Liverpool put on a show against Porto last night, as they hammered the Portuguese league leaders 5-0. A Sadio Mane hat-trick, along with goals from Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah (of course) has put them completely out of sight ahead of the second leg at Anfield in three weeks’ time.
Liverpool were ahead after 25 minutes, as Mane scored his first. He took a shot from outside the box, which the Porto ‘keeper made a complete mess of and let the ball go underneath him and into the goal. Just four minutes later, the Reds were two ahead. James Milner had a strike from outside the box, but the ball hit the post and fell to Mo Salah a few yards out. You’d think he’d take a swipe at the rebound and do whatever he can to aim it back towards goal. Not Mo Salah. The Egyptian expertly took a touch which brought him inside the six-yard box. The Porto ‘keeper came out to try take the ball off him, but Salah calmly flicked it over his head, took a touch on his own head and knocked the ball in. It was absolutely brilliant stuff from the winger, and it was a goal you’d be impressed by if Lionel Messi scored it. The man is a genius, and he’s so good to watch. Liverpool had a two-goal lead at half-time, and would have been really happy with their first 45 minutes of work.
They didn’t stop there though, and they were ruthless as they tried to put the tie beyond any doubt. Just seven minutes had passed in the second half when they stopped a Porto attack in their own half. They then broke with pace, and found themselves with a four-on-three attack. Salah played Firmino in well, who saw his shot saved, but the ball fell to Mane at the back post, who had the simplest of jobs and tapped it in. Liverpool were in dream-land at this stage, but they didn’t stop there.
69 minutes in, Mane picked the ball up in the middle of the park. He was fouled by a Porto player, but he had no intention of stopping. He played on, and set Milner free down the left. Milner played a nice ball into Firmino, who finished well into the bottom corner. It’s the celebration that I enjoyed the most about this goal. Firmino ran off, and celebrated with two capoeira-style kicks (I’m not a martial-arts expert, so apologies if it wasn’t capoeira). Mane can be seen behind him trying to copy him with it, but doesn’t get anywhere near the impressive technique (again, not an expert, but it looked impressive to me) Firmino showed. He just barely lifts his leg off the ground as he tries it, and I found it quite funny. I’m not saying I’d be any better, but maybe Bobby can give Sadio a few classes!
It was turning into an embarrassment for Porto. But Liverpool didn’t show any mercy, and went again. Mane saw things open up through the middle for him, and when the defenders decided to back off him, he smashed a shot into the top corner. It was a brilliant goal, and Mane will be delighted with his hat-trick. I think he needed that, and maybe the confidence will return now and he can get back to the heights he reached last season.
Liverpool were finished at 5-0, and have now basically guaranteed their place in the quarter final. It means that Klopp can even rotate for the second leg, and that will be huge for them as they head into the business end of the season.
After the game, Klopp spoke about Mane, and said: “He gave the right answer. I said to him after the last game when we met on the pitch: ‘Finally, you are back.’ Tonight he showed it again.
“He was always important, he was always fantastic for us even in his ‘not that good’ moments. That’s real quality. If you are not 100% but still involved in goals that’s really important. Then it will come, if you keep working really hard like he did.
“The first was a little lucky, but the other two – the second one was about being in the right place and he used his fantastic skills on the third one so it’s good, really good. I’m happy.”
He also spoke about the impressive Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino, and said: “We spoke a lot about Mo in the last few weeks, all completely deserved. Sadio had his comeback tonight and Roberto was there again with outstanding work rate.
“If somebody is the second quickest [to 30 goals] at this big club that makes it more exciting, so congratulations. Hopefully it won’t stop.”
Arsenal are in Sweden to play Ostersunds tonight. It’s a different kind of game for them, and you’d be expecting them to win comfortably against a side that has done well in recent years, but is nowhere near the level on Arsenal. The game presents a couple of challenges for Arsenal though. The quality of the opposition really shouldn’t be one, as the Gunners should be much better than their Swedish opponents. But we all know what Arsenal’s away record is like. They’re so poor when they’re on their travels, and if they think conditions in Stoke are bad, wait until they get out on that pitch tonight. It’s -3 degrees Celsius right now, and it could be as low as -5 by kick off. AccuWeather say the ‘RealFeel’ tonight will be -10. That’s something they definitely won’t be used to, but Arsene Wenger says he doesn’t think it will be a problem because the temperature is similar in London at the moment. It’s 8 degrees Celsius in London at the moment. I’m not really sure whether Wenger knew quite how cold it was when he said that, but there you go. That said, it being a bit cold shouldn’t be enough of a reason for Arsenal not to win this game.
Another thing they will have to deal with is an artificial pitch. It’s a state of the art, 4G artificial surface, so I’m not quite sure how bad that is for Arsenal. There’s a big difference between playing on grass and an artificial pitch though, but Arsenal should adapt to it once they get into the game. One thing I’m surprised at is that Wenger decided to do his last training session in London, instead of going over a bit earlier and training on the pitch last night. I think that would have been a good thing for his side, as they could have adapted to the pitch before the game. The players would then know what to expect from the ball, as it will move and bounce differently than what they’re used to. Now they have to adapt to that during the game, and I’m not convinced he has helped his side by making this decision. We regularly see teams training on their opposition’s pitch the night before a game when playing in Europe, but Arsenal haven’t. Wenger says it would have disturbed his team’s organisation and the way they want to prepare for a game, but surely training on the pitch is part of the preparation. He’ll be hoping he doesn’t live to regret his decision, but he’ll be backing his side’s quality and will expect them to get the win regardless.
Wenger has left a few of his first-team players at home, so we’ll see a bit of rotation from them tonight. Danny Welbeck will likely lead the line, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can’t play because of a ridiculous UEFA ruling, while Alexandre Lacazette will miss 4-6 weeks after having surgery on his knee. Laurent Koscielny has problems with his Achilles, while Jack Wilshere was sick and hasn’t recovered in time. Aaron Ramsey has a groin problem.
Regardless of the conditions, the pitch and the players that haven’t made the trip, Arsenal should be winning this comfortably. They’re clear favourites to win, and should have far too much for Ostersunds. I’ve said that about them before though, and they let themselves down time and time again when they’re playing away from home. If things don’t go right for them, they have the second leg at the Emirates next week to make things right, but anything less than a win tonight will be utterly disappointing for them. They should get the win, but I never have any confidence in them when they’re playing away from home.
That’s all from me for this morning, but you’ll get all of today’s news on Twitter. I’ll be back in the morning as always. Have a good Thursday.