Liverpool 2-0 Porto: Advantage Reds

There’s no real need to mention the excitement of the season run-in anymore; we all feel it all too keenly.

Liverpool welcomed Porto to Anfield as the two teams meet for the second consecutive Champions League campaign, this time in the quarterfinal.

Team News

Jurgen Klopp was still without Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Adam Lallana was unavailable to face his old club four days earlier due to a “slight muscle issue” and hadn’t recovered for this one either. Joe Gomez finally made the bench after breaking his ankle over four months ago. Andy Robertson was serving a one-match suspension, but despite that, there was no Alberto Moreno in the squad. It seems the Spaniard really has played his last game in a Liverpool shirt.

As for Porto, manager Sergio Conceicao was without his two most experienced players in former Real Madrid centre-back Pepe and midfielder Hector Herrera, both through suspension.

The First Half

The visitors got on the front foot early on showing a decent amount of bravery thereby. However, it seemed to be working well for them as the Reds looked slightly nervous on the ball; namely van Dijk and Alisson with a scuffed pass each, but came back to bite them in the fifth minute.

A great pass from Milner found Mane on the left flank and the Senegalese threaded the ball between two opponents towards Firmino. Firmino extended it to Keita coming into the box, the former Leipzig midfielder’s shot caught a big deflection and left Casillas rooted the the spot.

1-0.

The Reds almost made it two immediately afterwards as Keita this time found Firmino in the box, and the Brazil striker took a shot that was successfully blocked.

The opening goal really calmed Liverpool players down, and their game-plan quickly started working well. They were winning the ball high up and getting it constantly into the box, while Porto really had trouble with taking it across the halfway line.

The visitors looked mostly like team in awe of the opposition, the stadium, the atmosphere. They didn’t bother with marking Liverpool’s midfielders in slightly deeper positions which allowed Fabinho and Henderson the time and space to pick their forward passes carefully and accurately.

They did break in the 17th minute through Marega and Soares, but van Dijk was on hand to prevent Marega from scoring. Liverpool responded quickly through Salah who tried twice from outside the box, but first his attempt to bend one from the right side was blocked, and then Casillas saved his decent volley.

Marega and Soares kept trying to do something on their own at the other end, but they were constantly finding the Reds’ back line too much.

In the 22nd minute, Porto players misunderstood each other and Salah pounced on a loose back-pass in behind them. The Egyptian charged towards the goal, withstood a challenge from behind and tried to put the ball past Casillas. He did beat the ‘keeper, but the ball trickled just wide. A fantastic chance wasted in an uncharacteristic fashion by Salah.

It would be Firmino to set the matters right five minutes later. Henderson was once more left in much space at 30 yards, and the captain sent Trent running down the right flank. Trent squared it into six yards where Firmino had escaped is markers.

2-0.

The game entered a strange phase and could have turned a different note around the half-hour mark. Marega got on the end of a nice diagonal pass, escaped Lovren and forced Alisson into a fine save. Porto returned the ball into the box and Alisson was called into action once more, but this time he just pushed it toward Trent who had lifted his arm and the ball hit him on its way out for a corner. Referee Antonio Mateu checked the VAR for a possible penalty – and confirmed his decision to give a corner.

Though the Reds survived this period keeping their two-goal lead, they still allowed their opponents to get a glimpse of the goal and get a boost from it. From complete Liverpool domination, the game now gained balance in terms that both teams threatened seriously and there could have been goals at both ends.

Towards the end of the half, Klopp’s men turned the volume down and settled for keeping possession.

The Second Half

The excitements returned as the game restarted after the break.

First Mane got on the end of a good cross by Henderson and slammed the ball into the net, only to see it ruled out by the linesman for a very slight offside position. Then Port hit back and van Dijk and Alisson had a misunderstanding similar to the one which led to the goal conceded at Fulham, but this time they got away with it. The moment gave the visitors a boost and they pushed forward for a while, but fruitlessly.

Liverpool broke through in the 52nd minute as Henderson sent Trent running again and the fullback found Salah in the box, but this time Salah was well marshaled by Danilo and Porto continued their offensive for a few minutes more.

Then Liverpool recomposed themselves, took control and moved the battlefront into the visitors’ half for a while. The game was now swinging this way and that. The teams alternated in pushing forward and defending, but neither managed to create a proper chance until Marega took on Lovren in the 69th minute and the Croatian forced him wide from where his shot gave Alisson no problems. Mane responded soon with 20-yard effort that just missed the far top corner.

Four minutes later, both managers made their first substitutions. Sadio Mane made way for Divock Origi for Liverpool, while Conceicao took off Torres and sent on Bruno Costa.

Origi took the position on the left flank and earned a free-kick out wide on the edge of the box straight away. Milner took it and tried to create a better angle for Trent to shoot, but the shot was blocked by the alert Port defence.

In the 76th minute, Maxi made way for Fernando.

Two minutes later, Militao defended a long Henderson pass nicely against Salah before finding Marega in behind with a long pass of his own, but the striker was again forced out wide and his shot wen harmlessly off target. Then Milner toyed with the ball in his own half and gave Marega another chance to shoot, but Marega wasted it again.

With 10 minutes to go, Daniel Sturridge came on for Firmino.

Towards the end, the game went a bit crazy. At one point, the VAR was revising two separate incidents and both ends – a possible penalty for Porto as Felipe went down in the box after some contact with Trent, and a possible red card for Salah as he made a late tackle and caught Danilo on the ankle with his studs. Fortunately, neither decision ended too badly for Liverpool.

The visitors gave one last push for the last few minutes to try and find a crucial away goal, but the Reds stood defensively strong.

The Afterthought

It’s a good first-leg result for Liverpool, but the performance was far from convincing. The back line seemed rather shaky at times, even van Dijk and Alisson. The forward trio mostly did their job well, though Salah really should have buried his chance in the first half.

Going home with two goals in their net, Porto certainly won’t be giving the tie up just yet. It will seem doable to overturn this defeat to them, and Klopp and his men really need to keep their cool at the Estadio Dragao.

But first, it’s the last of the Premier League top six coming to Anfield – Chelsea on Sunday.

We Walk On.

Veselin Trajkovic

A sports enthusiast, Liverpool FC fan, writing for several blogs, likes to focus on football for what it is, rather than stats or bias. Writing for FOAR since its inception.

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