Liverpool’s Porto triumph is ripe with symbolic power

PORTO, PORTUGAL - APRIL 17: Liverpool players celebrate after a goal during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Porto and Liverpool at Estadio do Dragao on April 17, 2019 in Porto, Portugal. (Photo by Octavio Passos - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)
PORTO, PORTUGAL - APRIL 17: Liverpool players celebrate after a goal during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Porto and Liverpool at Estadio do Dragao on April 17, 2019 in Porto, Portugal. (Photo by Octavio Passos - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images) /

Liverpool’s 1-4 Champions League away win over Porto showed just how far they’d come in both the short- and the long-term.

In stark contrast to the evening’s other Champions League quarterfinal, Liverpool’s clash with Porto was for the most part a controlled and predictable affair. But that’s hugely symbolic of the immense progress that Liverpool have made since the arrivals of both John Henry and Juergen Klopp.

Above all, it’s impossible not to see Liverpool’s encounters with Porto in the past two years as being emblematic of the side’s transformation under Klopp.

Liverpool’s 0-5 win at the Estadio do Dragao back in 2018 was one of the games that best embodied the Liverpool team of the time: buccaneering, joyful but in the final reckoning perhaps too dependent on attack.

It didn’t matter that day, of course, as Liverpool raced into a two-goal lead before the half-hour mark. But this was a Liverpool side that would eventually come up short in the 2018 Champions League final and finish a distant fourth in the Premier League – 25 points behind Manchester City.

Tonight, though, was very different. First Liverpool withstood, and eventually they steamrollered.

As predicted in all quarters, Porto were fast out of the gates. And in the face of the home side’s energy and pressure, Liverpool were often disjointed, especially Wijnaldum and Milner in midfield.

Yes, there were nerves, as there almost always are in games of this magnitude, but there was still never a sense of crisis. Over both legs, Porto’s final ball wasn’t great, and their finishing was sub-standard.

Moussa Marega has exceptional movement, but on this evidence his composure in front of goal deserts him at pivotal moments. He’s 28 years of age, and it seems there’s good reason why Porto are the biggest club the biggest club he’s ever likely to play for.

So Liverpool withstood the onslaught, and after Mane’s well-worked goal on 26 minutes, Porto lost their composure

Militao feigned injury to his face after Sadio Mane had inadvertently collided with him following a slip by the Senegalese. Pepe then inevitably indulged in a cynical and unpleasant barge into Origi, which was followed by sly clip by Danilo on Salah.

Instead of trying to play, it seemed that Porto were more intent on trying to provoke.

But this resolute and, yes, duller Liverpool side would not rise to the bait. They put their heads down, carried on and watched as more and more Porto passes were mishit and sailed out of play.

Following Firmino’s introduction at the interval, Porto never managed to recover the sustained intensity they’d achieved for spells in the opening 45. Sergio Conceicao’s side seemed to have run out of gas well before the hour mark, in fact, and the game slowed conspicuously.

The noise generated by the faithful at the Estadio do Dragao in the first half had often been magnificent, but their chorus now subsided and the songs of the traveling Liverpool fans became increasingly audible. Salah’s 65th-minute goal then exterminated all hope for the home side.

In the broader picture, aside from the stark and encouraging contrast to last season’s squad, there are also two other ways in which this win symbolizes Liverpool’s rejuvenation.

These issues stretch back further in time but could well be even more significant to Klopp’s side’s Champions League hopes this season.

One is the manner in which Liverpool did just enough to win tonight – and that’s something Liverpool teams did routinely in Europe throughout the Noughties

When Gerard Houllier and then later Rafa Benitez were in the Anfield dugout, Liverpool’s away displays in Europe were seldom a huge amount of fun to watch for neutrals, as was the case for much of the game tonight. Indeed, they could even be a grind for Liverpool fans.

But they worked out well, over and over again.

Those two coaches made Liverpool a formidable European force once more. Even two years after the club lost the 2007 Champions League final to Milan, for example, UEFA still ranked Liverpool as the strongest team in Europe.

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But as the reign of Tom Hicks and George Gillett then reached its nadir, Liverpool’s European fortunes dipped markedly. And perhaps the lowest point of the club’s misadventures during this period came with a loss against Portuguese opponents.

However, this wasn’t suffered at the hands of one of the Portuguese giants such as tonight’s opponents Porto, or Benfica and Sporting. Instead, this March 2011 defeat under Kenny Dalglish was inflicted by Braga.

Today’s result showed how very far Liverpool have come since that humiliation.

Since that low-point, there had been little to enjoy in Europe for Liverpool fans prior to Klopp’s arrival. And even after he was appointed, the club’s European successes have often seemed to be rooted in emotion and drama above all else.

The wins over eternal foes Manchester United, for example, or Klopp’s past love Borussia Dortmund and past enemy Bayern Munich all support that narrative.

But there was little emotion or drama tonight. And that’s perhaps the strongest sign yet that trophies are about to return to Anfield at last.