Wednesday 19 September 2018

Mane the main man as Reds storm Porto

Porto 0-5 Liverpool

Roberto Firmino celebrates his goal in Liverpool's comprehensive victory against Porto last night Photo: AP Photo/Luis Vieira
Roberto Firmino celebrates his goal in Liverpool's comprehensive victory against Porto last night Photo: AP Photo/Luis Vieira

Jason Burt

Jurgen Klopp had declared that Liverpool can compete with the best and there was that swagger as they brushed aside Porto to deliver the biggest home defeat in the Portuguese club's proud history. It was a devastating Champions League display that spoke of a team believing it can go deep into this competition.

Twenty-four hours after statement performances from Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City in European away days Liverpool emphatically made theirs.

Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp celebrates at the end of the match Photo: AP Photo/Luis Vieira
Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp celebrates at the end of the match Photo: AP Photo/Luis Vieira

Sadio Mane was at the heart of it with a hat-trick but Mohamed Salah also scored as did Roberto Firmino.

That triumvirate will give any team a chance and Liverpool are now top-scorers in the Champions League this season with 28 goals - two ahead of Paris St-Germain who have quite a good attacking trio of their own.

Formality

This was Liverpool's first appearance in the last-16 for nine years and they will at least go one round further. A quarter-final place is theirs with the return leg of this tie at Anfield on March 6 a formality. Handily for Liverpool it comes four days before they play Manchester United in the Premier League.

Liverpool's Sadio Mane scores their third goal Photo: Reuters/Matthew Childs
Liverpool's Sadio Mane scores their third goal Photo: Reuters/Matthew Childs

After a day of torrential rain, a downpour that continued into this match, Porto attempted to wash away Liverpool. Instead they were the ones given the early dousing. It came midway through the first half, just as Liverpool began to turn the ball over, winning it back with increasing frequency after facing a storm from kick-off.

On one such occasion Georginio Wijnaldum worked his way into the penalty area and after he broke through a challenge the ball fell to Mane who had somehow been left unmarked, out to the left. Even more inexplicable was the mess goalkeeper Jose Sa made of Mane's shot, allowing it to squeeze under his body and roll over the line.

Liverpool did not rest on that. It spread panic in the Porto team and they were soon further behind when James Milner's powerful drive beat Jose Sa and cannoned back off the post. It fell to Salah who is in such an incredible vein of form that he had time and then more time to score. He flicked the ball, flicked it again over Jose Sa and finally headed it to bring it fully under control before calmly stroking it into the net.

The beleaguered keeper and the Porto defenders did not know what to do. It was almost mesmeric. It was also Salah's 30th goal for Liverpool this season and by scoring it he became only the 13th player from the club to achieve that total.

The Egyptian has also achieved it in the second fewest number of games, 36, and the fewest since George Allan (27) in 1896. We are still in February.

Maybe, now, even Ian Rush's all-time record of 47 goals in one campaign is under threat. And all this in Salah's first season with the club.

Porto were in a bind. They had come into this tie with a buoyancy born of their exuberant form, and a belief that something is stirring under coach Sergio Conceicao. The former Portugal international has steered the club to the top of the league, unbeaten in 21 games, and having won nine of their last 10 home matches, after an unusual run of not landing a trophy since 2013.

They had also created the first chance with the power of forward Moussa Marega quickly evident as the Malian held the ball up before setting it for Otavio whose shot appeared to be about to beat goalkeeper Loris Karius only for Dejan Lovren to intervene, deflecting it on to the roof of the net.

But suddenly they were two goals down. The noise from the Porto ultras did not abate but their team needed a goal and, before the break, Francisco Soares should have provided it as he found the space, from Yacine Brahimi's astute pass, only to shoot narrowly wide under pressure from Virgil van Dijk.

Porto knew they had to claim the next goal. However, as they pushed forward, it was Liverpool who struck with a devastating counter-attack involving Mane, Salah and Firmino who started it with a superb flick. That released Salah and suddenly there was a collective expectancy as he returned the ball to Firmino whose shot was blocked by Jose Sa only for the rebound to run to Mane who simply tapped it into the unguarded goal.

Tie over? Liverpool had led a three-goal advantage slip in the group stages, away to Seville earlier in this campaign, but they already feel a different proposition.

They also had a number of away goals to bolster their chances even if Porto rallied. The scoreline also meant they had scored an incredible 14 goals in just four away Champions League matches this season.

Irish Independent

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