Liverpool enjoyed a European away day to remember Porto on Wednesday, but where does it rank in the list of great Reds away results in the Champions League?
Jurgen Klopp‘s side headed to Portugal expecting a tough challenge against a potentially dangerous Porto side, but they were magnificent at Estadio do Dragao.
Liverpool wrapped up the tie in the first-leg, strolling to a 5-0 win, and it immediately got us thinking about similarly superb away displays in the Champions League.
These have been judged on various factors, with the strength of the opposition, importance of the game and quality of Liverpool’s side at the time all taken into account.
Here’s the top 10 – is the Porto ranking fair?10. Deportivo 0-1 Liverpool (2004/05)
This was a crucial group stage victory during Liverpool’s march to glory in 2004/05, having picked up just one win in their first three matches.
With Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso both absent, it was Igor Biscan who stepped up to the plate, bossing the midfield battle and playing a key role in the only goal – an own goal by Jorge Andrade.
Failure to win that night may have seen Rafa Benitez’s men fail to qualify for the knockout rounds.
Strength of opposition (out of five): 2
Importance of game: 3.5
Quality of Liverpool side: 3.5
This has to make the cut, even though Maribor are one of the worst teams Liverpool have ever faced in European competition.
The eventual 7-0 victory was the biggest ever by an English club away in Europe, and no side has won by a greater margin on their travels in the Champions League.
Strength of opposition: 1
Importance of game: 2.5
Quality of Liverpool side: 4
Benitez’s Reds were favourites to get the better of PSV Eindhoven in the 2006/07 quarter-finals, and they cruised to victory in the first-leg in impressive fashion.
Gerrard, John Arne Riise and Peter Crouch found the net – Riise’s was a trademark left-footed beauty – as another semi-final place was all but sealed.
Strength of opposition: 2
Importance of game: 4
Quality of Liverpool side: 4
The pressure was on Liverpool when they visited Marseille in December 2007, with a win guaranteeing them a place in the last-16.
They excelled on a nervy night at Stade Velodrome, with a lovely solo effort by Fernando Torres helping inspire them to a 4-0 victory.
Having looked down and out after picking up just one point from their opening three group games, the Reds were through.
Strength of opposition: 2.5
Importance of game: 4
Quality of Liverpool side: 4
Revenge was in the air when Liverpool faced Bayer Leverkusen in 2004/05, having been knocked out by the Germans at the last-eight stage three years earlier.
The Reds had already won the first-leg of this last-16 tie 3-1, and Luis Garcia’s early double put the contest to bed. A 3-1 win was secured in the end.
It was another positive step towards that famous night in Istanbul.
Strength of opposition: 3
Importance of game: 3.5
Quality of Liverpool side: 3.5
This is fresh in the memory, which can mean bias comes into play, but the way in which Liverpool destroyed a good Porto side makes this worthy of a place in the top five.
It was an almost perfect away performance in Europe.
Strength of opposition: 3
Importance of game: 3.5
Quality of Liverpool side: 4
The Reds may have beaten a strong Inter Milan side 2-0 at Anfield back in 2007/08, but they still had plenty to do in the return leg, having left it late to overcome 10 men.
The Nerazzurri‘s starting line-up included Javier Zanetti, Patrick Vieira and Zlatan Ibramimovic at the San Siro – they won the league that season – and Liverpool would have to stand tall to progress.
That did just that in expert fashion, and Torres’ ruthless finish three-quarters of the way through the game killed off their opponents’ hopes.
Strength of opposition: 5
Importance of game: 3.5
Quality of Liverpool side: 4
Trips to Santiago Bernabeu are about as daunting as you can get, and not many fancied Liverpool to prevail there in 2008/09.
That side was the Reds’ most complete since the glory days, however, and they were excellent against a Real Madrid team brimming with world-class talent such as Arjen Robben, Raul and Gonzalo Higuain.
Yossi Benayoun headed home the only goal of the night, sending the travelling fans into delirium, and a sensational 4-0 win back at Anfield saw the quarters reached yet again.
Strength of opposition: 4.5
Importance of game: 4
Quality of Liverpool side: 4
This may not have ended in a Liverpool victory, but it is one of the most impressive, gutsy results in the club’s European history.
The Juventus side they came up against were fantastic, and would go on to win the Serie A title in 2004/05, ahead of the Reds’ final opponents, AC Milan.
Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavario, Lilian Thuram, Pavel Nedved, Alessandro Del Piero and Ibrahimovic all started, against a Liverpool team including Igor Biscan, Antonio Nunez and Djimi Traore.
Having won 2-1 at Anfield, the Reds defended for their lives throughout and eventually picked up a memorable goalless draw that took them through to the semis. They did it all without Gerrard, with Carragher and Hyypia showing themselves as one of Europe’s best centre-back pairings.
Strength of opposition: 5
Importance of game: 5
Quality of Liverpool side: 3
Imagine going 1-0 down at Camp Nou to a Barcelona team containing Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Xavi and Deco – and winning. That’s what the Reds did 11 years ago.
This last-16 clash felt bleak when Deco headed the hosts in front, but instead of panicking, Liverpool recovered to produce a famous win.
The irony of Craig Bellamy and Riise scoring the goals was lost on nobody, following their golf-related fight, and it is a victory that will never be forgotten.
Strength of opposition: 4.5
Importance of game: 4
Quality of Liverpool side: 4
Jurgen Klopp says taking his players to Marbella for a training camp makes total sense, in terms of the weather and working on tactics.
Klopp and his Liverpool players jetted off to southern Spain after Wednesday’s 5-0 win over Porto, making the most of a weekend without a game, due to being out of the FA Cup.
Confidence is sky-high after the 5-0 drubbing of Porto in the Champions League, but the Reds must now kick on and not lose momentum.
This short trip should only be beneficial, with lots of time on the training ground allowing Klopp and his players to work on fitness and tactics.
The manager alluded to this, giving his reasoning behind taking his players abroad.
“It’s because it’s a change of circumstances,” Klopp told Liverpoolfc.com.
“The light is different obviously, and I thought for all the things we have to do now – like working a little bit on different systems and stuff like that – it made sense that we can do it in shorts and with real light!”
Liverpool enjoyed a similar mini-break last season, heading to Tenerife for a week in March, and it helped freshen them up ahead of a crucial top-four run-in.
The hope is that this current trip has a similar effect as the Reds look to again qualify for the Champions League, and go far in the competition itself.
Liverpool’s players are enjoying a change of scenery at a training camp in Marbella, and they have been sharing their experience on social media.
The Reds don’t play again until next Saturday against West Ham, meaning it will have been a 10-day break between that game and the 5-0 win over Porto.
Rather than stay in the cold February surroundings of Melwood, Liverpool have flown from Porto to Marbella for four days, similar to last March, when they spent a week in Tenerife.
— ??AllThingsLFC?? (@AllthingLFC) February 17, 2018
They are clearly enjoying themselves in some pleasant southern Spain temperatures – who doesn’t enjoy some al fresco dining in the middle February?
Klopp himself was photographed looking unbelievably laid-back over the weekend, and judging by social media, his players are following suit.
It’s not all relaxing though, with this very much a training camp and Klopp has made it clear the players are there to work, not relax. So no stealing taxis at 5am.
— Virgil van Dijk (@VirgilvDijk) February 17, 2018
— Georginio Wijnaldum (@GWijnaldum) February 17, 2018
— Alberto Moreno (@lfc18alberto) February 17, 2018
— Simon Mignolet (@SMignolet) February 17, 2018
— Mohamed Salah (@22mosalah) February 17, 2018
A post shared by ROBERTOFIRMINO9 (@roberto_firmino) on Feb 16, 2018 at 5:50am PST
* Feature image: Twitter/ 22mosalah
After the story of Liverpool’s first scouse captain, author Jeff Goulding continues the series with one of the Reds’ most famous captains and the first scouser to lift the European Cup.
