The Champions League round of 16 just gets better and better for English sides.
On the back of Tottenham Hotspur coming from two down to draw at Juventus and Manchester City thrashing Basel, Liverpool all but booked their place in the quarter finals of Europe’s elite club competition with a 5-0 win against Porto.
It will take only a heroic comeback from the Portuguese side to stop Jürgen Klopp’s men progressing next month.
Once again it was Liverpool’s much-hailed front three who scored, with Sadio Mané bagging a hat-trick with the Reds’ first, third and fifth goals on the night. Mohamed Salah put the visitors 2-0 up before Roberto Firmino got their fourth.
We’ve got a good omen for you Reds fans, whenever Liverpool have won in Portugal, they’ve gone on to become European champions. So maybe start booking your flights to Kiev now.
From Porto’s only real threat to a change in formation that could get the best out of Virgil van Dijk, here are five things we learned from the game.
Liverpool will cause even the best sides problems in Europe
Before the game, there was a lot of pressure on Liverpool to prove themselves on Europe’s biggest stage once more.
The match at the Estádio do Dragão was the Reds’ first in the knockout stages of the Champions League since 2008/09.
They picked up where they left off in the group stage having topped their group by scoring 23 goals – a record for an English club and only surpassed by Paris Saint-Germain’s 25.
It shouldn’t have been easy in Porto, with the last three English visitors losing there. You would never have guessed that from the Merseysiders’ performance though, and they dominated the game. A 5-0 win was fully deserved.
They didn’t stop closing Porto down, denying them the time to do anything on the ball; they had more energy and outplayed the Portuguese side who are unbeaten domestically.
Liverpool defend from the front and while Porto are not at the level of Paris Saint-Germain or Barcelona, their style of closing down, preventing anyone from playing, will cause problems for better teams.
When your centre-forward, Firmino, makes seven tackles in 80 minutes before being substituted, you know it’s a hard-working side that can be up there with Europe’s best. It wasn’t only the Brazilian. They front three aren’t just great at scoring, they’re hard-working and are a nightmare for opposition defences.
It may be too soon to start thinking about winning the Champions League, but a performance like this shows Klopp is building a team which is on the way to competing for the title of European champions.
If you fall behind, you have to push forward and they’ll pick you off, just like they did with their third today. Porto bombed forward and an absolutely glorious counter-attack saw Mané put the ball in the back of the net. It was just six seconds from the edge of their own area to the goal. There aren’t too many sides, if any, better at that than Liverpool.
The Egyptian made himself the first Liverpool player to score 30 goals in all competitions in a single season since Luis Suárez’s 31 in 2013/14.
His goal was simply sublime. He was so cool, flicking the ball up over goalkeeper José Sá before controlling it on his head and rolling it in. It was a goal of someone who believed he was a class above anyone on the pitch. Truth be told, he probably was. What a signing he has been.
Saying that, if Mané puts in more performances like he did today, scoring a hat-trick away at Porto, he could get there first!
Porto’s main threat is from set pieces
If Liverpool want to keep Porto out in the second leg, they’ll need to be on their guard from set pieces.
Alex Telles had a dangerous left foot, and every ball he put into the box caused problems for the Liverpool back line, with each of the six corners being a real threat.
That was about it though.
Klopp gets it spot on in midfield
Speaking to BT Sport, he said: “We need to be solid but we need experience as well and the right attitude for sure.
“We need to be ready for this fight because it will be a fight, it will be a very physical game. It’s all normal it’s the Champions League.”
That solidity and fight was crucial for Liverpool’s second.
Milner won the ball with a heavy challenge on Moussa Marega in Porto’s half. The home fans wanted a foul, but the referee rightly waved play on.
The Englishman’s shot on goal then deflected to Salah to fire home.
Klopp knew it would be a physical game and by playing fighters like Milner and Henderson, he got it spot on.
José Sá has a lot to learn
Before tonight, he’d played 19 competitive games for Porto and the 25-year-old isn’t particularly experienced.
It was his first Champions League knockout tie and he started nervously.
Within the opening 20 minutes, the Porto stopper skied the ball, allowing Liverpool to break dangerously with Salah squaring it before it was blocked. That was a chance that would usually have led to a goal.
Less than ten minutes later, he was punished for a mistake when Mané’s weak shot went under him and rolled over the line for the opener.
The second, fourth and fifth weren’t his fault, just moments of brilliance. For the third he could, perhaps, have pushed it to safety rather than just to Mané. But it would be harsh to blame him for that.
It was a baptism of fire in the knockout stages for Sá, and it wasn’t a night he’ll want to remember after conceding five.
Van Dijk gives Liverpool option for change in formation
It’s been pretty much four at the back ever since Klopp arrived but, with the Reds 4-0 up and in complete control, the German switched to three at the back, bringing Joël Matip on for Henderson.
Their attacking nature makes them perfect for that role, while the three at the back could solidify the defence even more. Joe Gomez, who replaced Alexander-Arnold, also fits in perfectly.
It also gives van Dijk the chance to make his trademark runs from the back, while still leaving two centre-backs in defence. He can advance into midfield and play a pass, which is something he did a lot at Southampton to great success. With the pace of the front three to aim for, the Dutchman will be a real asset offensively.
How that tactic will work against better teams remains to be seen. But it helped solidify the Reds’ backline – something which hasn’t been said often this season.