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.
Tottenham Hotspur 1-2 Juventus: Three talking points from Wembley
Tottenham bowed out of Europe against an experienced Juventus side.
Tottenham Hotspur crashed out of the Champions League after Juventus produced an inspired fightback to progress to the quarter-finals. The in-form Son Heung-min had put Spurs 3-2 ahead on aggregate shortly before the interval, but two goals in three second-half minutes changed the complexion of the tie.
First, Gonzalo Higuain stabbed home the equaliser before Paulo Dybala completed the comeback with a delicate finish. Harry Kane hit the post in the dying moments, but Spurs’ exit at the hands of last season’s runners-up was confirmed as they failed to score a second goal. Here are three talking points from Wembley Stadium..
Max Allegri outfoxes his Tottenham counterpart
So poor were Juventus in the first half that they were fortunate to be only one goal behind on the night and still in the tie. There was no indication of what was to come, as Max Allegri’s side transformed the match in the second period. At the final whistle, the Juve boss headed straight down the tunnel instead of venturing on to the pitch to celebrate with his players. But it was his tactical switch that paved the way for their victory.
With an hour on the clock, on came Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner, who injected much-needed pace and guile. The visitors changed formation and suddenly they were getting in between the lines, with Dybala becoming much more effective. Within minutes, Juve were 2-1 ahead and in their element. Once in front, they managed the game brilliantly and didn’t look like conceding. Mauricio Pochettino, who could only stand and watch it all unfold, had been outwitted by the master.
Future looks bright despite heartbreaking exit
Disappointment may be the overriding emotion for all involved at Tottenham right now, but once the dust has settled they should look back at their Champions League adventure with pride. For this was the season they arrived as a major force on the European stage. Victories over Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in a group they topped were huge fillips and evidence of their continued progress under Pochettino.
Spurs were unlucky to be drawn against a club of Juventus’ pedigree in the last 16 and it was the Italians’ knowhow that paid dividends in the heat of the battle. The hosts looked a little naive, but the experience will benefit them in the future. Tottenham are odds-on to finish in the top four and thereby qualify for the Champions League again next season. Should Pochettino be given the funds to invest in his squad this summer, the club’s fans can look forward to more nights under the spotlight.
In-form Son strikes again for Spurs
The South Korean, who was given the nod ahead of Erik Lamela in the starting line-up, vindicated his selection with the opening goal at Wembley. Son had already gone close to breaking the deadlock and was causing Andrea Barzagli all sorts of problems with his marauding runs. There was more than a touch of fortune about the goal, which rebounded off his left leg and wrong-footed veteran keeper Gianluigi Buffon, but it was no less than the Spurs forward deserved.
Son came close to levelling the tie in the latter stages but, ultimately, it was to be neither his nor Tottenham’s night. With 16 goals in all competitions this season, the 25-year-old is making a big impression. He was the home side’s most potent attacking force, upstaging both Kane and Dele Alli at Wembley. Son has finally established himself in the starting XI and Spurs fans will hope he can continue to ease the goalscoring burden on Kane.
Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge
Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Chelsea held La Liga leaders Barcelona to a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Lionel Messi finally broke his goalscoring duck against Chelsea to give Barcelona the edge after the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
Messi had failed to score in eight previous attempts against the Blues, but he was not to be denied on this occasion as he cancelled out Willian’s 62nd-minute opener.
A Chelsea clean sheet would have been a massive boost ahead of a daunting trip to the Camp Nou next month.
However, Messi’s equaliser 15 minutes from time means Antonio Conte’s men face an uphill battle to qualify for the quarter-finals of Europe’s showpiece competition.
Here are three talking points from Stamford Bridge…
Conte’s tactical approach so nearly pays dividends
But for the fatal error that led to Messi’s leveller, Chelsea would be heading to Catalonia in three weeks’ time with a one-goal lead to protect.
That they came so close to victory is testament to Conte’s tactical nous, which stifled Barcelona while also allowing the home side to flourish.
As expected, the visitors dominated the ball throughout the encounter. However, they created precious few opportunities as Chelsea’s back line held firm.
Conte had resisted the temptation to start with an out-and-out striker, with Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud both named on the bench.
The fluid movement of Pedro, Eden Hazard and Willian caused more problems than Barcelona have been used to this season and the Blues’ second-half goal was a deserved one.
Heading into the second leg, Conte will need to devise another masterplan if Chelsea are to proceed to the last eight.
Third time lucky for impressive Willian
The tricky Brazilian has by no means been a regular for Chelsea this season.
But he was given the nod against Barcelona in a three-man attack that featured Hazard as a false number nine.
It’s a system Conte has favoured recently, but although it failed to get the best out of Hazard, the same could not be said about Willian.
He was Chelsea’s chief threat and, on another night, could have walked off with the match ball.
Willian twice hit the post in the first-half, showing great skill on each occasion to create space and leave Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen with no chance.