Imagine for a moment spending your childhood as a young Scouser, growing up in the tough working-class town of Kirkby, in Liverpool. You spend your finest hours watching the Reds from the magnificent standing Kop in the 1960s.
What a glorious set of memories you would have. You’d revel in recollections that would light up your darkest days and keep you warm throughout winters where winning seems the hardest thing to do. You would have witnessed glorious sights and sounds most supporters can only dream of.
What could be better than that?
Well, what if you then went on to sign a professional contract with Liverpool F.C. and made your debut in a 3-0 win over Manchester United. Surely, that would be the pinnacle, wouldn’t it? What if it wasn’t.
What if, disappointed at not being selected for the team on a Saturday, you had the nerve to walk into Bill Shankly’s office and ask the great man “why didn’t you pick me boss?” and his reply was:
“Son, you will play many games for this club, for many years to come. One day you will captain this club. I wouldn’t even be surprised if you captained your country. You should thank me for dropping you on Saturday.”
For most of us, we would be happy if the world ended in that very moment, content that there was no greater feat we could achieve in life. Actually, just being in the same room as Bill Shankly would have been enough for most Reds.
For this promising youngster though, all of that would be a mere prelude to a glittering career so far-fetched that even the famed Roy of the Rovers comic strip would have rejected it as a storyline.
Phil Thompson would go on to play 477 times for Liverpool, scoring 13 times and collecting seven league titles, two FA Cups, 2 League Cups, 2 European Cups and 2 UEFA Cups. He would go on to serve the club in assistant and caretaker manager roles.
Thommo would be a key backroom figure in the all-conquering Kenny Dalglish sides of the 80s and helped Graeme Souness lead Liverpool to an FA Cup win in the 90s. He was also one of the architects of the 2001 treble season. He would then lead the team for six months during Gerard Houllier’s illness the following season, helping the Reds to a second place finish.
Tommo knew what it meant to represent the Kop, his “pride and joy,” and he never allowed himself to give anything less than his all, in a Reds shirt. That meant he couldn’t tolerate second best from any player in a Reds shirt.
It would make him a tough and sometimes unforgiving coach, a fact that once put him at loggerheads with a young Robbie Fowler. What followed was a training ground bust up with the prolific No 9 that led to a very public stand-off between the two.
Fowler would go on to say that a lot of young players despised Thompson for his hard-line attitude to coaching. However, Thompson would often handle any dissent by demanding that the young upstart put their medals on the table and “let’s see who knows best.”
Clearly he wasn’t popular with the youngster. However, surely no one could doubt his commitment and passion for Liverpool Football Club. Nor could they question his success as a player. After all this is a legend of whom Bob Paisley once said:
“I regard Phil as one of the best possible examples of a true professional. His greatest asset as a player is his ability to read the game, he showed that gift even as a teenager. He is not the biggest man physically for his role in defence but his football brain is outstanding.”
After making his debut in 1972, Thompson would become a league championship and UEFA Cup winner, before being handed the task of handling Newcastle’s Malcolm Macdonald in the 1974 FA Cup.
‘Super Mac’ had famously boasted about how he would destroy Liverpool at Wembley in the run-up to the game. It would prove a huge miscalculation, but when he realised he was up against a spindly 20-year-old in the Reds’ defence, he must have been rubbing his hands with glee.
However, the youngster from Kirkby put the Newcastle man in his back pocket and turned in a display of defensive solidity and composure that earned him many plaudits. His performance would be the cornerstone of Liverpool’s 3-0 demolition of the Geordies and helped to secure the club’s second FA Cup.
Thompson’s list of magical moments is almost as long as his trophy haul. He maintains that becoming a Liverpool player is his greatest achievement and, after that, captaining the club. That honour would eventually come in the 1978-1979 season.
That year Emlyn Hughes was coming to the end of his powers and struggling to hold down a regular starting place. It was an idea that caused consternation among the players, including the likes of Terry McDermott and Phil Neal.
According to his autobiography, Thompson admits he couldn’t understand it and began to doubt himself. It was common for the captain to be a defender and, with Thompson a local lad who had been an almost ever-present, it was felt his time had arrived.
Then, with Liverpool preparing to face Arsenal in a home game in April 1979, Paisley turned to Thommo and told him he would lead the team out that day. It was a huge honour, with the Reds pursuing the league title, and he didn’t let the side down.
He would drink champagne on the Anfield pitch in May 1979, as his side ran out 3-0 winners over Aston Villa, securing Liverpool’s 11th league title and Tommo’s fourth. He would tell the Liverpool ECHO, on the night:
“For me, a boy from the Kop, to lead Liverpool out, on the night they won the title, at Anfield, was a fabulous feeling.”
It would get even better though for the lad from the Kop. His team would retain the league title in 1980 and then in 1981 Thompson would enter dreamland.
With the league a forlorn hope, the prospect of a third European Cup in four seasons had Kopites dreaming. A former member of their ranks was club captain and the chance to become the first Scouser to lift the biggest trophy in European football didn’t phase him at all.
Only Real Madrid, in Paris, stood in his way. In truth it wasn’t the greatest game in the history of the competition. The Reds laboured to a 1-0 win thanks to an iconic goal from left-back Alan Kennedy. That didn’t matter to Tommo though, as he proudly hoisted ‘old big ears’ aloft in the Parc de Princes on the 27th May 1981.
Others would follow; Dennis Mortimer, a boy from Liverpool, would lift it in 1982 for Aston Villa, and of course, Steven Gerrard would do it in 2005.
However, the honour of being the first Scouser to lift the biggest prize, as captain, goes to Kirkby’s own Phil Thompson.
* Jeff is the author of the forthcoming book, Red Odyssey: Liverpool FC 1892-2017 – available to pre-order now.
* We’ll have more in this series, profiling the other scousers to captain the Reds.
Ings’ Reds career has been one littered with disappointment, with back-to-back cruciate ligament injuries restricting him to just 17 appearances since his arrival in July 2015.
Although very much a peripheral figure, the likeable former Burnley man is fit again and enjoyed a late cameo in the thrilling 5-0 win at Porto.
Ings couldn’t hide his happiness at making his Champions League bow, and says just being part of this talented Liverpool squad is something to cherish.
“It was one of those things where you watch it as a kid and have a dream of playing in the competition,” Ings told Liverpoolfc.com.
“So to come on and make my debut was a huge moment for me. I was very, very happy.
“To be part of this group in a competition like that is huge for me, from the levels that I’ve come from over the years.
The 25-year-old now wants to build on that, saying: “I want to stay around it with the lads and try to win as many games as we can and see how far we can go in the competition.”
Speaking a little more about his general lack of involvement – he has only played six times in 2017/18 – Ings admits it is hard to feature regularly.
“I’ve been fit but we’ve got such a quality group of lads,” he added.
“I had to be patient; the manager didn’t think I was quite ready for the early months of the season.
“To be in the Champions League squad, get minutes and play a part in the fifth goal to help Sadio get his hat-trick was very nice.”
Ings is widely seen as one of the most popular players at Liverpool, and his attitude during his time out injured is thought to have wowed Klopp.
Whether or not he has a long-term future at the club is certainly up for debate, but while he is here, an immaculate work and team ethic is guaranteed.
Of the 47 men to have been club captain at Liverpool during the club’s 125-year history, nine were scousers. Here, Jeff Goulding profiles the first of them.
