CSoccer can be fluky.
The first half of Porto vs. Liverpool certainly proved that.
Liverpool hardcores were scratching their collective scalps at Jurgen Klopp’s “let’s play not to lose instead of to win” starting line-up. Moving away from the recently successful Henderson-Fabinho-Keita trio, Klopp played it safe but replacing Henderson with Milner and Keita with
Porto inserted Yacine Brahimi, who should’ve started Leg 1, into their XI. And they signaled right out the gate that they were going for broke, putting Liverpool on their heels. In the first half, Porto completed twice as many attacking third passes than Liverpool did. They were whipping the ball around the Reds midfield and backline. It wasn’t pretty.
The end of first half stats were not the typical Liverpool line: Porto led possession 58-42%. They had 15 (!!!) total shots and 6 on target. Liverpool had 4 shots and 1 on target.
So naturally, the first half score was Liverpool 1-0.
With some key substitutions, Liverpool poured it on in the second half. They leveled off possession (closing at 49%) and shots (13 total, 5 on target to Porto’s 19 and 8). Liverpool eventually cruised to a 4-1 road victory and 6-1 aggregate. On to the 2019 UEFA Champions League semifinals for the Reds.
Jurgen Klopp (7) – Klopp follows up inarguably one of his best games as manager with one of his most confounding. The play-not-to-lose mentality has consistently hurt Liverpool all season. If they don’t win the Premier League, Klopp’s playing it safe/let’s go for the draw will be a big reason why (well that and Manchester City are historically great).
Going with the ultra-conservative midfield selection did absolutely nothing to stunt Porto’s attack. Giving Divock Origi the start over Roberto Firmino was interesting as well.
Nothing about his initial selection make Klopp look good, regardless of the end result. However, give Klopp credit for course-correcting early. He inserted Firmino in at the half for Origi. He yanked Andy Robertson, who was having perhaps his poorest game of the season and inserted Jordan Henderson in his place. Both moves were critical to Liverpool taking over the second half. For that, we’ll meet in the middle and give Klopp a very shaky 7.
Alisson (7) – Shaky early, making a poor pass to TAA that put him under pressure. However, stepped up as he faced a first-half firing squad of shots. Did especially well with all of the shot attempts considering the ultra-wet weather conditions.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (6) – Better getting up the field than defending, as Brahimi threatened early and often. However, delivered an absolutely gorgeous through-ball to Salah that helped officially ice the game.
Virgil van Dijk (6) – When your backline is giving up seemingly a shot every 19 seconds, can you really say you had a good game? Gets bumped up a point for finding the back of the net again on a header.
Joel Matip (6) – Missed his mark to allow Porto’s corner goal. Didn’t exactly stymie Porto’s constant attack. Matip has been super solid, but maybe it’s time to give a healthy Joe Gomez a look.
Andy Robertson (5) – Not the best defensive effort from Robbo, as
Moussa Marega and seemed to be getting shots off at will and Militao and Corona pressed him hard. Little of his typical impact getting up the field. Yanked in the 71st (!!!) for Henderson.
James Milner (6) – We shouldn’t be surprised at this point that Milner, Klopp’s must trusted veteran, would get a Champions League road start. Was his typical steady self. Did
Fabinho (6) – Steady as always on tackles and being in the right part of the field. However, did little to thwart Porto’s constant attack (although to be fair, much of it came from the wings not the center).
Georginio Wijnaldum (5) – Didn’t exactly provide the defensive presence Klopp had hoped.
Divock Origi (5) – A surprise starter in place of Bobby Firmino, made little impact. Yanked at half-time.
Sadio Mane (7) – Well, fairly quiet to start the game as the ball was mostly in Liverpool’s half, but converted on a Salah through ball to put Liverpool up 1-0 and in complete control of the quarterfinal match-up. Continued to link well with Salah, feeding a spot on cross to Salah’s head that almost led to a goal early in the second half. However, absolutely should’ve finished his attempt in the 73rd. Thank goodness Liverpool didn’t need that one. Made up for it later with a little tip off Milner’s corner that find VVD’s big noggin for Liverpool’s 4th goal.
Mohamed Salah (8) – The most active of the attacking trio early. Does he ever tire? Assisted Mane’s opener. Then a clinical finish on TAA’s perfect through-ball for the 2-0 clincher. He’s back in form at the absolute perfect time.
Roberto Firmino (7) – Came in at the half for Origi and offensively Liverpool immediately looked steadier. Netted home a header on Henderson’s cross to put the Reds up 3-1.
Jordan Henderson (8) – Why didn’t he start? IMMEDIATELY made an impact, with a wonderful through-ball to Mane that wasn’t converted. He assisted six minutes leader on the Firmino goal.
Joe Gomez (NR) – Came on late for TAA. Welcome back, Joe!
MAN OF THE MATCH: Mo Salah–he was a constant threat and the most consistent player for LIverpool throughout the game.