Following our write-up of Manchester City 4-3 Tottenham Hotspur earlier, we now turn our attention to Liverpool’s latest UEFA Champions League exploits.
The Reds coasted through to the semi-finals of the competition after a 6-1 aggregate win over Porto, with Jurgen Klopp’s side finishing the job in comprehensive fashion on Wednesday night.
The Merseyside club will now face Barcelona in the semi-finals, with the positive news for Fantasy owners – particularly for those who are considering using their Triple Captain chip on a Liverpool asset – being that the match in the Nou Camp will take place on Wednesday 1 May, a full five days after the Reds entertain Huddersfield Town in the league.
Rotation would by no means be a certainty in any event, what with Liverpool’s Premier League title push ongoing, but the extra day’s recovery adds a little more reassurance in that regard.
The Gameweek 37 trip to Newcastle, however, is the second of three games in the space of seven days.
Liverpool’s remaining schedule looks as follows:
Sunday 21 April: Gameweek 35 – Cardiff City (a)
Friday 26 April: Gameweek 36 – Huddersfield Town (h)
Weds 1 May: Barcelona (a)
Saturday 4 May: Gameweek 37 – Newcastle United (a)*
Tues 7 May: Barcelona (h)
Sunday 12 May: Gameweek 38 – Wolverhampton Wanderers (h)
*currently scheduled for Sunday 5 May but now almost certain to be brought forward by a day.
Porto 1-4 Liverpool
- Goals: Sadio Mane (£10.1m), Mohamed Salah (£13.2m), Roberto Firmino (£9.3m), Virgil van Dijk (£6.6m)
- Assists: Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.5m), Jordan Henderson (£5.3m), Sadio Mane
Mohamed Salah (£13.2m) and Sadio Mane (£10.1m) matched each other for attacking returns in Portugal on Wednesday, with each banking a goal and an assist in Liverpool’s 4-1 win over Porto.
Mane turned in Salah’s chipped ball to put Liverpool 1-0 up (after VAR intervention) before the Senegalese winger set up Virgil van Dijk‘s (£6.6m) headed fourth by flicking on James Milner‘s (£5.6m) corner.
Yet again Salah dominated the shot count, registering seven of Liverpool’s 13 attempts on goal.
Mane, by contrast, only had three shots, although missed an absolute sitter when presented with an open goal late on.
The pair were at the centre of some interesting tactical tweaks by Jurgen Klopp.
Mane began the match at the centre of a front three, with Divock Origi (£5.0m) – playing instead of the benched Roberto Firmino (£9.3m) – patrolling the left flank.
Porto dominated for much of the first half, though, compelling the Liverpool boss to switch to a 4-4-1-1 at half-time with Salah up front and substitute Firmino tucked in just behind.
Mane switched to a more orthodox wing role, meanwhile, with Milner used on the right flank.
We tried to change the system a couple of times and finally, we changed at half-time, 4-4-1-1, and it helped because then we closed the centre better. We could keep them on one side and they couldn’t switch the sides like they did before with a lot of direction in the game.
We had to defend in the first half an hour a lot in the last third. That’s OK, it’s no problem, it’s the work you have to do in a football game. The boys did that and a big difference to the past is that it doesn’t cost us confidence, if we have to do it then we do it. If we are under pressure, no problem, we have to defend there and then after that, we know we will get chances. We had them, we scored a goal, had a big chance before half-time.
Second half, it was clear Porto would come out again with high intensity, but they then cannot keep the level until the end, so moments for us would come again.
The in-form Firmino made a big difference on his introduction, with his link-up play and pressing in the “hole” causing Porto problems.
The Brazilian continued his purple patch in front of goal by nodding in a Jordan Henderson (£5.3m) cross to put Liverpool 3-1 up.
On his decision to start Origi, Klopp added:
Bobby had absolutely no fitness issues and that he doesn’t get any, that’s why we started with Divock. Then because we defended as a unit in the first line not too good, we had to change it at half-time. It’s no problem, it was nothing about Divock.
Div in training, he’s in unbelievable shape and shows that all the time. How the game developed was not the most thankful game for a striker, but that’s how it is. He has no issues.
Henderson’s rich vein of form in the “number eight” role continued, with the England international coming off the bench and taking up that more advanced central midfield position.
The former Sunderland star provided a perfect delivery for Firmino’s goal and would have had a second assist had Mane not missed that aforementioned sitter.
Henderson recorded four key passes in a 20-minute cameo – twice as many as any of his teammates managed all game.
We will take a look at Henderson’s evolving role in a Members’ article next week, ahead of Liverpool’s trip to Huddersfield.
Van Dijk scored yet another set-piece goal but, much like in the first leg, he and the Liverpool defence were occasionally exposed by the Porto attack, especially in the first half an hour.
Porto registered 13 attempts on goal before Mane opened the scoring in the 26th minute, with Moussa Marega again profligate in front of goal and Alisson (£5.9m) called on to make seven saves across the game.
Andrew Robertson (£6.8m) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.5m) were given welcome breathers in the second half as Joe Gomez (£4.8m) was handed some much-needed minutes after four months on the sidelines.
While enduring a tough night from a defensive perspective, Alexander-Arnold recorded yet another assist (providing a fine through-ball for Salah) after the interval having nearly done so for Milner in the first half.
Looking ahead to Sunday, Klopp added:
In the last third of the season, we see the finish line already and you need to have a little bit of luck with injuries and stuff like that, it’s very important.
Now, [we play on] Sunday, we have three days to recover, but we fly tomorrow and stuff like that and then make ourselves ready for another very, very intense football game.
Cardiff are completely back in the race with the result from yesterday, so they will fight for it. I don’t think it will be less intense than tonight, so that’s the next job to do.
Liverpool XI (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold (Gomez 66′), Matip, van Dijk, Robertson (Henderson 71′); Milner, Fabinho, Wijnaldum; Salah, Origi (Firmino 46′), Mane.