Liverpool FC would wait 36 years before a Scouser would lead the Reds on the pitch. That man was Tom Bromilow, who wore the armband during the 1928/29 season. This is his story.
George Thomas Bromilow was the seventh of eight children, born in Kirkdale, Liverpool, in 1894. His birth was registered in the West Derby district of the city and a 1901 census records that he was the son of Alice and John Bromilow. His father was a Blacksmith.
By 1911, Tom’s occupation is listed as ‘junior clerk,’ but he was destined for much greater things. From humble working-class beginnings, Bromilow would go on to be part of one of the greatest Liverpool sides in the club’s history, the so-called ‘untouchables’ of the 1920s.
With the outbreak of war, in 1914, Tom enlisted in the armed services and served in the first world war. A keen sportsman, Bromilow enjoyed football and cricket and would play for the army football team.
Upon the cessation of hostilities, and still an enlisted man, Tom literally walked into Anfield, knocked on the door, and asked for a trial. Club secretary George Patterson took one look at him and decided to give him a chance. He would go on to describe the future Liverpool and England half-back as “the luckiest signing I ever made,” he went on:
“His signature was obtained in the strangest manner. He came to the ground in uniform during the war and asked for a game. I asked George Fleming, who was in charge of the second team then, how he was fixed and he said he could do with another player, Bromilow played at outside right and was an instant success.”
As soon as he was officially demobilised from the services, Bromilow signed professional papers for Liverpool, in 1919, at 25. He would make his debut on the 25th October 1919, in a 2-1 away victory over Burnley, and made an immediate impression. A club programme later had this to say:
“Quite a good impression was created by the local lad Bromilow at right half-back; it was asking a great deal of him to place him against such a clever pair as Lindsay and Mosscrop, but he came out of the ordeal with distinct credit.”
The youngster would become a mainstay at Anfield for 11 years and would captain the club during the 1928-29 season. However, the highlight of his career would undoubtedly have been the club’s back-to-back title wins, in 1922 and 23.
Bromilow was clearly a key member of the ‘untouchables’ and his contribution is lauded in a Liverpool Echo retrospective, published in 2011. In it, Tom is described as the brains of the outfit, and there are hints of his superstar status.
This was no ordinary player. Tom was a cultured footballer and a deep thinker. He was also something of an advertiser’s dream. As early as 1920 Bromilow would become a poster boy and famously featured in an advert for a health tonic called Phospherine, which featured this quote from the player:
“Weakness and exhaustion of any description can be successfully opposed by the employment of Phospherine – it is a great stimulant to the nerves.”
Not quite as catchy as Keegan’s Brut advert in the 1970s, or the Nivea adverts that feature Liverpool’s current crop, but perhaps we should rethink who we consider to be our first ‘superstar player’. It wasn’t just his image the media were after either, with the press regularly seeking out his thoughts on the game.
He would write columns for newspapers during his playing days, including one while on a club tour in Italy. His views on the quality of the Italian game were far from flattering. In another, much later, he would call for the introduction of a second referee in games.
In 1923, the Derby Telegraph would call him an “artiste to the fingertips,” and The Rugby Advertiser describes him as the “deep thinking Half-back of Liverpool,” in 1927. Bromilow’s life experience, knowledge of the game and growing stature meant the captaincy of Liverpool Football Club would eventually come calling.
He was a natural leader and wore the armband with distinction during the 1928-29 season. One performance in particular seemed summed up his importance to the team, as well as the esteem in which he was held in the game.
It was early in the season. The Reds had suffered a 1-2 reverse to Sheffield United, at Anfield. Despite the Yorkshire men outplaying Liverpool, the gentleman of the press couldn’t end their columns without heaping praise on the Scouser, Bromilow.
Local Yorkshire paper, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph reserved special praise for Tom’s performance:
“Their [Liverpool’s] outstanding player was Tom Bromilow. He gave a capital performance…his passes to Hopkin were delightful.”
His last appearance for the Reds came in a 1-0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers, at Ewood Park. He was 36 years of age and the captaincy had passed to Tom Morrison. After he hung up his boots, Bromilow would head into management.
He would manage Burnley, Crystal Palace, Leicester City (during the second world war) and Newport County. Liverpool was his team though, and when the manager’s job became available at Anfield in 1936, he was one of 51 applicants. Sadly, for Tom, George Kay was appointed, and the Scouser was said to be bitterly disappointed.
Kay wasn’t a bad choice however, and would lead Liverpool to their first league title in 24 years, in 1947. He would also lead them to a FA Cup final in 1950.
Tragically Tom died suddenly on a train, in 1959, at the age of 65. He was on a scouting trip for Leicester City. He died doing what he loved and still passionately involved in football.
His Anfield legacy is 375 games in a red shirt, 11 goals and two league titles. He was a Scouser born and bred who served his club with distinction, a lover and a scholar of the game and, above all, a Liverpudlian who lived the dream.
* Jeff is the author of the forthcoming book, Red Odyssey: Liverpool FC 1892-2017 – available to pre-order now.
* We’ll have more in this series, profiling the other eight scousers to captain the Reds.
It may be ‘typical Liverpool’ to beat Man City one week then lose at Swansea the next, but such instances skew the perception of how Liverpool perform against the top clubs vs. against the rest of the league.
In September 2017 I wrote an article for This Is Anfield on why it’s tough to play for Liverpool, commenting how new signings can be written off far too quickly by fans if they don’t hit the ground running.
It’s interesting that the article mentioned Loris Karius; now he has been given a decent run in the team he is performing to a much higher standard.
None of which is to say the German should definitely be Liverpool’s goalkeeper next season, but when given a chance he is at least looking like perhaps he could be. Whatever his flaws, weren’t many supporters too quick to write him off?
But then Liverpool fans are a pessimistic bunch. I’d say ‘don’t @ me’ on Twitter, but plenty do already, as you’ll see shortly. I can, however, understand some negativity towards the club. The Reds have only won one trophy in the last 12 years, and have lost their last three finals (which have been across three different competitions).
They came agonisingly close to ending the long wait for a league title in 2013/14, and can often go from the sublime to the ridiculous within matches, never mind from week-to-week. Just last month they became only the third team in Premier League history to beat the leaders one week and lose to the bottom side the next.
It was no surprise to see the phrase ‘Typical Liverpool’ trending on Twitter in the UK shortly after that Swansea defeat. The ‘pool make a habit of disappointing their fans all too often.
And yet, there are many reasons to be positive at the moment.
Liverpool are third in the Premier League, with their joint-third highest points tally at this point of a season since Premier League football began in 1992. They are all but through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, and have scored 99 goals in all competitions by mid-February.
So shouldn’t the occasional setback matter to fans far less than it seems to? After all, Liverpool are having their most consistent two season spell of winning matches since the heyday of Rafa Benitez.
Psychology of fans
Of course, the Reds will always fail to win some of their matches, but it’s happening less often than it has for about a decade. This feeds in to the psychology of football fans, which is something which has fascinated me for a long time.
Maybe it’s all part of the groupthink element of social media? Paul Tomkins has written about this in far more depth (here), and noted studies have shown people are more likely to panic if close to someone who is panicking. Welcome to Twitter.
Speaking of which, after each Liverpool match I share a table of stats called ‘race for the top four’. It shows how many points each team needs to reach 76 points (as no team has ever got that many and finished fifth or lower), what results they need to get there, and how many ‘big six’ matches they have left. Exhibit A:
I’m an optimist by nature, and to my eyes the above table looks incredibly positive. Liverpool have averaged the form they need throughout this season, and they have fewer big matches left to play than both Manchester United and Chelsea have.
