Talking Points: Liverpool 2 Porto 0

First-half goals from Naby Keita and Roberto Firmino helped Liverpool on their way to victory over Porto in their Champions League Quarter-Final first-leg at Anfield on Tuesday night. The result puts the Reds in a strong position in the tie going into next week’s return fixture.

Reds emerge from chess match in control…

The tactical nous required to thrive in two-legged football is clearly very high, and there will always be plenty of debate as to what is a good score at home or away from home or in the first-leg. A win by at least a couple of goals would have been the minimum that Liverpool fans would have wanted from the match against Porto, and a clean sheet to go alongside that would be even better, and in the end that was exactly what they got. As the Reds did in the competition last season, they flew out of the blocks and put the visitors under immense pressure early on. Keita’s deflected strike in the fifth minute settled the nerves, and then Firmino’s before the break really swung the pendulum. Jürgen Klopp’s team should have had another when Mohamed Salah couldn’t finish a one-on-one, although Porto could have easily notched a couple themselves. After the break was really where the tactical game-plans came to the fore – Liverpool deciding whether or not to go for a third and Porto deciding how much to go for the precious away goal. In the end Liverpool were wise – why risk conceding in their attempt to score a third, with 2-0 a much better scoreline than 3-1. A Liverpool goal in the second-leg next week should be enough to see them through to the semi-finals, but there certainly could have been more goals in the match at Anfield.

Finally a clean sheet but imbalance down flanks clear…

Well if you don’t ask you don’t get. I questioned why the Reds haven’t kept a clean sheet for a while after the Southampton clash, and thankfully they immediately answered the call with a shut-out in the very next game. Dejan Lovren was named in the starting line-up in order to give Joel Matip some rest, and it proved a wise decision as Lovren’s physicality was very useful as he and Virgil Van Dijk tussled with the dangerous Moussa Marega all night. Some smart saves from Alisson ensured Marega was kept out from the few occasions he managed to find some space, and overall Liverpool defended well albeit were slightly fortunate not to concede. In an attacking sense, Trent Alexander-Arnold was hugely influential down the right-hand side and put it on a plate for Firmino to extend their lead. With James Milner at left-back due to Andy Robertson’s suspension, Klopp’s side did lose some impetus on the left however. That’s not to say Milner played poor, far from it rather, but he doesn’t have the pace and drive that Robertson offers and it did mean at times the Reds were slightly predictable in favouring their attacks down the right. It’s of little significance though as they still scored the goals required and the flying Scotsman will return.

Has Klopp found his best midfield for the run-in?…

After impressing in the second half in the win over Southampton, the midfield trio of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Keita was given the nod to face Porto, much to the happiness of the fans. The selection proved correct as the trio provided an excellent platform in the win. Keita’s growth in confidence in the space of five days is evidently humongous, and his goal was the bit of good fortune he has waited all season for. He and Henderson were tenacious in the press and in the first half gave Porto no room to breathe. Even when their opponents made it past the pair, Fabinho was on hand with plenty of tackles and interceptions and kept possession moving quickly and efficiently. The question now remains, is this Klopp’s best midfield three for the rest of the campaign? One argument against this is that, while utilising the same three helps build consistency, Klopp’s array of midfield options allow him to be very much ‘horses for courses’ and rotate accordingly. Gini Wijnaldum was given a much-deserved rest for the match, and will likely come back into the side in place of Keita for Sunday’s game against Chelsea. But make no mistake, the trio of Fabinho, Henderson and Keita has a nice balance to it, and it will be interesting to see how many times it is deployed before the season’s close.

VAR kept busy in incident-filled encounter…

Much has been made about Liverpool’s luck/lack of luck with officiating decisions in the Premier League this term, but in the Champions League VAR is in use and was used frequently in the match with Porto. There were a couple of checks for potential Porto penalties against Alexander-Arnold and Lovren – both coming to a not handball conclusion which was the correct verdict. Liverpool also had a goal disallowed when Sadio Mane was adjudged to be offside. It was extremely tight but offside was probably just about the right call. Then towards the end of the match Salah attempted to tackle Danilo, with the Egyptian’s foot too high and catching his opponent on the shin with his studs showing. The tackle itself should have seen Salah sent off, but the video assistant referees saw otherwise and thus the Reds got away with one – although it could be argued that Salah was fouled seconds before the tackle anyway. As the Spurs and Manchester City match showed, VAR will likely play a key role in deciding who wins the Champions League this season, so hopefully the cards will fall kindly in Liverpool’s favour.

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