Luis Diaz came back to haunt Benfica, scoring a vital third goal for Liverpool as they beat Benfica 3-1 in their Champions League quarter-final first leg in Lisbon.
Diaz has shone for Liverpool since leaving fierce Benfica rivals Porto in January, and he restored the Reds’ two-goal lead in the 88th minute.
The Colombian confidently passed Benfica goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos before weaving into the far corner, giving Liverpool some much-needed respite ahead of next Wednesday’s return game at Anfield.
The first leg was the epitome of a two-half game. Liverpool dominated the first half, with Ibrahima Konate heading home his first goal for the club, doing it from a whipped corner from Andy Robertson.
Sadio Mane then tapped home after a searing counterattack, which summed up a solid first half. Trent Alexander-Arnold – starting for the first time since injury – caught a loose pass from Adel Taarabt before playing a perfect pass over the top.
The sublime ball finds Diaz’s head, who spots Mane’s run to the bottom right of the box. He squared his head and it was an easy entry for the Senegal international.
While Benfica finished the first half with a shot on target and looked set to face a quick Champions League exit, the second half couldn’t have been more contrasting.
Much had been said about Nunez before the game, with Premier League links attracting attention, and he showed his poaching instincts four minutes after the break. A dismal attempt to clear Konaté in the middle of the box saw the Benfica striker come up with a golden chance, which he dispatched past Alisson.
- There have been six changes made by Jurgen Klopp since the weekend win over Watford.
- Trent Alexander-Arnold was fit enough to start alongside Naby Keita, Ibrahima Konate, Fabinho, Sadio Mane and Luiz Diaz, all of whom were drafted.
Nunez could also have earned a 67th-minute penalty as he and Rafa Silva tested a stunned Liverpool defence. The striker was checked by Virgil van Dijk inside the area before going down, but a VAR review didn’t award Benfica the penalty.
Liverpool quickly began to regain their footing in the game and sought to calm the passionate crowd as well as a revived Benfica side. Their recovery paid off when Diaz came home late to put the visitors in a commanding position ahead of the second leg, with his strike met with a sigh of relief and a smile from Jurgen Klopp.
As Manchester City edged their own Champions League draw against Atletico Madrid 1-0, Liverpool and City with midweek wins under their belts head into Sunday’s Premier League title showdown at the stadium. Etihad, live on Sky sports.
Waiting for the great sunday match, Jurgen Klopp said in his post-match press conference: “If we win against City – it’s hard enough – I don’t think anyone would think ‘that’s it – it’s decided’ [the Premier League title race] because the quality of the opponent. We play against the best team in the world, that’s how it is and we will try anyway.
“Everyone knows the importance of the next game. But after this game there will be other games. If you can’t be first, you want to be second. If you’re behind, you want to get closer and if you are close, you want to overtake. That’s the situation and we’ll try.”
Reddy: Experience helps Liverpool to victory
Sky Sports News senior reporter Melissa Reddy in Lisbon:
“Liverpool went through a half-time contrast to take charge of this quarter-final, which worried them more than expected, especially given their position before the break.
“They managed to regain control late after being extremely sloppy, removing the sting from the game and therefore the strength of the crowd.
“Benfica, as they have done in the competition this season, produced an aggressive loss of possession spell that threatened to derail Liverpool, but Klopp’s men relied on their experience and resilience to register a 3 win -1.
“It’s a club record five wins in a row in the competition for the Merseysiders.”
Klopp: Benfica fought for their life
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp:
“We came here for a result. I didn’t expect the game to be easier. It’s a big compliment for Benfica, they fought for their lives, especially after we opened them up a bit. the door.
“It was clear when they scored that the crowd would be back and the atmosphere was really good and good football teams tend to use that, but we calmed them down a bit immediately with the three changes… They [the players who came off] We were all going through tough times and that’s why it was good that we could have fresh legs.
“The game was a bit more open than I would like, but we scored a third. Everyone can agree that we could have scored more goals, maybe we should have…Benfica’s best player was probably the goalkeeper and that says a lot.
“It’s half time, we’re two goals up. We were two goals up at half time today and we knew it wasn’t over, and it’s indeed the same information we have now. Now they have to come to Anfield and we have to use it.”
Thinking further about facing Man City on Sunday, live on sky sportsKlopp added: “We are in the quarter-finals and in the semi-finals [of the FA Cup] and the more we advance in the competitions, the harder it is, it is unfortunately the truth. You narrowly reach a final and win 8-0…
“We already knew since the end of December, it was clear that if we want to achieve something, it is better to win all our games. It’s not really likely, but that’s why we take it game by game and then it may be a little more possible, but it will be really hard.”
Robertson: Someone threw lighters at me
Andy Robertson speaking to BT Sport:
“I had quite a few lighters thrown at me – maybe that will help them quit smoking? You have to take the positives. We saw a lot of people getting hit, luckily they were all pretty close to me but they didn’t. didn’t hit me.
“It’s difficult when it’s late in the game and the fans are frustrated, but you shouldn’t throw stuff on the pitch. It could hurt people. I was just trying to take the corner and get out of there as quickly as possible.”
Benfica: Vlachodimos (7), Gilberto (6), Otamendi (7), Vertonghen (6), Grimaldo (6), Weigl (6), Taarabt (6), Rafa (7), G.Ramos (6), Everton (6) ), Darwin (7).
Submarines used: Meite (6), Yaremchuk (n/a), Joao Mario (n/a).
Liverpool: Alisson (7), Alexander-Arnold (7), Konate (6), Van Dijk (7), Robertson (7), Fabinho (7), Thiago (6), Keita (6), Salah (6), Mane ( 6), Diaz (8).
Submarines used: Jota (6), Firmino (6), Henderson (6), Gomez (n/a), Milner (n/a).
Man of the match: Louis Diaz.
Man of the match – Luis Diaz
A goal and an assist on his return to a former Portuguese rival, does it get better than that? Another great night’s work for the Liverpool striker.
Opta stats – Liverpool take first leg lead
- Liverpool beat Benfica in a UEFA Champions League/European Cup match for the first time since October 1984 (3-1), having lost their last three meetings before tonight without scoring a goal.
- Sadio Mane scored his 22nd UEFA Champions League goal, overtaking Steven Gerrard (21) as Liverpool’s second top scorer in the competition, behind Mohamed Salah (33).
- Darwin Nunez scored his fifth UEFA Champions League goal of the season, no player has ever scored more for Benfica in a single campaign in the competition.
Tuesday’s Champions League fixture begins a whopping 11-day stretch for Liverpool. They will face Premier League title challengers Man City on Super Sunday, live on Sky Sports from 4pm; kick off 4:30 p.m.
Liverpool then host Benfica next Wednesday in the quarter-final second leg, before facing Man City again in the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday April 16.