This is where the confusing psychology comes in. Many Liverpool fans believe it’s better for their team to have more big matches, as that is where they thrive. Here’s a sample of replies my table has received in the past.
You get the idea. In fairness, when you look at Liverpool’s record over the past three seasons in the matches between the big boys, it’s understandable that Kopites generally enjoy those games.
That’s not a bad points haul, is it? And crucially, it’s better than that of the Reds’ immediate rivals. But for all that it is an impressive return in the context of the other teams, it still only amounts to 1.57 points per game.
So how have the Reds done against the other 14 teams in the division? In 2015/16 Liverpool averaged 1.77 points per game. This rose to two per game last season, and Jurgen Klopp’s team have taken 2.32 points per match in 2017/18. The pessimism about these games should be waning, and yet in certain corners of the Liverpool fanbase, it seems as potent as ever.
Bear in mind that in 2016/17, when Liverpool were unbeaten in matches between the big six teams, they still earned ‘just’ two points per game. It was always going to be nigh on impossible to repeat this season, and so it has proved. Fans still think Liverpool do better in these matches, though.
Ah, but then the Reds lost at Swansea and only drew 0-0 at home with West Bromwich Albion in the league. The other big teams must be doing better than Liverpool against the dross, right?
Nope, Liverpool are a shade above average and even the seemingly unstoppable Manchester City haven’t got a flawless record in these matches. The Reds clearly take more points from these games, so the fans should want more of these matches, not fewer. Why do Liverpool fans dread such games so much?Remembering the bad
Simply put, (and again, tip of the hat to Paul Tomkins), humans are programmed to remember bad things. As human beings evolved at a time when so many things could kill them, they grew to be wary of threats and terrified of things that were bad. It’s hard wired into every single one of us.
Which is why it’s not just small teams which terrify Liverpool fans, but also set pieces.
Not all goals are equal, though, and you naturally remember the bad ones. With Liverpool, this perhaps applies more to set pieces than to any other type of goal.
Watford’s opener and last-gasp equaliser on the opening weekend? Corners. Tottenham going 3-1 up just before halftime at Wembley? Free-kick. Swansea’s winner? Corner again. Just because you remember bad goals, it doesn’t mean Liverpool have a horrendous record with dead ball situations.
Of course, I’ve focussed on the Premier League as that is where the stats are most readily available, and where every team plays each other which aids fair comparisons. Liverpool have conceded set-piece goals in Champions League draws with Spartak Moscow and Sevilla and lost at home to West Brom in the FA Cup.
I’m not asking you to ignore those facts, and Liverpool will undoubtedly drop points in a match they should win before the season is out. Based on the last few years, though, they’ll win more than they lose, and do better against the minnows than against the big boys.
The threat of embarrassment from your peers may be real, but there’s plenty of points to be won against the struggling teams, and Liverpool are very good at doing it. Klopp may be over two years into his time at Anfield, but there’s still plenty of doubters who need to become believers.
Liverpool are said to be monitoring Spurs midfielder Victor Wanyama’s situation, just days after Steven Gerrard said that the Reds need a player of his type.
The 26-year-old Kenyan is yet to start a league game for Tottenham since recovering from a knee injury that kept him sidelined from August to December.
He has though made eight sub appearances – one of those being at Anfield where his thunderbolt of a strike levelled the score at 1-1 – and two starts in the FA Cup.
A strong, combative midfielder who is also excellent in possession, Wanyama would be an ideal signing to play as Liverpool’s No.6 and further improve the Reds’ defensive solidity.
“I think Liverpool would benefit from a monster of a central midfielder, a holder,” said Gerrard on BT Sport on Wednesday.
“A Wanyama-type player who does sit in and is disciplined, and he would give more protection to the back four.
“Emre Can‘s leaving, obviously Keita’s coming in. But Keita is a No 8, Keita is a dribbler, and a runner.
“The way he (Klopp) plays he plays 4-3-3 more often than not. So you can accommodate a Henderson and a Keita.”
What Gerrard suggests there is a midfield of Wanyama, Keita and Henderson, which looks a pretty good trio that complements each other.
Liverpool were also recently linked with Leicester City‘s Wilfried Ndidi, another holding midfielder – but those reports turn out to be based on an opinion piece from a Liverpool fan which a journalist then turned into a news article and other media copied the story without checking the source.
Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group have often been criticised during their reign, but Andy Campbell feels their recent work should be applauded.
Definition of extremism in English:
– Extremism (Noun)
– The holding of extreme political or religious views: fanaticism
The Oxford English Dictionary should consider expanding this definition to include football views.
Social media in particular daily demonstrates polarised opinions and provides ample low-hanging fruit for the 24/7 sports networks to devour.
Being generous you could call some of the outpourings reactionary.
Aside from the virtues of Dejan Lovren, few topics cause as much consternation among Liverpool supporters as the ownership of this prestigious institution.
Rightly so. Everyone has an opinion, to paraphrase a well-known saying.
Arguably the problem resides in the extremes where a minority of supporters pitch their very vocal views to anyone who will listen, and even those who would prefer not to: #FSGIn or #FSGOut according to our very own extremists.
Except the majority of fans are more likely to take a pragmatic view.
They are no less passionate about their club but willing to balance positives, negatives, progress and setbacks in a calmer, more measured fashion. Able to discern ‘triumph’ and ‘disaster’.
Unfortunately this doesn’t generate the clickbait headlines that drive, drown and often overwhelm content and discussion across media platforms.The Ghosts of Managers’ Past
In a cold, analytical light without context the picture isn’t flattering for FSG.
This is a success rate of just 29 percent using Champions League qualification as an arbitrary measure of achievement.
For comparison this doesn’t hold up favourably with either the Gerard Houllier or Rafa Benitez era.
Ignoring the vagaries of Champions League qualification at the time (a fourth-placed finish didn’t merit qualifying for the 2001/02 campaign), both secured top-four finishes an impressive 67 percent of the time.
Throw in four major trophies for the much-loved Frenchman and two, including that night in Istanbul, for the cherished Spaniard; the added silver lining every Reds fan desires.
King Kenny’s League Cup victory of 2012 suddenly looks rather lonely.
Time for FSG to be held accountable for such a fallow period in the club’s illustrious history? Perhaps not yet.‘Winning Hearts & Minds’…Well Some at Least
Liverpool flatlined under Hicks and Gillett. FSG applied the defibrillator, pulling the Reds back from the brink, but not before significant damage had been done to the heart of the club.
They inherited a woeful and unbalanced squad. The less said about the incumbent manager the better; away from the pitch, the situation grimly matched the underachievement on it.
The future of Anfield as a viable home presented a huge challenge. No longer fit for purpose, and unable to generate the much-vaunted matchday revenues of the other Premier League behemoths.
Commercially they were lagging behind their rivals, failing to draw on the club’s enormous potential and global appeal. Reputation diminished and dimmed in the age of oligarchs.
Fast-forward seven years and circumstances have dramatically changed.
There have been missteps along the way and there’s no debate performances on the pitch have disappointed more than hoped or expected.
Similarly, finding a way to reduce the riddle of elite talent being lost to rivals would be welcome. However, it’s hugely understated just what a mess Liverpool were in back in 2010 and the work required to revive fortunes on and off the field.
Anfield has been secured for future generations, reinforced by news of the Anfield Road end redevelopment.
A dynamic, top-drawer first team now has a supporting cast offering more genuine depth in the squad, aided by exciting academy prospects.
Put a pin in the slightly frustrating January transfer window for now: further improvements will follow this summer. The financial and commercial performance is unrecognisable from what went before with record revenues and sponsorship deals.
