Winger Luis Diaz marked his return to Portugal with the crucial late goal that gave Liverpool a 3-1 lead over Benfica to return to Anfield for the Champions League quarter-finals second leg.
Signed in January, the former Porto star was booed relentlessly, but he responded perfectly in the 87th minute to Ibrahima Konate, whose error was just over a half-hour after scoring his first goal for the club half an hour after his first goal for the club gave the hosts a goal that hardly deserved to be spared the blush.
Jurgen Klopp’s side were idle at half-time at the Estadio da Luz after Sadio Mane’s goal doubled the advantage they had from their centre-back’s header, but after Konate missed numerous chances, Konate’s legs became tangled when he tried to clear up the second half early and Darwin Nunez capitalized.
It was a goal that changed the game significantly for a long time as Benfica suddenly saw the better side with Liverpool completely out of form, but Diaz had the final say to make the return look a little more comfortable than she had .
Klopp told BT Sport after the game that his side had endured a “tough game”.
“Coming here in an away game in the Champions League is tough and Benfica were obviously fighting for their lives.
“Yes, we gave them a bit, we opened the door a bit too much, but they deserved the goal too, maybe we could have defended better.
“They had these counterattacks, they went deep on the midfield pressing, won the balls, but it’s not easy to keep the ball all the time. The further you go the more risk you take and if you pass the ball through you lose it. There they come in front of you and from there they have really good players.
“It was a tough game which I expected, especially when they scored the crowd was there straight away and you know 2-0 is nothing, it’s nice but not more and they scored.
“It was obviously a lot more open than we wanted but in the end we should have scored in the first half, we could have scored a second, the keeper was the best player, he made some really good saves.
“We won. Two goals clear at half-time, no more, no less, so let’s keep going.”
With the win, Liverpool, who had lost on their last three visits here, equaled a club record five consecutive away wins in Europe.
The omens were not good for Benfica, third in Portugal’s Primeira Liga, 15 points behind leaders Porto, whom Liverpool had beaten 5-1, 2-0 in the group stage this season.
Of the six changes Klopp made, the best was bringing in right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold after almost three weeks out with a hamstring injury.
His pass to Diaz, which got in the way of Mane’s second goal, was a miracle, while the one he delivered to an oddly colorless Mohamed Salah, who darted towards him but shot straight at goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos, was almost as good.
It was Klopp’s first time starting the midfield trio of Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara and Naby Keita, with the latter impressing in attack.
For the first 45 minutes, the midfielder almost acted as a fourth striker, interfering in attack and having four shots of his own before the break to underline the visitors’ dominance.
That they only had a two-goal lead was downright criminal considering the chances Keita, Diaz, Salah – three times – and Alexander-Arnold had.
Konate finally made the crucial breakthrough in the 17th minute when Diaz won a corner that Andy Robertson swung to the far post where the Everton defender easily leapt and defeated the keeper with a down header.
But things were to get even better when Alexander-Arnold’s crossfield ball was placed on a plate for Diaz to nod in Mane’s way and the Senegalese international failed to miss from close range, passing Steven Gerrard’s 22 Champions League goals in total.
The half-time set another club record as Liverpool went 19 first-half clean sheets, although they were little troubled that Everton came closest with a shot into the side netting.
Four minutes into the second half everything changed after Konate’s misfortune as he tried to deal with Rafa Silva’s low cross.
The goal changed the mood at the stadium and the dynamics on the pitch, and Klopp’s treble substitutions of Roberto Firmino, Diogo Jota and Jordan Henderson for Mane, Salah and Thiago sought to restore control.
Further miscalculations from Konate caused further problems as Alisson Becker first had to save Everton’s low shot and then, after the defender chased a ball he could never win, Nunez was denied a penalty claim after falling under Virgil Van Dijk’s challenge.
The pressure seemed to reach even the best, with Van Dijk’s air blast in the center circle causing a brief moment of concern while Alisson also missed a couple of clearances.
But just when it looked like frustration was getting the better of her, Keita’s perfect through ball allowed Diaz to circle the keeper and land an angled shot.
On the last two occasions the teams have met in the quarter-finals of this competition, in 1978 and 1984, Liverpool lifted the trophy and Diaz’s goal put them well on their way to the last four this time.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/champions-league/lets-keep-going-jurgen-klopp-keeps-focus-as-liverpool-put-one-foot-in-champions-league-semi-final-with-win-at-benfica-41524382.html ‘Let’s get on with it’ – Jurgen Klopp remains focused as Liverpool put one foot in the Champions League semi-finals with a win at Benfica