Porto 1-4 Liverpool: Getting the Job Done
Liverpool traveled to Portugal to face Porto once more, taking a two-goal lead from Anfield with them. The stakes are at this point incredibly high, and that goes for every game in both competitions between now and the end of the season.
Manager Jurgen Klopp provided a fantastic piece of news ahead of this clash by revealing that Joe Gomez was finally ready to play. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rhian Brewster still weren’t in contention, and Dejan Lovren was out due to illness. Captain Jordan Henderson was forced off during Sunday’s win over Chelsea having picked up a knock, but he recovered quickly and was available for selection. Adam Lallana made the trip too, but he wasn’t going to be involved unless need demanded. Andy Robertson was in, having missed the first leg through suspension.
Interestingly enough, Klopp opted to give Divock Origi a rare start ahead of Roberto Firmino.
Porto coach Sergio Conceicao was able to call upon the experienced defender Pepe and midfielder Hector Herrera, both of whom, like Robertson, missed the Anfield trip through suspension.
— FC Porto (@FCPorto) April 17, 2019
The First Half
Porto had nothing to lose in this game and they started it in that fashion. They threatened seriously after less then a minute as Corona cut inside from the right and shot dangerously towards the far top corner, only just missing the target. Marega was also a handful again, and the Reds were finding it hard to break through their pressing.
In the sixth minute, Milner clattered Herrera from behind, giving away a free-kick in Liverpool’s half. The ball was lobbed into the box and brought down for Marega who took a low shot, but Alisson was alert.
It was strange to see Liverpool so pressed into submission. They simply couldn’t get the ball across the halfway line early on, something they hardly at all experienced this season. They seemed confused by Porto’s notable desire to turn the tie around, and they were forced to defend for their lives. Danilo threatened with a header from a corner after 10 minutes, but couldn’t hit the target.
The Portuguese team were very good in playing offensively, making use of the entire with of the pitch (as Liverpool themselves often do) with smart diagonals and swinging crosses in with some frequency. In the 13th minute, Corona was in action again, this time on the left where he beat Matip with a nice bit of skill and found Marega in the box, but the striker failed to hit the target again. The pair of them combined again soon after in the same fashion and Marega this time tried a volley – off target again. Attack after attack Porto conducted to the loud support from the stands of the Estadio Dragao.
Liverpool weren’t helping themselves either. They were sloppy in possession, wasting it through inaccurate and mistimed passing which the home side read with apparent ease. There were worrying signs for Klopp all over the pitch.
It would still be Liverpool to put the ball in the net first in the 26th minute as Liverpool threatened for the first time, but Mane looked in an offside position when he diverted a pass from Salah in. The flag went up but the VAR checked it nonetheless. The review showed the Senegalese to have been onside and Liverpool took the lead against the run of play.
Porto tried to respond immediately through Brahimi, but his feeble shot was easily saved by Alisson.
Perhaps undeservedly, but the home side now found themselves in a terrible position, needing to score four and concede none for the rest of the game. But they pressed on and stuck to the task. They obviously felt that despite going behind again, their approach was working and they saw no reason to change it.
With 32 minutes gone, Mane accidentally caught Militao with an elbow to the face and rightly picked up a yellow card. Pepe was the next in the book of referee Danny Makkelie from Netherlands three minutes later for inexplicably clattering Origi to the ground, not going for the ball at all.
The Reds weren’t showing any more attacking intent as time went on, but they did look more stable defensively. Fabinho was mostly the standout performer, but Matip and van Dijk also grew into the contest and looked more like the quality defenders that they are. The front three occasionally rotated positions, but they weren’t succeeding in confusing the opposition.
In the 40th minute, Corona had moved once again to the right and he cut inside Robertson before hitting it low and on target, but Alisson was alert once more. A minute before the 45 were up, Marega showed his strength by holding off a challenge by Fabinho and carried the ball forward. He entered the box and got into a battle against the joint forces of van Dijk and Robertson, and the ball grazed the arm of the Scottish fullback at one moment, prompting a strong penalty appeal. The referee waved for the play to continue; the VAR checked and confirmed the decision.
In the dying seconds, Liverpool came close as Trent broke through on the right and found Milner inside the box, but the captain on the night failed to divert the cross on target.
The Second Half
Roberto Firmino replaced Origi at the break for Liverpool as Klopp opted for the 4-2-3-1 with Salah upfront, Mane on the right and Milner on the left, while Soares came on instead of Otavio for Porto whose shape was now a 4-4-2, or even 4-2-4 with wide players mostly serving as classic wingers.
Four minutes in, Fabinho won a header upfront and confused Danilo into a mistake. Salah picked the ball up, escaped to the left and tried to find Firmino in the middle, but his cutback was intercepted. Porto threatened at the other end straight away as a cross from the right found Marega in the box, but Fabinho challenged the striker successfully in the air.
Porto were still enjoying more possession and played more offensively, which was understandable given the scoreline, but they were less effective in creating promising situations that at the start of the game. It was now their passing that became more erroneous and it hindered their efforts greatly. They still attacked mostly down the flanks with two targets now to aim for in the box, and in the 53rd minute Soares had a good chance after he beat Trent in the air rather easily, but he wasn’t accurate enough.
Around the hour-mark, Porto seemed to have lost a lot of their energy and the game slowed down, which suited the Reds just fine. Only occasionally would now Conceicao’s men turn up the volume, but they mostly weren’t getting very near to putting Alisson in danger.
And in the 65th minute, Liverpool finished the job. They nicely absorbed the opposition attack and won the ball before Trent sent a lovely pass for Salah in behind. The Egyptian was one-on-one with Casillas and made no mistake.
Then Klopp gave Joe Gomez a chance to mark a comeback from injury at right-back, withdrawing Trent from the fray.
However, it took Porto just three minutes to finally get some reward for their efforts. Alex Telles swung in a great corner and Militao beat everybody in the air, slamming his header past Alisson from six yards.
With 20 minutes to go, Klopp sent on Jordan Henderson for Robertson and moved Milner to the left defensive flank. Two minutes later, Mane ran in behind the Porto defence to get on the end of Henderson’s fantastic pass, went around Casillas and wasted the best chance of the game by missing the gaping goal.
But there weren’t such luck for the home team in the 78th minute. Liverpool once more defended well against their attack and went forward in a seemingly casual way. Henderson played a one-two with Salah on the right flank and found himself in acres of space. He aimed a perfect cross for Firmino to run onto and head past Casillas.
Conceicao sent on first Fernando Santos for Corona, and then Bruno Costa for Brahimi for the final 10 minutes.
With the tie practically settled, both teams played the closing stages of the game without any pressure, but also without any urgency. Nonetheless, Liverpool still had something to say before the final whistle.
In the 84th minute, Milner took a corner to the near post and Mane flicked it on for a completely free van Dijk, running into the six-yard box.
The rest of the contest passed in the Reds keeping things completely under control.
Once again, it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t Lieverpool at their best, but the job is done. Porto are out of the way, and now the focus shifts to Sunday and Cardiff City in the Premier League. There is some time yet, during which the Reds also face Huddersfield at Anfield – before turning their thoughts towards Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho.
In the other game of the evening, Tottenham Hotspur ruined the plans of a quadruple for Manchester City. The game at the Etihad ended 4-3 and Spurs are through on away goals, set to face Ajax in the semifinal.
We Walk On.