Suffice to say the position of manager has also experienced an upgrade. Jurgen Klopp, a superstar in his sphere and a magnetic personality; a draw for recently unattainable talent.
For a variety of reasons, some complex and outside their control, Liverpool have been deeply unstable since the early 1990s.
Taking a wider strategic view, the club has arguably not been in such rude health since league flags were routinely unfurled as an annual day out each August for the local populace. For the Red half of the city anyways.
Liverpool are unquestionably more secure than they have been in a long time.
There’s a consistency and growth that was previously lacking, and crucially symbiotic progress front and back office—something that was perhaps missing and ultimately undermined the efforts of Houllier, Benitez and even Rodgers.
Now, there is a position of new-found strength and a base to lead an assault from on all fronts.
Of course, there’s a ‘but’.
There’s been a seismic shift in the landscape of top-flight English football. Rivals in Manchester and London have grown, a power vacuum filled. The balance has altered.
Overcoming these challenges in any given season is no longer a given for the Reds.
In spite of this, if Klopp and his team can deliver a top-four finish this season it will be the first time since 2009 they’ve managed it back to back.
And following the 5-0 first-leg victory over Porto, Liverpool should progress to the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 2009, too.
Achieving both would represent tangible progress and further evidence they are at last ready to fight for honours regularly again.
That’s not to say next year will be our season. Simply that it could be, and that in itself is a move in the right direction.
We round up the latest Liverpool FC news, including a major update on the future of a rumoured target and praise for our new star defender.
Agger Praises ‘In Charge’ Van Dijk
The Dutchman may, in fact, be the most accomplished centre-back to play for the Reds since Daniel Agger, who joined Jurgen Klopp‘s squad at their training camp in Marbella this week.
“I watched him play before and he is a really strong player,” he told LiverpoolFC.com of his successor.
“Taking the step from Southampton to Liverpool is not always easy, but it’s impressive how he’s started.
“He looks like he’s going in and looks like he is in charge. As a defender, as a team, it’s important to have a man like that.
“It’s still early, but I hope he can bring the best out of those around him at the back.”Malcom Reveals Plan to Leave Bordeaux
He is likely to be one of the most highly sought-after talents in the summer, and he could be a useful addition to Klopp’s squad after the withdrawal of the Reds’ interest in Thomas Lemar.
Speaking to Brazilian outlet UOL, Malcom gave a major boost to his suitors, revealing he will leave his current club in the summer.
“Yes, there was a promise that I will be negotiating in June. I will choose the team, and Bordeaux will let me go,” he said.
“I already said that I would have liked to leave this winter to meet new challenges.”
There is clearly no deal lined up at this stage, and it could be one worth considering for Klopp.Firmino Confirmed For Brazil’s World Cup Squad
Brazil often announce their squads for international fixtures considerably earlier than other nations, and it is seemingly no different ahead of the summer’s World Cup.
While it should be no surprise to Liverpool supporters, but Tite has confirmed that Roberto Firmino is among 15 players who have already booked their places in Russia.
“[My] list is open in one part and closed in another,” he told UOL.
“[It is] closed on names with a consistent situation at their clubs and that, within the selection, [are] already confirmed, affirmed and playing well.”
Tite confirmed Firmino along with Alisson, Dani Alves, Marquinhos, Miranda, Marcelo, Renato Augusto, Paulinho, Coutinho, Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Thiago Silva, Fernandinho and Willian.
There has been a considerable overhaul among Neil Critchley’s U23s ranks following the January transfer window, with a host of academy staples leaving on loan or on permanent deals.
This has seen a number of players make the step up from the U18s, including Adam Lewis, Curtis Jones and Liam Millar, while Herbie Kane has inherited the captaincy from Corey Whelan.
Speaking to LiverpoolFC.com on Kane’s performances since taking the role, Critchley highlighted its importance in his development.
“Herbie has really come to the fore in the last few weeks. He has seen a few U23 senior players go on loan and he’s taken it upon himself to become the leader in this group,” he said.
“His training and his performances have been top-class so he deserves the armband.
“It also comes with a big responsibility and he knows that. I’m confident he can accept that challenge and I think it will develop him as a person as well as a player and I think that’s really important for Herbie.”
Kane, who is still only 19, signed a four-year contract with Liverpool this time last year.Ejaria Injured Ahead of Busy Weekend For Loanees
But the midfielder won’t be available for Saturday’s home clash with Brentford, however, with Chris Coleman revealing he “pulled up in training on Wednesday” so is “very doubtful.”
Daniel Sturridge also won’t be involved for West Brom in their FA Cup fifth-round meeting with Southampton due to a hamstring injury, and Lazar Markovic is still working towards fitness ahead of his Anderlecht debut.
Jurgen Klopp believes the heavy rotation he made to Liverpool’s starting lineup throughout winter means he can now play his best side every game.
The Reds are currently enjoying a short break in Marbella, spending four days after Wednesday night’s 5-0 win over Porto training in the Andalusian sun.
Returning to Merseyside next week to prepare for the visit of West Ham, Klopp’s side should be recharged and prepared for another busy period.
Between that Anfield clash and the March international break Liverpool play five games in 22 days, averaging one every 4.4 days, similar to their congested period in November and December (4.1).
Their schedule is certainly less intense, particularly given they now have one foot in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, but winning every game is crucial.
And speaking to LiverpoolFC.com in Spain, Klopp insisted the changes between games throughout winter has ensured his squad remains fresh.
“We made our rotation in the winter—in November and December—to be now 100 percent fit,” he said.
“Now we are 100 percent fit the best players will play all the time.”
But explaining that “it’s not that I think now we will rotate before or after,” he revealed a change of tack, insisting now: “We go for everything.”
Liverpool have been handed one of their easier run-ins in recent years, with six of their final 11 games in the league coming at home and only four against sides currently in the top 10.
However if they progress to the next stage in Europe, as expected, their fixture list will expand to incorporate at least two more high-stakes games.
The prospect of fielding the same side in every game between now and May is highly unlikely, and Klopp may even opt to rest players against Porto on March 6.
But the key aspect of his recent comments is how there is no longer a need to omit players to avoid burnout, instead altering his side to suit tactical demands.
The likes of Klavan, Lallana, Ings, Solanke and Ben Woodburn may still be given game time in the coming weeks, but don’t expect to see many more left-field selections from Klopp.
James Milner was superb in Liverpool’s 5-0 win over Porto, and he will be a important figure for the Reds between now and May, writes Henry Jackson.
“The player I like is James Milner. He’s the future, my future.”
Those were the slightly odd words of Fabio Capello back in 2008, during his forgettable reign as England manager.
It felt a bizarre remark even at the time, despite Milner only being 22 and impressing for Aston Villa, and it has proved to be an even more reckless opinion as the years have passed.
Milner was never going to be the future of English football, even if he scooped the PFA Young Player of the Year award in 2009/10. He has never been the star.
That is not a negative assessment of the now-32-year-old, however, who has carved a highly impressive career out of being an industrious player who guarantees hard work, intelligence and consistency.
These attributes came to the fore on Liverpool’s biggest night of the season so far on Wednesday, as Jurgen Klopp‘s side destroyed Porto in thrilling fashion.Man of the Match Performance
It was Milner who was the Reds’ most impressive performer, however, in the kind of understated, effective display that has defined his career.
Preferred to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a three-man midfield, it was a move that may have felt cautious by Klopp, but one that made complete sense.
While the former Arsenal man still has question marks against his reliability and big-game credentials, Milner’s experience on such occasions made starting him a no-brainer.
