LIVERPOOL relied on its five goals from the first leg to oust Porto in the last 16 of the Champions League as the teams played out a dull 0-0 draw in the return match on Tuesday.
Protecting a 5-0 lead, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp had the luxury of resting the joint-top scorer in the Premier League – Mo Salah – and world’s most expensive defender – Virgil van Dijk – for the second leg at Anfield.
The English team didn’t need to exert itself to secure a place in the quarterfinals of European soccer’s top competition for the first time since 2009, though came close to another victory with Sadio Mane striking a first-half shot against the post.
For a club with Liverpool’s European prestige and history, nine years out of the Champions League’s last eight is some wait. The five-time European champions return as the competition’s top scorers this season with 28 goals and will be feared by the other qualifiers ahead of the March 16 draw for the quarterfinals. Also in the draw will be Real Madrid, which beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 away to clinch a 5-2 aggregate win in the marquee matchup in the round of 16. Cristiano Ronaldo was one of the scorers for Madrid, the Portugal forward netting for the ninth straight game in the Champions League.
A year ago this week, Barcelona became the first team to overturn a 4-0 first- leg deficit in the Champions League knockout stage when beating PSG 6-1. Porto, the Portuguese league leader, had to go one better but Klopp’s decision to field a strong team rendered that unlikely scenario even more inconceivable.
Those fringe players that did come in for Liverpool – Adam Lallana and Alberto Moreno being two of them – had the carrot of staking a claim for a place in the team for Saturday’s big Premier League match against Manchester United. And it was the hosts who had the better of the chances, with Mane hooking a volley over the bar and then striking a low shot against the post in a subdued first half.
Roberto Firmino ran clear but ended up having a shot blocked on the hour, before immediately being taken off by Klopp as Liverpool’s main striker was protected ahead of the United game.
Porto pressed late on but to no avail, as it failed to collect a first away win over an English opponent in the Champions League at the 13th attempt.