On a night where the eyes of many Reds fans understandably drifted onto the remarkable events at the Etihad Stadium, proceedings at the Estadio do Dragao were rather predictable.
Porto, buoyed by their fervent support, flew out of the blocks and made the Reds sweat with a mass of half-chances. But once Jurgen Klopp’s side rode out the tense opening 20 minutes, things calmed down.
The visitors clinically dispatched their chances when they came, coasting to a comfortable victory and into the last four.
There was, a touch frustratingly, no clean sheet, and in truth, Porto did deserve at least a goal for their showing over the two legs.
Alisson could do nothing about Eder Militao’s powerful header, but when tested otherwise he did his job confidently.
In front of him, Joel Matip turned in yet another solid performance – fans can have very few qualms with how he’s played since slotting into the side – while Virgil van Dijk was in vintage form, winning five aerial duels, frustrating Moussa Marega and posting a passing accuracy of 87% – higher than any other starters.
The Dutchman capped off his night with his fifth goal of the season from a corner. We’re now starting to get into suitable goalscoring territory for a serious set-piece threat.
Trent Alexander-Arnold shone at right-back, with supporters left purring after his inch-perfect threaded ball through to Mohamed Salah for Liverpool’s second. That’s the ninth time he’s teed-up a team-mate this season, leaving him just two behind Andrew Robertson in their much-publicised assist competition.
The Scot’s attacking involvement wasn’t quite as fluid as usual, but he was involved in the opener, albeit through a sliced cut-back to Salah.
In midfield, Fabinho was understated yet effective. The statistics – three tackles, interceptions, clearances and successful aerial duels – point to a very solid defensive midfield performance.
Georginio Wijnaldum, meanwhile, was slightly too quiet, and probably did little to dislodge Naby Keita’s from Liverpool’s current best eleven.
Nor were James Milner’s starting prospects improved. The magnificent work-rate was there, as ever, but much of what he tried didn’t come off.
Jordan Henderson showed the pair how it was done with a fantastic cameo. A tally of four key passes, more than anybody else in red, highlights once again how much he’s thriving in this more advanced role. It was his inviting cross which Roberto Firmino nodded in for goal number three, while Mane’s woeful open-goal miss denied him another assist.
Still, though, it wasn’t too bad a night for the Senegalese international. He bagged a crucial opener to continue his Champions League hot streak and then turned provider with a flick-on for Van Dijk. Perhaps more impressive than that, though, is the fact he made a team-high six tackles, a credit to his work-rate and a delight for Klopp.
Replacing a ragged Divock Origi, Firmino produced an excellent 45 minutes. Yes, he scored, but the real ‘Firmino’ moment of the match came when he regained possession for his side and set the move leading to Salah’s goal in motion.
On what was, all in all, a rather unspectacular night, it is indeed Salah who scoops man of the match courtesy of a goal and an assist.
Pretty much everybody assumed Mane’s close-range goal was offside, but the replays demonstrated that it was in fact really intelligent play from Salah, who spotted his darting run and played the ball through the defenders encircling him to put it on a plate for his fellow winger. His 11 assists for the season really shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Then came his predictable goal. It wasn’t as explosive as his strikes against Southampton and Chelsea, but he rolled it beyond the approaching Casillas in seriously cool fashion. That piece of solo brilliance at St Mary’s, which ended what was a barren run by his standards, seems to have lifted a great psychological burden, and now the clinical edge has returned.
Salah is now just two goals of the shy of 25, widely regarded as a benchmark for elite-level forwards. Now that he has rediscovered his golden touch, he should have no problem breezing past that figure before the season is out.
His return to sizzling form is timely to say the least, and it could yet prove the difference as Liverpool scrap for the biggest silverware.
Roll on Barcelona, and his chance to pit himself against the very best.