LIVERPOOL: Liverpool cruised into the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in nine years 5-0 on aggregate over Porto, despite settling for a goalless draw in an uninspiring last 16, second leg at Anfield yesterday.
Sadio Mane inflicted most of the first-leg damage on the Portuguese league leaders with a hat-trick and came closest to breaking the deadlock with a first-half effort that came back off the post.
With the job done three weeks ago, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp could even afford the luxury of starting top-scorer Mohamed Salah and club-record signing Virgil van Dijk on the bench with one eye on Saturday’s vital visit to Manchester United in the Premier League.
Klopp’s men have made a habit of fast starts in Europe this season, but took time to warm to their task with the German having made five changes in all from the side that beat Newcastle at the weekend.
It took 17 minutes for the hosts to threaten when Joe Gomez’s cross was acrobatically flicked towards goal by Mane, but looped just over the bar. Porto coach Sergio Conceicao made 10 changes from the first leg, but top-scorer Vincent Aboubakar was one of those to come back into the side having missed the first leg through injury.
And the Cameroonian showed what Porto missed in their heaviest-ever European home defeat as he got in behind the Liverpool defence only to be denied by Loris Karius rushing off his line to mop up the danger.
Mane was inches away from his fourth goal of the tie on the half-hour mark when he controlled James Milner’s lofted pass on his chest before smashing the inside of Iker Casillas’s far post. Dejan Lovren then headed narrowly over as Liverpool threatened to raise the pulse of an understandably more subdued Anfield than is customary on a European night.
Casillas was given a standing ovation by the Liverpool fans in the Kop end as he took to the field after the break on his record 167th and possible farewell appearance in the Champions League.
However, that was one of few moments that got the home fans off their feet as Liverpool settled on their substantial lead. Milner sliced a good opening wide just two minutes into the second half, whilst at the other end Karius was stretched to turn Majeed Waris’s shot behind.
Roberto Firmino had one clear chance to add to his seven Champions League goals this season when his shot was blocked by Porto captain Felipe before the Brazilian was protected by Klopp for the weekend as Danny Ings was introduced for the final half hour.
Salah was given 15 minutes to find the winner when he replaced Mane. The Egyptian had one opportunity to extend his scoring streak to eight straight games, but Casillas smothered his low effort.
And the Spanish veteran made his best stop of the night two minutes from time to deny Ings and hold onto his clean sheet. – AFP