What can we possibly even say about that? There aren’t enough superlatives to accurately describe what Liverpool did on Wednesday night. First appearance in the Champions League knockout stage in 9 long years? This was a performance and result that those who witnessed will still be talking about in 9 years’ time.
Porto are certainly nobodies fool. They are unbeaten domestically and had only conceded 25 goals prior to The Reds’ arrival at the Estadio do Dragao, and have scored 90 goals in all competitions, including 15 in a competitive Champions League group which included; group winners Besiktas, Naby Keita’s RB Leipzig and the darlings of last season’s Champions League AS Monaco and as several English clubs have found out over the last 15 years, The Dragao is an intimidating place to go. This was going to be no easy night for a Liverpool side who aren’t blessed with a plethora of Champions League experience.
The only problem is, nobody told Jurgen Klopp and his men.
An early scare took Dejan Lovren to channel his inner Jamie Carragher to produce a vital block to keep the scores level at 0-0. The often mercurial Yacine Brahimi tried to isolated Trent Alexander-Arnold on a couple of occasions in the opening 10 minutes, but the 19 year old remained strong, remained composed, and saw off any threat from the Algerian in a manner beyond his fledgling experience. The back four were solid throughout the game, with Virgil Van Dijk demonstrating his leadership qualities, marshalling the rest of the back four in a way that Liverpool fans have not seen for well over 5 years. For me, the most exciting aspect of Van Dijk’s game is his long passing. The accuracy that the Dutchman brings over 50/60 yards is astounding picking out both Alexander-Arnold and Robertson in advanced positions on multiple occasions and is a valuable addition to Liverpool’s plentiful attacking armoury.
Incredibly, pre-match there were concerns about whether a midfield three of Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum would have the creativity to unlock a stoic Porto defence. Wijnaldum demonstrated his ability on the ball in the run up to the first goal, but what impressed me way how well the trio moved the ball when Liverpool went 2-0 up. The fifteen minutes following the second goal and half time can often be tricky for The Reds, complacency can set in, Porto could have created a couple of chances to get the crowd up for the second half, but one excellent Van Dijk block aside – Liverpool controlled the game like a European heavyweight, and much of that is down to the composure and experience demonstrated by Milner and Henderson. The midfield provided an industrious platform for the most feared threesome in Europe to sprinkle the occasion with stardust. Mane’s first goal was undoubtedly poor goalkeeping, before Mohammed Salah demonstrated why he has overtaken Tutankhamun as everybody’s new favourite Egyptian. After a moment of quality from James Milner who curled an effort against the post, the ball fell to Salah, who proceeded to do nearly as many keepy-ups as he has inspired chants on the Kop before poking the ball into the net.
The second half demonstrated just how far Liverpool have came since that infamous night in Seville. In Spain they capitulated and conceded three in the second half, but the Reds ensured there was no repeat this time around, and the third goal developed from the lightning fast, intricate build up play that has become Liverpool’s calling card this season. James Milner’s SIXTH Champions League assist of the campaign teed up Roberto Firmino for his seventh goal in this season’s competition. Taking the Brazilian (who doesn’t score goals) to second place in the Champions League’s goal scoring charts.
Sadio Mane sealed his return to form, wrapping up his hat-trick with a rasping drive from 25 yards with five minutes to go. He scored three goals, but what really impressed me was his work rate and desire to get back and help Andy Robertson, even with the score at 4-0 and the Senegalese on a hat-trick, Mane was back winning the ball inches away from his own corner flag, and Sadio has many obvious qualities, his pace, his directness, his finishing, it is that drive, work-rate and desire that has gotten him through a tricky few months.
To a man, everybody was fantastic tonight. Loris Karius continued to demonstrate the solidity he showed against Southampton, and built on that with a quiet, but ultimately promising performance, and the German now has 8 clean sheets in 16 appearances this season. Dejan Lovren staked his claim as Virgil Van Dijk’s partner (until May at least). The full-backs provided great width, Andy Robertson in particular was tireless. Sadio Mane scored his first hat-trick in Liverpool red (or orange) and Mohammed Salah showed why Lionel Messi is now referred to as the Argentinian Mo Salah. However there should be special praised reserved for Roberto Firmino, who has added goals to the intelligence and creativity he offers. Bobby has really stepped up in recent weeks, taking over some of the creative mantel from the Coutinho departure, and despite a relatively quiet game, the Brazilian never stopped running, he’s like Dirk Kuyt on speed. No cause is a lost one. Firmino would close down an axe-wielder.
Liverpool have one foot and four toes in the Champions League quarter finals. Let that sink in. On Valentines Day 2013 we were limply despatched by a fairly average Zenit St Petersburg side in the Europa League round of 32. We’re currently the top scorers in the UEFA Champions League.
Up the European Record Breaking Reds.