Liverpool show clinical side to set up tie with familiar faces
Porto 1 Liverpool 4 (Liverpool win 6-1 on aggregate)
The image circulating ahead of the Champions League quarter-final was of Mohamed Salah on the cover of 'Time' magazine. Maybe this year it is for Liverpool.
Perhaps the time has come for Jurgen Klopp's side to mature from 'nearly, but not quite' to trophy winners. Lest there by any doubt, they have already shown their run to last year's final was no accident.
They could have done no more to this point of the season, backing up Premier League leadership by returning to the Champions League semi-final with another resounding victory in Porto.
It was not quite like last season, Klopp's side having to toil in difficult conditions.
Yet the same margin of victory on aggregate, with Liverpool at their ultra-professional rather than blitzkrieg best, makes this journey more impressive.
Those inflicting the damage on Porto were familiar.
The Portuguese must be sick of Sadio Mane, who struck first with the assistance of VAR.
Mane had to delay his celebration as the replay was reviewed. It was worth it. You wait 10 years for a Champions League semi-final and two come along at once.
Naturally, all the front three struck, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino on their game before Virgil van Dijk completed a 4-1 win.
Now Liverpool can prepare for Barcelona and a reunion with two players who played a role in the club's renaissance but sought the Nou Camp before it was complete.
Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho know what is coming. So do Liverpool.
A last-four tie against the Spanish champions will be a sterner test of the Porto coach's description of Liverpool as the "best in the world".
Klopp's Liverpool have reached a point where they are trying to match their own history, arriving at Estadio do Dragao seeking to replicate last season's dominant victory.
The Liverpool manager warned that the 5-0 win here a year ago was a false score.
Nevertheless, Klopp felt confident enough to keep Firmino on the bench with Divock Origi a surprise starter.
For all Liverpool's attacking threat and the hosts' risk-taking, Klopp's side began the evening nervous and vulnerable.
Porto warned they would not hold back in seeking to reduce the two-goal deficit, coach Sergio Conceicao's gamble designed to push Liverpool into their own territory.
Just as at Anfield, had striker Moussa Marega had the finishing prowess to match his pace and upper-body strength, it might have worked.
Liverpool would have paid a price in the opening 20 minutes against a more accomplished opponent.
Porto's first attempt came within 54 seconds, Jesus Corona cutting inside and firing over Alisson's crossbar.
In monsoon conditions, Liverpool struggled for passing combinations.
Even the usually calm personas of Fabinho and Van Dijk looked unsettled as they adapted. Porto sensed the first goal would revive their fortunes.
But there was always the likelihood when Liverpool did find creativity that the chance would come and Mane struck for a pivotal away goal on 26 minutes.
The players could have had a stretch and a cup of tea while they waited for the officials to decide if he was offside from Salah's cross though.
The Egyptian seemed to know before anyone, eavesdropping on referee Danny Makkelie.
The replays were conclusive.
Porto now needed four and for the remainder of the first half their confidence was sapped, lamenting those earlier opportunities.
Firmino was sent on at the start of the second half. Porto wanted to summon a final surge to plant doubt, sending on Franciso Soares for additional firepower.
The counter-attack was always on for Liverpool, Salah poised and waiting.
On 66 minutes the inevitable happened, Trent Alexander-Arnold's beautiful pass feeding the Egyptian for an emphatic finish. Porto needed five then, and their crowd reacted as if it was possible.
They were rewarded by Eder Militao's towering header from a corner, reducing the lead.
No matter. Jordan Henderson crossed for Firmino to head the third and Van Dijk did likewise for the fourth.
Those Liverpool fans were thinking of the Nou Camp long before the final whistle.
Having lost to a Spanish giant in last year's final, Klopp has unfinished business with a La Liga team. (© Daily Telegraph, London)