A moment please, to reflect on the majesty of James Milner #PORLIV
— bob mortimer (@RealBobMortimer) February 14, 2018
He was superb all night at a rain-soaked Estadio do Dragao, throwing himself into tackles—he won four overall, the second-most of any player—completing 81.8 percent of his passes and dovetailing effectively with Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum.
The veteran was desperately unlucky not to score himself, with Salah converting after his shot had hit the post, and he then teed up Firmino for the fourth goal of the evening.
That assist took his Champions League tally to six this season, more than any other player in the competition, highlighting what a strong European campaign he has enjoyed.
The first-leg win in Portugal was arguably Milner’s best game in a Liverpool shirt—these are the nights when he is worth his weight in gold.
It shows exactly why Brendan Rodgers decided to sign him in July 2015, despite a lukewarm response to his arrival, and he is someone who can really be trusted.Winning Mentality
Introduced in place of Jesus Navas shortly after half-time, it was the Englishman who turned the game on its head, with City trailing 2-0 at that point.
Milner was fantastic, assisting David Silva seven minutes after coming on, and he added so much drive and calm to Manuel Pellegrini’s flagging side.
Although Liverpool eventually won the game, it again showed Milner’s ability to stand tall in huge games, and he did it many times during a City career that earned him two Premier League winners’ medals and an FA Cup.
As Leeds inevitably heading towards relegation in the mid-2000s, he was always one of the few who stood tall, despite being a teenager, and there have been many worse players when it comes to England duty.
If Liverpool had a penalty in the Champions League final, Milner would be the man you would want over the ball more than any other squad member, which sums up his mentality.
This is a relatively young Reds side, so his experience and nous is going to be so important as some huge matches lie on the horizon.
The top-four battle is set to be intense, and as Liverpool showed against Porto, there is absolutely no reason why they cannot go deep in the Champions League.
Milner knows exactly what it takes to win football matches, as his thoughtful, pleasing words after Wednesday’s game showed.
“We’ve got to manage games better. We have talked about it over the last few months as a team, and with the manager as well. That, ultimately, is what wins you titles,” he told reporters.
“We can still attack, attack, attack but we now put men behind the ball and take the sting out of games. We are improving at that and that is what is most pleasing.”
The ex-England international isn’t a name who will be on the teamsheet every week, but when the going gets tough, you would rather have him on the pitch than off it.Ideal For Certain Matches
Milner isn’t perfect, and there have been plenty of examples during his three years on Merseyside that prove it.
In certain scenarios, most notably when teams park the bus, a lack of guile can be painfully evident in his game, and positionally he can be a little reckless.
Equally, matches of incredibly high intensity are a strain on Milner’s ageing limbs, and his second-half cameo against City last month enabled his former team to mount a late comeback.
The game passed him by, such was the speed of the play.
They are more tailor-made for Oxlade-Chamberlain’s more pacy, aggressive style, or the creativity and unpredictability of Adam Lallana.
Not only would leaving Milner out of these games make total sense for the team, but it would also keep him fresh for bigger tussles.
That’s when he will come to the fore, rising in stature instead of shrinking.
At a time when footballers seem obsessed with appearance, social media and the general notion of celebrity, Milner feels like a player from a bygone age. He is the anti-Paul Pogba.
He is about as unfashionable as it gets, but few current Liverpool players have his pedigree and knowhow in pressure situations.
Should the Reds do the unthinkable and lift the Champions League this season, as well as finishing in the top four, Milner is almost certain to have been an essential cog in the wheel.
If you watch that Porto victory back, you will see why he is so revered by team-mates, managers and opponents alike.
Clyne has rejoined full training after seven months out with hamstring and back problems, and is part of the Reds squad in Marbella this week.
The 26-year-old’s improving fitness is a major boost for Liverpool, and though he is unlikely to make his comeback any time soon, he provides Klopp with another useful option.
Klopp said “it’s good” to have Clyne back involved, but told LiverpoolFC.com that “all three can’t play, unfortunately.”
“With the full-backs it’s always a little bit [difficult] and also who can play in another position as well,” he explained.
“It’s quite specialist—so you either play or you’re not really involved.”
And he highlighted Gomez as “a very important player for us,” with the 20-year-old having made 27 appearances so far this season, including 20 starts, shining out of position at right-back.
Klopp assessed the situation of Clyne, Gomez and Alexander-Arnold all competing for a place as “comfortable,” but in his analysis of right-back as a “specialist” position lies a key issue.
Both Alexander-Arnold and Gomez can operate in a variety of roles, while Clyne is an out-and-out right-back, which would present Klopp with a conundrum in naming future matchday squads.
While Clyne is certainly the most established, and accomplished, option, the potential of Gomez being able to fill in at both right-back and centre-back is invaluable.
Alexander-Arnold can also be utilised in midfield, with the teenager having risen through the ranks of the academy in the No. 6 role.
It would be remiss to suggest Clyne will be left out on his return: he has proved himself a reliable right-back for both Liverpool and England in recent years.
But his layoff has seen both Alexander-Arnold and Gomez shine in his stead, and Klopp is clearly anticipating a power struggle in defence in the future.
The Reds were said to have begun talks for the Brazil international over a move in the summer transfer window, with Sky Sports claiming talks with “at a very early stage” on Thursday.
Given Alisson’s impact at Roma this season, standing out as arguably the best stopper in Serie A, this would come as no surprise.
But according to various sources shortly after, Klopp is more likely to target a goalkeeper to compete with Karius than immediately supplant him as first choice.
The Liverpool Echo‘s James Pearce reports that the manager “believes [Karius] could be the long-term solution between the posts.”
This comes following the 24-year-old’s rise in form since taking over from Simon Mignolet, and so far this season he has kept a clean sheet in eight of his 16 appearances.
Mignolet’s future is less promising, however, with the Times‘ Paul Joyce reporting that he is “set to leave Anfield in the summer.”
Having joined from Sunderland in 2013, Mignolet has struggled to convince over a lengthy stretch, and Karius can be considered a more promising long-term option.
This is the second time in just over a week that Liverpool have reportedly dropped their interest in a high-profile target.
The Reds were heavily touted with a big-money move for AS Monaco midfielder Thomas Lemar in the summer, but as with Alisson, the Frenchman’s significant price tag has proved off-putting.
With four months until the transfer window options, there is now little indication as to Klopp’s likely arrivals, with speculation set to continue.
His faith in Karius is encouraging, given the German’s impressive form in recent weeks, with his confidence rising since the introduction of Virgil van Dijk at centre-back.
Karius’ performances at Mainz, prior to his move Liverpool, suggested he could be the front-footed ‘keeper needed to implement Klopp’s system successfully.
To do so required trust in his abilities, and after a shaky start last season he is now being given the opportunity to earn that trust.
These reports that Liverpool are not interested in Alisson could be a move by the club in order to not affect Karius’ confidence at this stage.
Liverpool are back in the market for a goalkeeper and have initiated contact with AS Roma for Brazilian stopper Alisson.
There was big speculation throughout January that the Reds would be hoping to add a new face between the sticks, though a bid never materialised.
Instead, manager Jurgen Klopp made a change from within; Loris Karius was installed as the new No. 1, with the boss suggesting his compatriot would get the chance to cement his place with a regular run.
Now, though, Sky Sports have claimed the Reds are in touch with Roma over a summer move for Alisson, with talks “at a very early stage via an Italian intermediary.”
Any move for the goalkeeper, rated as one of the best in Serie A this season, would likely see the Reds have to fork out in excess of £50 million.
The club have already shown they have no trouble with paying such huge sums if the player is exactly the right one for the team and for Klopp’s tactics, and many fans would be ecstatic to see Alisson join.
