Say what you want about Jurgen Klopp but he doesn’t do convention. What other manager would have risked his team’s crown jewel in the last throes of a game of no consequence?
Porto at Anfield was never going to be Liverpool biggest collision in March. No. That label had long belonged to Manchester United at Old Trafford; March 10 and the shootout, most likely, to determine which Reds at either ends of the M62 will finish best of the rest.
Here was a chance, then, for Klopp to give Mohamed Salah the night off and a chance to rest his legs; get him cherry ripe to run at Manchester United’s defence, never mind running at a Porto team that was resigned to elimination from the Champions League.
Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius gets off his line and down low to claim the ball from the feet of Porto’s Majeed Waris
Sadio Mane strikes a crisp effort with his right foot against the base of the post as Liverpool go in search of a goal
Mohamed Salah aims a shot at goal after coming on but Porto goalkeeper Iker Casillas got down to his left to save well
Egyptian forward Salah reacts after being denied by Porto goalkeeper Iker Casillas in front of the Kop end at Anfield
Porto forward Oliver Torres came close to nicking victory in the second-leg for Porto but Dejan Lovren was able to block
Danny Ings looks dejected after being denied his first goal in over two years by a quick reaction save from Iker Casillas
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS AND MATCH ZONE
Liverpool (4-3-3): Karius 7; Gomez 6.5, Matip 6, Lovren 6.5, Moreno 6; Can 6.5 (Klavan 80), Henderson 6, Milner 6.5; Lallana 7, Firmino 6 (Ings 62, 6), Mane 6 (Salah 74, 6.5)
Subs not used: Mignolet, van Dijk, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexander-Arnold
Manager: Jurgen Klopp 6
Porto (4-2-4): Casillas 7; Pereira 6, Felipe 7.5, Reyes 7, Dalot 6; Torres 6.5, Andre 6 (Oliveira 62, 6); Costa 6.5, Aboubakar 6 (Paciencia 80), Waris 6.5, Corona 6 (Ricardo 68, 6)
Subs not used: Jose Sa, Brahimi, Otavio, Mata
Booked: Andre, Dalot
Manager: Sergio Conceicao 6
Referee: Felix Zwayer 6
Man of the Match: Felipe
All seemed to be going to plan. Salah was the on bench and for 74 minutes, he had been a spectator. But, suddenly, Klopp turned to his right and invited his No 11 into the action. It was a decision gleefully received by the crowd – and it was a decision Klopp always intended to make.
‘Everybody thinks about the possibility of injuries and that can happen,’ Klopp said. ‘It was clear that we’d give him the last 20 minutes. I told him if he runs a lot then he doesn’t have to train tomorrow! I thought he was quite lively.’
He was also enlivening. In a game of little excitement, his cameo created excitement. His first touch, cushioning a high ball, was exquisite; another cross, shortly after, created a glorious opening that fellow substitute Danny Ings couldn’t convert. Even in short bursts, Salah is a delight.
This, however, is likely to be his last cameo of the season. Salah will be at the tip of Liverpool’s attacking trident from now on, at Old Trafford on Saturday and when his club play in the quarter-finals of this competition for the first time since 2009.
‘I cannot feel what people feel when they wait so long but it feels good, I know that,’ said Klopp. ‘Last eight is cool. It was time we showed up again.
‘Good development at Liverpool. If you don’t show up in the Champions League then nobody will realise (you are missing). We made that step.’
Liverpool left-back Alberto Moreno challenges for a header alongside Porto winger Jesus Corona in the early stages
Porto striker Vincent Aboubakar, who missed the first leg last month, beats Joe Gomez and Joel Matip to the ball in the air
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson applies pressure on Porto forward Bruno Costa in a quiet opening on Tuesday night
Adam Lallana takes the ball past Andre Andre on his first start for Liverpool since January’s FA Cup win over Everton
Liverpool’s Spanish left-back Alberto Moreno challenges for the loose ball alongside Porto’s Maximiliano Pereira
Porto striker Vincent Aboubakar came closest for the visitors but failed to get a proper connection on a swivel shot
During that campaign nine years ago, Liverpool obliterated Real Madrid 4-0 at Anfield. Iker Casillas was in goal that evening and many would have expected, given Klopp’s side scored five in Oporto, that the Spain legend would be on the end of a similar score.
Casillas will leave Porto when his contract expires in the summer and, given that he will be 37 in May, it remains to be seen whether another elite club will offer an opportunity. If this was to be the end, then, after 171 appearances he wanted one final clean sheet.
He wasn’t too hard pressed to register it. Liverpool lacked the frenzy you expect from Anfield on one of these evening and there was you could tell that by looking at Klopp; he never waved his arms like windmills, never deployed his piercing dog whistle to get his team back into position.
Belated, Liverpool began to find some rhythm and purpose. The first proper sight of goal arrived in the 17th minute, when Joe Gomez scampered down the right and his cross, while too high for Roberto Firmino, was met by Sadio Mane but his acrobatic effort whizzed over the bar.
You anticipated that Liverpool would step up a gear and begin to hem Porto in but the anticipation was misplaced. Liverpool would only threaten twice more before the interval, Mane striking the base of the post with a thumping drive and Dejan Lovren heading over from six yards.
Sadio Mane comes close to giving Liverpool the lead but his improvised effort from Joe Gomez’s cross goes just over the bar
Liverpool centre-back Dejan Lovren aims a header towards goal but it lands on the roof of Iker Casillas’ net
Liverpool star Roberto Firmino was sent through on goal in the second-half but his effort was well blocked by Porto’s Felipe
Danny Ings came on for his second European appearance of the season in place of Roberto Firmino in the second-half
With Liverpool five goals up from the first-leg, top goalscorer Mohamed Salah started on the bench on Tuesday evening
Come half-time, the thoughts of many within the stadium had begun to drift to Old Trafford on Saturday with the main question being: how long would Firmino and Mane be allowed to continue when there was a chance to give them rest?
Klopp, though, was in no hurry to give them a breather despite the match ambling towards its inevitable conclusion. Firmino, too, was in no hurry to come off, given he is one goal away from equalling the club record for most goals (nine) scored by one player in a European campaign.
There was one chance to draw alongside Dean Saunders, whose haul came in the 1991-92 UEFA Cup, but Firmino’s attempt was blocked in the 59th minute by the outstretched leg of Porto captain Felipe after Jordan Henderson ushered him forward. His night ended not long after.
This particular adventure, however, shows no sign of stopping and Liverpool remain dark horses to win it. Klopp had the look of man who knew it.
‘We have a chance to go through to semis,’ said Klopp. But take it step by step, its cool. We had this year first time the opportunity. Now we are in, so I think we are in time.’
Mohamed Salah was afforded a run out for the final 20 minutes by Jurgen Klopp in place of team-mate Sadio Mane
Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson clears the ball upfield after Torres had come close to breaking the deadlock late on
A minute’s silence was held before kick-off to mark the sudden death of Fiorentina captain Davide Astori on Sunday
Jurgen Klopp embraces Porto boss Sergio Conceicao on the touchline before kick-off at Anfield on Tuesday night