Jurgen Klopp is closing in on an historic season for Liverpool, as
Talk before last night’s action was all about whether or not the Catalan coach could mastermind an unprecedented quadruple — the Quadriola as some have called it — but now it is time to discuss the possibility of Liverpool doing the domestic and European double for the first time in 35 years.
Despite some criticism suggesting he has spent vast amounts of money for little reward, it would be unfair to label Klopp a choker. He won the Bundesliga twice in a row with Borussia Dortmund against Bayern Munich at their best and they do not look like dropping any more points in the title race this season.
But even if they do beat Cardiff, Huddersfield, Newcastle United, and Wolves, as expected, they will still need City to falter in one of their five remaining matches and Tottenham’s Champions League efforts have shown Pep’s men looking understandably a little leggy in recent weeks.
Indeed, City have lost four times in the league this season and Liverpool only once; it is just their heavier reliance on draws that could, ultimately, hold them off top spot.
And this brilliantly handled victory over Porto was a carbon copy of how Klopp is managing his players from match to match at this crucial stage of the season.
They were not outstanding and Porto had already had 13 shots to Liverpool’s big fat zero, but it’s goals that win matches and Klopp’s men know where the back of the net is. Despite a shaky away record in the group stages of this tournament, they had failed to score in only six out of 45 matches this season, so always a good bet to nick a goal.
And Sadio Mane did just that, after a nailbiting VAR delay ruled him onside and so many of their 16 matches unbeaten before last night were also achieved against the odds. This enduring ability to grind out wins is the mark of champions in all sports.
For a crowd already whipped into a frenzy by a cheer-leading stadium announcer, Porto’s all-out attacking start was almost enough to make some faint with excitement as their heroes attempted to overturn a two-goal first leg deficit.
Maybe, by resting in-form captain Jordan Henderson and forward Roberto Firmino, Klopp had given out signals he thought Porto were already beaten. Otherwise, why select Divock Origi for his first ever Champions League start in a quarter-final second leg staged in a hostile stadium known as the Dragon’s Den?
Firmino came on at half-time, as Origi appeared to pick up a slight knock, but that only enhanced Liverpool’s chances and, with Mo Salah now back to his best, his 65th-minute goal came as no surprise.
A deserved headed goal from a corner for Eder Militao left Porto still needing four more in the final 22 minutes — no chance against this measured Liverpool side, who have come a long way from the one that blew the title when Steven Gerrard slipped to gift Chelsea a killer goal in 2014.
And when Firmino headed in Liverpool’s third with a clinical 78th-minute finish, it was a reminder of their potent attacking force with their much vaunted attacking trio finding the back of the net once again in the same match.
Virgil van Dijk’s late fourth just emphasised their overall superiority against a side that hardly ever concedes, let alone loses at home.
It is all still far too close to call, of course, and the season could amount to a glorious failure for this outstanding Liverpool outfit.
Favourites Barcelona await in the semi-final and Guardiola’s City have the destiny of the league title in their hands, having played one game fewer, but Barcelona will not be overly confident and City host Spurs again this Saturday battered and bruised from their remarkable quarter-final tie last night. Liverpool, meanwhile, have a day’s extra rest before going to relegation-haunted Cardiff on Sunday.
It is hard to watch matches such as this in Portugal, when Liverpool looked so confident in difficult surroundings, not to feel they are too good a side not to lift some silverware this season.