Sadio Mane plundered a hat-trick as Liverpool produced a five-star performance to thrash Porto and virtually seal their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Mane opened the scoring on 25 minutes before adding two more in the second half which, coupled with goals from Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, made it a hideously one-sided affair at the Estádio do Dragão.
Porto offered precious little resistance during the 90 minutes and were completely outclassed by a Liverpool side bursting with confidence.
The return leg at Anfield in three weeks’ time will be nothing more than a formality to confirm the Reds’ place in the last eight.
Here are three talking points, as Jurgen Klopp’s men sounded a warning to the European elite…
Mane emerges from the shadows of Salah and Firmino
Liverpool’s ‘Fab Four’ has been a member short since Philippe Coutinho’s big-money switch to Barcelona in January.
But there has been no sign that the Reds’ form is suffering as a result. If anything, they look stronger by the game.
By his own high standards, Mane has had a relatively quiet campaign thus far and been overshadowed somewhat by the exploits of Salah and Firmino, both of whom were also on the scoresheet against Porto.
But the Senegalese forward returned to his dazzling best on the European stage to help Liverpool take total control of this last 16 tie.
Although he had a helping hand from the Porto keeper for his first goal, which really should have been stopped, Mane took his next two with great precision to round off a sensational evening for the visitors.
Klopp will be delighted that the former Southampton man proved to be so influential in arguably their most important game of the season.
Free-scoring Liverpool will take some stopping
It is not just Liverpool’s performances in the Champions League that have drawn widespread praise, but the amount of goals they have scored in the process.
No club have netted more than the Reds, with the five they bagged in their first knockout fixture since 2009 leapfrogging them above French giants Paris Saint-Germain.
It is now 28 goals in total for Klopp’s free-scoring charges, whose attacking weaponry proved too hot to handle for their Portuguese opponents.
As they showed against Sevilla in the group stage, Liverpool’s defensive frailties can sometimes undermine them.
And when, as expected, they line-up in the quarter-finals, they are likely to face a side with much more to offer in attack than Porto did.
However, new signing Virgil van Dijk, who made his Champions League debut for the Reds, should bring stability and leadership to the back line.
On this evidence, they look like viable contenders for the main prize.
Klopp’s reign is delivering the goods
When Klopp joined Liverpool in the autumn of 2015, many Liverpool supporters believed he would bring them immediate success.
The gregarious German is still yet to win silverware at Anfield, but there is no denying the club are taking significant strides forward under his management this season.
Some of the money they received from Barcelona for Coutinho has already been reinvested into the squad and more high-profile arrivals are likely to follow in future transfer windows.
Liverpool remain prone to suffering off-days against lesser opposition, perhaps more so than any of their main domestic rivals, but they possess the armoury to blow away teams of the highest quality.
Even Manchester City, the runaway Premier League leaders, recently succumbed to the Reds’ attacking might.
As always, the proof will come at the end of the season.
But under Klopp, Liverpool are playing an attractive brand of football that is illuminating Europe.
Gareth Bale’s red-hot Real Madrid form should scare Liverpool
The Welshman has scored 11 goals in his last 15 appearances.
In Real Madrid’s final league match of this season on Saturday, Gareth Bale swept home a lovely right-footed finish to open the scoring against Villarreal.
That goal marked the Welshman’s 11th goal in his last 15 appearances for club and country; a remarkably prolific run of form that should scare Liverpool ahead of next weekend’s Champions League final.
Injury problems have marred much of Bale’s time at the Bernabeu, and he suffered a lengthy two-month absence from the first team this fall.
Yet, after returning from his injury lay-off, the former world-record signing has hit full form in the last two months.
In that time period, the winger has scored a hat-trick for Wales, braces against Las Palmas and Celta Vigo, and a crucial goal versus Barcelona.
This spring resurgence presents a worrying prospect for Liverpool’s defence, who already will have their hands full trying to keep Cristiano Ronaldo in check in Kiev.
Add in Gareth Bale hitting full form, and suddenly the task at hand for Jurgen Klopp’s men appears far more difficult.
The 28-year-old also has quite the decorated history for los Blancos in cup finals. In his debut season for Real, Bale scored sensational winning goals in both the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals.
The following season in the European Cup final, the Welshman assisted Real Madrid’s sole goal and scored his penalty in the ensuing shoot-out; his cup final record is simply superb.
Combined with Bale’s recent tremendous goalscoring form, the prospect of facing up against the powerful winger might strike fear in the Liverpool backline.
But the Reds have proven adept in stifling some of the best attacks in Europe this season.