But it has to be questioned whether the timing of such an approach would be right.
Karius has been waiting for a chance to prove his worth and, given the confidence and backing of the boss, has certainly stepped up his game of late.
That increase in performance stems from having stability in the role and beginning to develop an understanding with those in front of him, particularly with Virgil van Dijk having settled in so quickly.
The Reds have a lot left to play for this season and they need focused minds and high confidence from every area of the pitch—particularly in goal, where they have had such issues over the past few seasons.
A summer approach for Alisson might well make sense, might well be the right course of action to take, but it must not come at the expense of the confidence, consistency and determination of the current incumbent Karius.
Liverpool saw off Porto with ease following the execution of Jurgen Klopp‘s tactical plan which was both dogged and delightful.
Porto were not being underestimated before the game, and this showed in what was a committed performance from Liverpool, whose bright orange shirts lit up a rainy night on the edge of Iberia.
Sergio Conceicao’s men should not be easily dismissed just because Liverpool put five past them, and neither should the performance of Klopp’s team be undersold as an easy win against poor opposition.
The Portuguese lead leaders have only dropped points in four of their domestic games, and aren’t used to losing.
The only teams they have lost to so far this season are Besiktas, RB Leipzig, and now Liverpool. They defeated Monaco and Leipzig in the Champions League group stages, and are certainly no pushovers.
“I respect Porto a lot,” Klopp said prior to the game.
“I know that they’re a mixture of football and fight – I like it. Experience and youth, well organised and fluent.“
He then went on to discuss his own team’s tactical setup and the importance of the players within it:
“If you watched last week we don’t always play the same system — maybe we’ll surprise each other.
“They are a football playing side, different options system-wise, so we cannot imagine especially as they have three players out.
“The system doesn’t decide the game, the players do. The system is important but only to bring players in their best position. Porto haven’t played 20 times so far against a team like us.”
Georginio Wijnaldum retained his place in a role supporting both Henderson and the attack.
As usual, the Dutch midfielder wasn’t the player with the heaviest involvement in the game, enjoying just 50 possessions compared to Henderson’s 75 and Milner’s 83, but on this occasion his all-round contribution was telling.
Milner’s role involved supporting the attack from the left midfield slot, which changed the formation slightly from the previous game when Oxlade-Chamberlain operated in this role, but on the right.
Milner also offered support to left-back Andy Robertson, and his time playing in that position last season will help him understand what type of assistance the full-back needs, and when they need it.
Milner does a really good job doubling up with full back when needed. Gives good Defensive protection and still gets forward.
— keith costigan (@KeithCostigan) February 14, 2018Average positions
As a result of Milner’s dual role and Wijnaldum’s relatively few touches, the Englishman appears as the deepest of the two in the average position map.
The graphic here is provided by @11tegen11 on Twitter. A must-follow for this type of data visualisation.
When both of these players are on the top of their game, Liverpool’s formation in this system will begin to resemble a 4-4-2 diamond, with Salah and Mane as the strikers, and Firmino at the head of the midfield.
There have already been signs of the development of this Coutinho-less formation, and they were evident again here.The Robertson-Mane Axis
The most common pass combinations are often between the two centre-backs, or between the defenders and defensive midfielders, especially in sides which play out from the back.
But another popular route emerged down the left side of Liverpool’s passing network, with Andy Robertson finding Mane 21 times, which is a high number for such an attacking combination.
As shown in the graphic from WhoScored, 44 percent of the team’s attacking play occurred down their channel.
Maybe the opposition were too focused on Salah down the opposite wing, and Firmino in the middle, as the Porto defence acted as though they forgot about Mane. Part of the feared front three had been low-key for much of this season, until now…
The Senegalese finished the game with more possessions (68) than Firmino (57 — he was subbed late on which will affect this), and three of his four shots resulted in goals.
He also played a key part in Firmino’s goal, following a contribution in midfield of which the Brazilian would have been proud. It was Mane whose defensive work won the ball, and he freed Milner who teed up Firmino to deservedly get his name on the scoresheet.
Robertson impressed throughout and was, along with Van Dijk, the player with the heaviest involvement in the team’s build-up play, as shown by the size of his marker in the average position map above.
His ability to find Mane at the earliest opportunity gave the forward a platform from which to build and contributed to his most productive performance this season.
The symbolic finale for this partnership came when Robertson sought out the match ball at the end of the game and handed it to hat-trick hero Mane, who benefitted from the Scotsman’s teamwork and endeavour even after the final whistle had gone.
Andy Robertson proving again what a team player he is. A young ball boy thought he had a memento for himself, Robertson quickly spotted him and made sure the ball was delivered to Sadio Mane. A souvenir of spectacular night.
— Dominic King (@DominicKing_DM) February 14, 2018Expected Goals
Liverpool created three big chances to Porto’s none and scored from all of them.
Mane’s first and third goal were not considered “big chances” by Opta, and neither was the attempt from Firmino which led to Mane’s second.
The graphic below from @Caley_graphics shows the xG map from the game, with Salah’s goal after juggling the ball along the six-yard line represented by the biggest and brightest square!
xG map for Porto – Liverpool.
Oh my. pic.twitter.com/LEgWoW8c00
— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) February 14, 2018Nullifying Porto
Porto’s main threat was considered to be their danger at set pieces, and in particular the delivery from left-back Alex Telles who had managed 16 assists in all competitions prior to this game.
But on the night he was only able to complete three of his 11 attempted crosses from open play or set pieces, despite swinging in a dangerous early corner. This is shown in the image below, from Squawka.
This was partly to do with the slightly more conservative nature of the full-backs, which fit in with the European away tie mentality, but didn’t do so to the ultra-defensive extremes one may see from some managers.
The heat map below, also from Squawka, shows that their attacking contributions were concentrated around the halfway line, so both Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold were always in a position to defend, and if they weren’t they often had cover.
Trent dealt well with Yacine Brahimi in his one-on-one battles with the tricky dribbler during the early stages, and this deterred the winger from dribbling in those areas for the rest of the game.
It was a very mature performance from Liverpool’s 19-year-old right-back.
In comparison to Telles’ 11, the entire Liverpool team only attempted six crosses in the whole game, demonstrating a more measured build up through higher percentage passing.
Finally, Klopp shut up shop with the same formation change which had backfired in the final 15 minutes against Spurs, but here it had the desired effect of resting players while also bolstering the back line.
After the switch to a back three on the 75th minute, when Joel Matip replaced Henderson, Porto only had one further shot—a speculative effort from Sergio Oliveira, and Mane was able to bag his hat-trick with Danny Ings notching up a Champions League assist.
This game showed why this may be the case, but despite the need to not underestimate this win against good European opponents, much sterner tests lie ahead against the continent’s elite.
After racking up five goals between them in Liverpool’s Champions League victory over Porto on Wednesday, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane can boast a combined tally of 63 in all competitions.
By comparison, the City triumvirate of Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane have 59.
Their leading trio of Alexandre Lacazette, Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud, boast just 24 goals between them, putting them eighth, and, having sold the latter two to rivals Manchester United and Chelsea respectively, the Gunners have also lost Lacazette to a knee injury for up to six weeks.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger will hope that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang swiftly moves into their top three after recruiting the prolific striker from Borussia Dortmund last month.
Tottenham sit third thanks mostly to Harry Kane, who has contributed 32 of the 52 goals struck by him, Son Heung-min and Dele Alli, while Manchester United’s trio of Romelu Lukaku, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial have 42.
