Re­ports from last night’s first leg be­tween Porto and Liver­pool

The Guardian - - INSIDE | NEWS - Andy Hunter

Whether Liver­pool’s for­ward line would pros­per with­out Philippe Coutinho re­mained a le­git­i­mate ques­tion on their re­turn to the Cham­pi­ons League stage. By tak­ing turns to in­flict the heav­i­est home de­feat in Porto’s rich Euro­pean his­tory was the em­phatic an­swer. The high­est-scor­ing team in the com­pe­ti­tion will be one to avoid in the quar­ter-fi­nals that fol­low this com­plete away dis­play.

Sa­dio Mané an­nounced his re­turn to form with a hat-trick, Roberto Firmino pol­ished an im­mac­u­late dis­play with an­other and Mo­hamed Salah claimed his 30th of the sea­son as Jür­gen Klopp’s side de­mol­ished the Por­tuguese league lead­ers. The Egyp­tian be­came the sec­ond-fastest player in Liver­pool’s his­tory to reach the 30-goal mile­stone. Only Ge­orge Al­lan, in 1896, got there quicker than his 36 games. The vis­i­tors also be­came the sec­ond­high­est goalscor­ers away from home in any Cham­pi­ons League cam­paign as Porto were steam-rollered.

It was a per­for­mance built on con­fi­dent de­fend­ing – Liver­pool kept a third con­sec­u­tive away clean sheet for only the sec­ond time in seven years – in­dus­tri­ous and cre­ative mid­field play em­bod­ied by James Mil­ner, who now leads the way for as­sists in this sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League, and of course a dev­as­tat­ing at­tack.

It was Liver­pool’s third away victory in Por­tu­gal. The pre­vi­ous two, against Ben­fica in 1978 and 1984, con­sti­tuted parts of Euro­pean Cup-win­ning cam­paigns at An­field. Klopp will not be en­thused by such omens; he claimed here that this last-16 tie is not over, but he will be em­bold­ened by the threat his team pose even after Jan­uary’s un­wanted deal­ing with Barcelona.

The rout fol­lowed a bal­anced open­ing in which Porto im­pressed with Yacine Brahimi and Otávio down the flanks while Moussa Marega’s surg­ing runs caused prob­lems. Not that Liver­pool’s de­fence was un­duly dis­turbed. On that solid foun­da­tion an­other of the goalscor­ing bursts that have be­come a trade­mark of this cam­paign put the five-times win­ners en route to the quar­ter-fi­nals be­fore half-time. Porto’s qual­ity in pos­ses­sion was un­de­ni­able but so was their men­tal fragility once the tie turned against them. It re­quired only a sliced clear­ance from the goal­keeper, José Sá, one that gave Salah his first open­ing of the game, for home play­ers to be­gin cas­ti­gat­ing each other and lose their com­po­sure. Liver­pool took full ad­van­tage.

Mané al­tered the mood with his first goal in six matches. It was a scrappy

effort that will cause José Sá sleep­less nights but the 3,200 Liver­pool fans in the up­per reaches of the rain-swept sta­dium cared not a jot. The Sene­gal in­ter­na­tional com­bined with Firmino and made the wrong de­ci­sion to look for Salah in­side the area – un­der­stand­ably enough given his prow­ess in front of goal – when Ge­orginio Wi­j­nal­dum was un­marked at the back post. Porto were un­able to clear their lines, how­ever, and Wi­j­nal­dum re­gained pos­ses­sion be­fore driv­ing into the penalty area. The ball fell to Mané on the left and his low shot squirmed un­der the Porto keeper and trick­led over the line.

The sec­ond fol­lowed three min­utes later and brought up Salah’s 30th goal of a truly stun­ning de­but sea­son. Mil­ner or­ches­trated the goal when he beat Marega in the chal­lenge and his curl­ing effort crashed against the far post. The re­bound dropped to Salah who con­trolled the ball on his chest, flicked it over the keeper and took an­other touch with his head be­fore slid­ing home. The Egypt in­ter­na­tional stood stat­uesque for the ac­claim that ac­com­pa­nied his lat­est mile­stone and Liver­pool’s lat­est rapid-fire dis­play in the Cham­pi­ons League. Against Hof­fen­heim in the play-off they scored three in an 11-minute spell. There were also three goals in 15 min­utes away to Mari­bor and three in a blis­ter­ing 14-minute ram­page against Spar­tak Moscow at An­field. Three goals in 28 min­utes away to Sevilla looks al­most lack­adaisi­cal by com­par­i­son.

Their third in Por­tu­gal put pay to any hope that Sér­gio Con­ceição’s side had of haul­ing them­selves back into the game or the tie. Fran­cisco Soares was a frac­tion wide of scor­ing on the stroke of half-time and, in their ef­forts to at­tack the deficit after the in­ter­val, Porto were pun­ished by a clin­i­cal coun­ter­at­tack in­volv­ing all three of Liver­pool’s mes­meris­ing for­wards. Salah played provider with an ex­quis­ite pass that re­leased Firmino through the heart of the home de­fence. The Brazil­ian aimed low to José Sá’s right and, though the keeper pushed clear, Mané was on hand to score his sec­ond of the game with ease.

Liver­pool’s fourth, and the cue for many home fans to head for the ex­its, was de­served re­ward for Firmino’s re­lent­less team­work. The Ital­ian ref­eree, Daniele Or­sato, played a good ad­van­tage when Mané had his shirt pulled by the sub­sti­tute Jesús Corona and al­lowed the striker to re­lease Mil­ner on the left. The mid­fielder pulled back an in­tel­li­gent cross and there was Firmino to side­foot his eighth goal of the cam­paign into the bot­tom cor­ner.

That was Mil­ner’s sixth as­sist of the sea­son and Mané’s hat-trick ar­rived in style when he swept the ball be­yond José Sá from 25 yards. Liver­pool roll on im­pe­ri­ously with­out Coutinho.

KIERAN MCMANUS/ BPI/REX/ SHUTTERSTOCK

Mo­hamed Salah scores Liver­pool’s sec­ond, and his 30th of the sea­son, in Por­tu­gal

JOHN POW­ELL/LIVER­POOL FC VIA GETTY IM­AGES

Sa­dio Mané sets Liver­pool on their way with the first goal of his hat-trick

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