Sadio Mane (25′, 53′ 85′), Mohamed Salah (29′), Roberto Firmino (70′)
The Reds were back in emphatic fashion in the Champions League knockout stages last night, here’s The Anfield Talk’s Ronan (@ronan_orourke) with what we can take away from the first leg of the round of 16.
We waited 9 long years to finally be back involved in the knockout phases of Europe’s premier cup competition and it is safe to say that it was worth every second. I have always said that the best moments are usually a result of a period where everything doesn’t go quite as smoothly as hoped and tonight was the best possible example. A Porto team undefeated in 24 games was quite literally swatted aside time after time by the relentless Reds. A hat trick by Sadio Mané and a goal each for Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah led Liverpool to an incredible victory but what did we learn from this high octane performance?
Discipline as a Unit
The front three scored all the goals and will inevitably get many of the main plaudits but make no mistake, tonight this was a team effort. Jurgen Klopp and his staff know a little something about preparing for European nights and once again the team selection and tactics were second to none. Every single player in the team knew what their role was and executed those plans to inch perfect perfection.
Honestly, not one player deserves less than an 8 out of 10 in my mind (though I’ll leave the ratings up to Chris!). Porto must have fancied themselves at home given their record at the Den of Dragons. Executing their plan was another story entirely though thanks to the tactically disciplined performance by the men in Red (orange).
Robertson and van Dijk Affect
There have been transformations galore over the past few weeks in this Liverpool defensive line. Loris Karius has well and truly so far seized his opportunity as the undisputed number one and Virgil van Dijk has been a massive part of his renaissance. Little mention is given to the role though that Andy Robertson has played in the resurgence of the back four.
The Scot has been nothing short of phenomenal since inheriting the starting spot from a sidelined Alberto Moreno a couple of months ago. Tonight may well have been though the high point so far for Robertson. Lest we forget that he was making his European debut in a Champions League knockout fixture. That should be a panic inducing experience and yet he looked like a seasoned veteran out there and was brilliantly both going forward, and simultaneously dealing with the inevitable Porto threat down his flank.
Dejan Lovren is also said to have benefited from the signing of van Dijk but he too had returned to good form long before big Virgil’s arrival. The presence of van Dijk is only taking Lovren to another level of performance quality but rest assured, without wanting to overstate his contribution it is Andy Robertson who has been a huge factor in the return to form of Lovren, Karius and the entire Liverpool defense.
The names Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum I imagine don’t typically fill opposing teams with fear prior to kick off… but I am sorry to say that they assumed wrong. The trio were out of this world tonight. For me Milner and Wijnaldum were the men of the match. They set the standard from the very first minute and didn’t let up there after until the final whistle.
Wijnaldum has deservedly come in for some criticism for his now infamous frequently anonymous displays away from Anfield but tonight he was the complete opposite. He was a tower of strength in midfield and his tenacious play set up the crucial opener for Mané at a point where the match was still very much a tight affair. He was simply brilliant all night long. Gini and Milner don’t win too many glamour prizes but honestly, who cares if they play like that?
And of course we cannot forget the always undervalued Henderson who again may have appeared less noticeable than his more battle hungry teammates but the skipper’s contribution in regards to maintaining the tempo and being that available option time after time in midfield cannot be understated. As he has done for a couple of years now, he quietly got on with his work and allowed others to grab the limelight. Once again though, I noticed what he was doing and am as always thankful for it.
Champions League Feeling
That just felt great didn’t it? Let’s be honest, the group phase is always nice but the Champions League doesn’t really start until it becomes a knockout competition after the turn of the year. From the moment the camera panned across our luminous orange kits in the lineup as the famous anthem was playing until final whistle, all felt once again right in the football world. What a feeling. Maybe Bill Shankly was right, football can produce feelings that cannot be described unless you actually go through them yourself. There’s life, there’s death and there’s that Champions League sensation. I had forgotten after nine years but it all makes sense again now.
With the weekend off to recharge, the Reds won’t be back in action for a while. I think we will survive with this lasting memory until a week from Saturday. It’s good to be back.