Liverpool famously restricted high-scoring Manchester City to just one goal over 180 minutes in the quarterfinals and the Reds will have to conjure up that heroic rearguard performance in order to stop the on-form Gareth Bale next weekend.
Liverpool should pursue a swap deal with Emre Can for Sami Khedira
The Juventus midfielder could be tempted to the Premier League this summer.
The German international is coming to the end of his third season with the Serie A outfit after joining from Real Madrid on a free transfer in 2015, with just a year left on his contract.
With the Serie A outfit’s midfield options already at full strength and the likely addition of Can, this summer could lead to a few clear-outs in the middle of the park for Juventus.
This should prompt Jurgen Klopp to pursue his fellow countryman Khedira, who is said to be interested in a move to the Premier League.
Reports from The Sun suggest Liverpool have been ‘alerted’ to Khedira’s availability this summer during negotiations with Juventus over Can.
The 24-year-old midfielder’s deal expires at the end of the season and Liverpool face the serious prospect of losing him on a free.
A move for Khedira would make perfect sense for Jurgen Klopp’s side, who are needing to strengthen a midfield that has endured so many injuries throughout the current campaign.
With the addition of Naby Keita, Khedira could prove to be the established central defensive midfielder who allows the Reds midfield three to tick, similar to the role Sergio Busquets plays at Barcelona.
The World Cup-winning midfielder spoke of his fondness for the Premier League in an interview with Bild, saying: “The Premier League has always fascinated me. Winning the title there would complete my collection.”
Liverpool have been breathtaking in Europe this season and Khedira’s experience of winning four-domestic titles in his career could be the addition the Reds need to compete with the dominance of Pep Guardiola and Manchester City.
The German international, who has nine goals and seven assists this season, has one year remaining on his Juventus contract and may be allowed to leave to join the Reds if he desires, with Can likely to join as his ready-made replacement.
Massimiliano Allegri has always possessed a knack for quickly replacing players who have decided they want to leave Juventus, with Fernando Llorente, Carlos Teves, and Paul Pogba all leaving the Italian side in recent years.
Therefore, the likely arrival of Can could be a link to Khedira’s desires to pursue new challenges elsewhere. If so, Liverpool would be the perfect destination for the Juventus midfielder.
The Reds’ high-pressing, all-out, attacking style of play could appeal to the former Real Madrid star, who would undoubtedly be excited by the prospect of joining up with compatriot, Jurgen Klopp, on Merseyside.
Ranking Liverpool’s possible Champions League semi-final opponents
The draw for the semi-final stage takes place on Friday 13th April.
The draw to determine who they will play in the last four occurs on Friday, and here are Liverpool’s possible opponents ranked in terms of difficulty.
Fresh off a superb 3-0 second leg win over Barcelona, the Serie A side are certainly high on confidence and feel as if they can beat any team in the world.
Nonetheless, the Reds will be hoping they are rewarded with a matchup against the Italian side, as they are the most inexperienced team left in the competition.
The farthest Roma have ever made it in the UEFA Champions League were back-to-back quarterfinal appearances in 2006/07 and 2007/08; the semifinals mark uncharted territory for the Italians in the modern era.
Roma are also in poor league form, having recently lost to Fiorentina and drawing with Bologna, and currently sit 21 points off the pace in Serie A.
Liverpool would love to play the only remaining Italian side in the semifinals, as it would pit them against an inexperienced European club.
2. Bayern Munich
One of the world’s best clubs and boasting a superstar collection of top players, the Bundesliga champions are a team to fear.
They have cantered to their sixth-straight league title this spring, winning the title in customary fashion with over a month still to play.
But although it has been all smooth sailing at home, they have shown signs of imperfection in the Champions League. They failed to muster a goal in their second-leg 0-0 draw with Sevilla, and were also thrashed 3-0 by Paris Saint Germain in the group stage.
Although the Bavarian giants are still a force to be reckoned with, they have shown signs of cracking this year; a fact that Liverpool can take heart from.
3. Real Madrid
The back-to-back defending European champions would be the last club Liverpool want to face for a spot in the final.
Real Madrid possess the most dangerous player in Champions League history in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo, gifting Los Blancos the ability to win a match out of nowhere.
Ronaldo’s uncanny scoring skills were on display in the quarterfinal battle against Juventus, where he scored three goals, including an outrageous overhead kick and a stoppage-time penalty to send Real through.
Madrid simply don’t get knocked out in Europe; the Reds should be praying they avoid the Spanish side in the semifinal draw.
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