flight of the cross and took himself out, enabling Mane to bring the ball under control and fire. Unfortunately, the shot bounced off the inside of the far post an back into play, and Porto cleared.
Three minutes later, Andre needlessly fouled Alberto Moreno from behind 40 yards out and earned a booking. The free-kick was taken by Milner, Lovren was the best in the air but his header went slightly over the bar.
Then Jordan Henderson sent a through pass for Firmino but Casillas rushed out and intercepted it.
Porto tried to press high at times and they weren’t bad at it at all. It helped them win possession in good places and start promising attacks several times, but nothing came from any of them.
Liverpool were pushing the visitors back towards the end of the half, but Porto defended well. One thing that became notable in this period was the rustiness of Adam Lallana. It seems his long injury, coupled with his exploits in midfield before that, have made him slightly out of touch with playing in attack.
Two minutes from the break, Moreno went down in the box after slight contact, but nothing was given. The impression was that it was the right call. The contact was minimal and Moreno went down far to easily.
The Second Half
Three minutes into the second half, Moreno and Lallana combined well on the left and Lallana sent in a good cross, but Milner failed to connect with it properly from 12 yards.
Then it was Porto’s turn to threaten a bit more seriously. Waris beat Gomez coming in from the left in the 51st minute and shot low, very accurately towards the near corner, but Karius got down and made a fine save.
Seven minutes later Firmino had a great chance after Henderson’s brilliant pass had sent him through, but Felipe caught up with him and managed to block his shot from eight yards having already fallen down.
A minute later, Henderson was booked for a late challenge on Jesus Corona.
An hour had just gone when Klopp decided Firmino had had enough. Danny Ings came on.
Conceicao responded by taking off Andre and replacing him with Sergio Oliveira.
Most of the action in this period was happening inside Porto’s half, but without excitement. Liverpool were attacking, Porto were defending and trying to break through Liverpool’s pressing but without success for a while. In the 67th minute, Henderson found the head of Ings with a nice cross from deep, but the striker couldn’t generate any power and it ended up being easy work for Casillas.
Then Waris left the game and Ricardo Pereira came on.
Two minutes later, Corona suddenly broke into Liverpool’s box and it took the joint efforts of Milner and Matip to stop him.
With 74 minutes gone, Mane was replaced by Mohamed Salah.
A livelier several minutes followed. First, Moreno picked up a loose ball on the left side, some 30 yards out, got past an opponent, came into the box and took a shot but it was blocked. Then a great long diagonal from Emre Can found Salah on the right, Salah whipped in a cross but Milner headed tamely into the hands of Casillas. And after that, Corona threatened again at the other end. He came in from the left, cut inside, took on Milner and managed to shoot under him, but it went slightly wide of the near post.
The clock was showing 80 minutes when Aboubakar left the pitch to be replaced by Goncalo Paciencia. At the same time, Ragnar Klavan replaced Emre Can, and Liverpool’s formation from that point on was 3-4-3.
Two minutes later, a midfield battle was developing when a Porto player suddenly bumped into the referee and lost a precious second. Moreno acted quickly, picking the ball up and sending a great parallel for Salah down the left flank. Salah took a shot from a tight angle and Casillas saved it. Immediately after, Porto struck back through a shot by Oliveira that got deflected by Klavan and had Karius all but beaten, but it ended up slightly wide.
Klavan then made a small series of mistakes. First he lost the ball in the middle of the pitch and then he committed a needless foul that gave the visitors a chance to cause danger from a set-piece, wide on their right. The free-fick was sent in by Oliveira and it created a scramble on the edge of six yards – a scenario that too often lead to Liverpool conceding a goal. It fell nicely for Oliver Torres and for a split-second it looked very much like an inevitable goal, but Lovren managed to produce a vital block.
Towards the end, Liverpool were holding onto the ball, trying to lull their opponents into losing their focus, and managed to do so a few times. Three minutes from time, a sudden diagonal ball by Klavan found the run of Gomez down the right flank. Gomez squared it into the six-yard box, but Salah couldn’t get there in time. A minute later, Salah whipped in a great cross towards Ings, and Ings hit a good header under the bar, but Casillas flew into the air and made a great save.
The only thing worth mentioning in the three minutes of injury time was how the Porto left-back Diogo Dalot picked up a yellow card when he stopped Ings with a foul from behind.
It wasn’t a pretty game, but the job is now officially done. Porto are out, and Liverpool are through to the Champions League quarterfinals. While we wait for the rest of this round to be played and the quarterfinal pairs to be drawn, we there’s a small matter of facing Manchester United on Saturday.
We walk on!