Despite his misfortune, Willian was unbowed and he broke the deadlock with a pinpoint finish that raised the roof at Stamford Bridge.
It was a fitting reward for a top-class performance that highlighted his natural ability.
Surely he can’t be far away from cementing a regular spot in Conte’s starting XI?
Messi ends Chelsea goal drought to have decisive say
It is not often that British football fans get to see the little magician at such close quarters, so each time he arrives on these shores it is to be cherished.
Chelsea had a game-plan to nullify his influence and in the first half this worked superbly.
Although there were the usual sublime touches that we have come to expect, Messi was largely shackled by a solid rearguard display from Chelsea’s three-man central defence.
However, it only takes a side to switch off for a moment for the Argentinian to flex his muscles.
A misplaced pass from Andreas Christensen was intercepted by Andres Iniesta, whose pull back enabled Messi to slide the ball past Thibaut Courtois.
Once the ball had arrived to him in the box, there was no doubting where it would nestle.
Messi’s exuberant celebrations underlined the importance of his equaliser in the context of the tie.
It could be the decisive moment.
Juventus 2-2 Tottenham: Mousa Dembele back to his very best in Juventus draw
Tottenham earned an excellent result in the Champions League as they fought back from 2-0 down to earn a credible draw against Juventus. The Serie A team have a lot more experience in this competition, but they found wanting for game management on Tuesday, as they let a dominant position slip after an impressive opening 10 minutes.
They quickly went up by two goals after a Gonzalo Higuain brace, but the Argentine will feel disappointed at the end of the game as he could have reinstated the lead before half-time. However, his second penalty smashed against the bar. After the break, Spurs were very good and were deserving of their equaliser. Here are three talking points from the Allianz Stadium:
Tottenham have fight to go with their quality
If the team spirit of this Tottenham team was ever in doubt, it isn’t any longer as they showed great belief to fight back from 2-0 down against one of the biggest clubs in Europe. They couldn’t have had a worse start as lazy defending allowed Gonzalo Higuain to score an excellent goal. There was a hint of offside, but the visitors were switched off and not aware of the danger.
Another goal quickly followed and at that stage, it looked like it could be a thrashing. However, the players rallied and started to get back in the game by doing the simple things well. In previous seasons, their North London rivals Arsenal have been embarrassed at this stage of the competition and it looked like a similar fate was waiting for Tottenham, but they didn’t fall into the same state of paralysis.
Mousa Dembele was key to the turnaround, as he was distributing the ball well from the centre of the park. His ability to carry it forward five or ten yards was crucial in putting Juventus on the back foot. Christian Eriksen was displaying the creativity that he shows regularly in the Premier League and Harry Kane recovered from a poor miss to get on the score-sheet. Outside of the opening ten minutes, Tottenham were the better team and they have a great chance of progressing to the next round after this result.
Gonzalo Higuain’s career was summed up in 45 minutes
The Argentine international has been on the verge of being a world class player for a number of years, but he regularly fails to make it count on the big stage. It was shaping up to be his night early on as he scored a brace in the opening ten minutes. He looked in the mood and showed a clinical edge in front of goal that threatened to put the tie to bed.
However, as always with Higuain, he missed a crucial chance at an important moment of the game. Seconds before half-time, Douglas Costa did very well to win a penalty for his team with a superb run into the Tottenham box. After scoring from the spot earlier in the match, the former Napoli striker stepped up and smashed an effort against the bar.
It was a confident effort from the forward, as he put his foot through the ball, but the accuracy wasn’t there. If he scored the penalty, it likely put the match beyond Tottenham as they would have went in to half-time with low spirits. As it worked out, they went in with momentum and they used that to great effect in the second half. Higuain has had a habit of letting his team down when it matters most and that was true again on Tuesday night.
Mousa Dembele is back to his best
The central midfielder earned rave reviews at the weekend as he dominated the middle of the park in the North London derby. It was an excellent performance and Tottenham needed a similar display if they were to gain a positive result in Italy. Juventus are renowned for being well-organised and difficult to break down. If the visitors were to get anything from the game, they needed to compete in the central areas and Dembele was key to that objective.
The 30-year-old is able to deliver in both halves of the pitch and he did on Tuesday. He made five ball recoveries and was regularly seen breaking up the play high up the pitch. The midfielder’s best attribute is his power when running with the ball and that was on display at the Allianz Stadium. He completed six dribbles and was near impossible to dispossess when he was advancing up the pitch.
In addition to his ball-carrying, Dembele was effective in distributing the ball, as evidenced by his pass success rate of 95%. He made two key passes and showed a creativity that was perhaps lacking at the weekend. The Belgian international isn’t the perfect midfielder, but he is a well-rounded one and is crucial for Tottenham when he is in this vein of form. They will need him to deliver a similar performance in three weeks’ time at Wembley.
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