There have been many great European nights at Anfield; nights that have gone down in the club’s history and live forever in the memory of supporters. Liverpool’s clash with Porto was not one of those nights, and it was never going to be.
The Champions League last-16 tie was over before kick-off. The Reds’ 5-0 demolition job in Portugal on Valentine’s Day ensured the second leg was nothing more than a high-profile training exercise.
It was one Liverpool took to gamely, but understandably they eased through the 90 minutes. There were few real chances of note, Sadio Mané’s first-half shot that struck the post was the closest the home side came. Danny Ings also produced a good save from Iker Casillas late on.
Porto had their moments, particularly in the final ten minutes of game, but Loris Karius was never in real danger of losing his clean sheet. It was as comfortable night as the German has had in his time on Merseyside.
Liverpool’s focus will now shift back to the Premier League and a trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United. But importantly they’re into the quarter-finals of Europe’s premiere competition for the first time since 2009, a feat that shouldn’t be brushed over.
And while the game against Porto won’t live long in the memory, there were talking points to come out of the draw, starting with Jürgen Klopp’s team selection.
Klopp Should’ve Rested His Attacking Stars
Klopp was mostly true to his word. The Reds boss said before the game that he would field a strong side despite the tie being over.
“It’s the Champions League and the whole world is watching. I don’t think for a second about resting anybody.
“I know we’ve got Manchester United after this game but we cannot change. We can’t say, ‘now we pick this and rest him’.”
The German did make changes, most notably Mo Salah and Virgil van Dijk were on the substitutes’ bench, but it was still something of a surprise to see Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané in the starting XI.
Klopp felt it was important for his side to maintain consistency; he didn’t want to disrupt the rhythm or momentum his players have built up in recent weeks.
However, in truth, the fact this game was a dead rubber did that.
Liverpool’s usual vigour with the ball was, understandably, absent for much of the game, and their press wasn’t as relentless. Perhaps starting the fringe players may have maintained the intensity Klopp demands as they would have a point to prove, now we’ll never know.
The good thing for the Reds is everyone who started, and came off the bench, including Salah, came through unscathed, which is all supporters would have wanted prior to the clash with United.
Mignolet Liverpool Career Almost Over
Earlier in the season, when the Belgian stopper was Liverpool’s No.1, Klopp brought Karius into the side for European matches. It was the Reds boss showing his faith in the German, who initially struggled at Anfield.
That rotation bled into the Premier League over Christmas, a period in which Mignolet struggled, and into January, in the middle of which the 30-year-old revealed he was unhappy.
“In the Christmas period we rotated again and I felt that that was not a healthy situation for a keeper,” he said in an interview with Belgian media outlet Sporza. With hindsight perhaps Mignolet should’ve kept quiet.
Since that interview the former Sunderland goalkeeper has started just one game – the 3-2 FA Cup defeat to West Bromwich Albion – but he may have hoped for an outing against Porto given Klopp’s previous rotation in Europe. The fact Karius started was telling.
The German has impressed in recent weeks and has rewarded Klopp’s long-term faith. Conversely, Mignolet’s career at Anfield looks over and a move away in the summer is expected.
Moreno Won’t Displace Robertson Anytime Soon
Luck can play a huge part in a footballer’s career, as Alberto Moreno has found out this season.
The Spaniard, after much hard work, had finally won Klopp over and the Liverpool faithful, he was finally the club’s first-choice left-back and produced several impressive performances.
But an ankle injury suffered in the Reds’ final Champions League group game in December kept him out for two months, and in that time Andrew Robertson has made the left-back berth his own.
The Scot has been exceptional for Liverpool, especially in recent weeks, and has been defensively sound and tireless when going forward.
Tellingly, in the Premier League, Robertson has been playing more key passes per 90 than Moreno (1 to 0.9) and has a drastically higher xA (expected goals assisted) of 3.14 to 0.58.
So a big performance was required from Moreno if he was to have any hope of ousting Robertson, and while – like the rest of the Liverpool team – he was solid there was nothing outstanding about his display.
The Spain international ended with one key pass, three tackles and three inceptions.
Yes, it’s perhaps harsh to judge him given the context of the game, but it’s unlikely Moreno will get too many more chances to impress before now and the end of the season. He had to truly standout, but didn’t.
Milner Everything Liverpool Need
He doesn’t have the flair and adventure of Salah or Mané, nor the child-like enthusiasm of Firmino. He doesn’t even have the raw talent of Emre Can, but James Milner, now 32 years old, is everything Liverpool need him to be.
Handed the captain’s armband, Milner was understated but excellent in the heart of the Reds’ midfield.
He demonstrated his improved game intelligence by filling in for players when they pushed forward and kept possession ticking over, always looking to play forward passes.
His pass success rate at full time was 90.4 per cent and he produced nine crosses – the next highest from a Liverpool player was Joe Gomez with three, and the former England international also played three key passes, a team high.
Defensively Milner did his job too, he completed one tackle and matched Moreno’s three inceptions.
Given his age and the demands of Klopp’s style, it’s little surprise Milner has often been a substitute this season – his start against Porto was just his 16th of the campaign – but when he plays he doesn’t let the Reds down, which he proved last term when playing left-back.
He is the perfect squad player, one Liverpool shouldn’t take for granted.
Solanke Deserved A Rare Start
Given the 20-year-old has featured 20 times for the Reds this season, he certainly made the right choice, however, there is a nagging feeling a campaign out on loan at a Premier League club would have aided his development further.
The clash against Porto appeared the ideal match to give Solanke 90 minutes and vital experience. But when the Liverpool side was announced he wasn’t in the starting XI and, even more surprisingly, wasn’t in the squad.
Klopp has spoken about Solanke’s talent and attitude several times since the striker arrived at Anfield, but he doesn’t yet appear to truly trust the England international.
Serious consideration is needed in the summer as to what the future holds for Solanke. He doesn’t need another campaign of under-23s football, he needs to be tested – either at Liverpool or somewhere else.