Press Association Sport has pulled together the statistics, which throw up some surprising talking points:
Neither of the bottom two in the Premier League table feature in the bottom three ranked by top three goalscorers.
West Brom, who are seven points adrift of safety, sit joint 14th in the alternative standings thanks to 16 goals from Jay Rodriguez, Salomon Rondon and Hal Robson-Kanu while Stoke are 17th.
Kane has scored 21 goals more than Spurs’ second leading scorer Son. The next biggest gap is just nine – between Salah and Firmino at Liverpool.
Salah, Firmino and Mane have scored 64 per cent of all Liverpool’s goals this season compared to 53 per cent of City’s for Aguero, Sterling and Sane. Kane has scored 41 per cent of Tottenham’s goals by himself.
So far Jurgen Klopp’s side have not truly missed the Brazil international since his £142million January move to Barcelona.
“We still have a lot of quality players like Salah, Mane and Firmino who created chances,” said Henderson after the 5-0 win in Porto which virtually guarantees them a Champions League quarter-final place.
“We knew we would create chances but it was about the team. It was a team performance.
“I thought we started the game really well, very aggressive, very brave. We pressed up high to get the ball back.
“We defended well the whole game and with the quality we have going forward we were clinical as well.”
“We knew after half-time they would have a go so it was about staying calm and keeping playing football.
“We knew we would create more chances if we could find the space and we managed to do that.
“It was a good performance and a good result but that is it. We need to move on.”
As pleasing as the five goals was the clean sheet, their fourth in seven games in the competition, was equally important as for only the second time since February 2011 Liverpool kept out opponents away from home for the third consecutive match.
The £75million January arrival of Virgil van Dijk has contributed to that as the Dutchman brings an air of confidence and coolness to an often-nervy defence.
“Virgil has been brilliant since he has come in but again, the whole back four was very good,” added Henderson.
“The team defended from the front. It was a good performance and that is all I can say.
“We have to do that more often. I thought the lads, the whole team, were brilliant from start to finish. That should be normal for us.
“You have to keep that going in the Premier League and in this competition. There is another leg at Anfield to finish the job off so there is a lot we need to do to improve.”
Steven Scragg thinks anything is possible for Liverpool in the Champions League, and a resurgent Mane will be key to how far we go.
On an evening beyond our wildest expectations, Sadio Mane finally received a well-deserved rebate on a season which has been a personally frustrating one.
That was a performance of substance. That was a performance which answered some of the questions that the group stages left hanging in the air.
That was a performance which, to all intents and purposes, puts us back into a Champions League quarter final for the first time in nine years, and potentially on the brink of a return to the A-listers enclosure.
That was a performance which will have turned heads and a few stomachs.Mane’s Scoring
This type of night was always going to happen eventually for Mane.
As the fabled line goes, ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’.
Again, Mane worked hard for the cause, but this time he hit the jackpot.
Every player wants to be the hero, whether that’s a goalkeeper with a vital save, or a defender with a crucial block, or a midfielder with a defence-splitting pass, or a forward scoring the goals.
Nobody grows up wanting to be the selfless soul, constantly paving the way for others to claim the glory. Yes, football is a team sport and players subscribe to that, but the smile is always that bit bigger when you are the one who has the final say.
We’ve not seen Mane smile in the way he did at Porto for quite some time. When Firmino made it 4-0, producing that now very familiar flying, spinning kick celebration of a goal scored, in the background Mane followed suit.
This in itself felt like mojo being reborn.
While he hasn’t exactly been out of form, the prospect of a resurgent Mane, a Mane back to his belligerent best, is an exciting one. Should Mane’s performance against Porto set the tone for the rest of his season, then this could be a very special run-in indeed.
There was a degree of luck involved in his first goal, which also bodes well. When you are working hard at something, and the rewards are stubbornly refusing to fall your way, it often needs a slice of good fortune to get out of that perceived rut.
In this respect, Mane’s first goal of the night was perfect.
Rather than accepting one slice of luck and then returning to the role of the hardworking support act, Mane seemed to be unlocked from the confines of a support remit he has carried for too long this season.
The quality and confidence required for his second and third goals hinted at a lifting of a peculiar cloud which has been following him.
Mane’s recent predicament has been a complex and head-scratching one. Not quite himself, but not out of form.
This, however, was the carefree Mane who burst onto the scene for Liverpool at the Emirates on the opening day of the 2016/17 season.30 Goals and Counting
Salah is heading toward a 40-goal debut season. The man is a complete phenomenon.
If he wasn’t to score another goal between now and the end of the season it wouldn’t detract one fibre of greatness from his achievements in his first season at Anfield.
The likelihood that Salah won’t add to the 30 goals he has plundered so far is pretty low though, thankfully.
Salah leaves you wanting more, and more. His goal in this one was scored by his inner child.
As impressive as the numbers are, it is the manner of the goals Salah scores which warms the soul.
Against Porto, Salah mopped up the spillage of James Milner’s piece of brilliance in striking the post.
It was all done with that trademark impudence. Loop the ball over the unwitting goalkeeper, and then guide it back in the opposite direction, between both the bewildered shot-stopper and the rabbit-in-the-headlights defender.
It was a goal you’d score on the school playground, with a tennis ball in lieu of a football, resulting in everyone bursting out laughing at the absurdity of the event—the wronged goalkeeper never allowed to live the experience down afterwards.
Do kids still play football with tennis balls? If not, they should.More Than One Inner Child
There is something irresistible about the player who lets his football flow from the inner child. We adored Luis Suarez for it, and Coutinho showed flashes of it, without looking like he fully embraced the concept.
Coutinho would produce a piece of skill from the inner child, but then remain poker-faced about it.
Mane, at his best, plays from the inner child, and when he’s on the crest of a wave the inner child is there for all to see.
Even more than with Salah and Mane, Firmino is the epitome of this concept.
Scorer of the fourth goal, Firmino embraces every Liverpool goal like he scored it himself. There is no bigger inner child at the club than Firmino. He is simply glorious.
For a long time, Firmino had conspired to be Liverpool’s best-kept secret. This Is Anfield‘s Sachin Nakrani once compared him to that cool indie band that a few of us were waiting for everyone else to catch on to.
We are blessed that have these players at the same point in time. We no longer need to look to one superhero.
Imagine: Next season, Naby Keita will be a part of this heady concoction.Everyone Was Great in This One
On a night when you win 5-0 away from home in the first leg of a classic European tie, nobody is going to be castigated.
Nobody needed castigating anyway.
It really was a performance which will leave other clubs shifting uncomfortably in their seats at the prospect of facing us.
Calm goalkeeping from Loris Karius, assured defending from Virgil van Dijk and Dejan Lovren, fine usefulness from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, midfield dominance from Milner, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum.There’s More to Come
Our Champions League campaign will stretch into April. We will get to see Anfield at its most resplendent.
A European evening against stellar opponents, hopefully Barcelona, which kicks off in the daylight and ends under the lights, with our beaten Catalan friends being sent home to think about what they’ve done.
Liverpool FC was born for this type of thing.
The wide forward netted the first, third and fifth goals on the night as the Reds ran riot in Portugal, taking a first-leg 5-0 victory back to Anfield.
Mane might have had a bit of fortune for the first, but his confidence and effectiveness on the ball soared thereafter and he was a constant threat for the Reds.
An outlet on the counter, hard-working defensively and ruthless with his finishing, Mane ended up with the match ball and the man of the match award.
Now the accolades could stack up further for his performance, with UEFA naming him as one of four candidates for their player of the week.
With Premier League sides putting up big performances all around there are plenty of familiar faces for Mane to try and see off.
Liverpool fans can choose for their preferred winner in the online poll by voting here.