Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp warned his side will still have to “work like hell” to reach the Champions League semi-finals despite taking a commanding 3-0 quarter-final first leg lead over runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City.
City lead Liverpool by 18 points in the Premier League, but their only league defeat this season came in a 4-3 thriller at Anfield in January, and they suffered an even worse fate on Wednesday to leave their hopes of winning the European Cup for a first time hanging by a thread.
Just as in the January meeting between the sides, the prolific Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mane were on target for the hosts.
“We beat the best team in the world so that’s a really good performance,” said Klopp.
“It was good tonight, but I am not interested in being good. In this competition it is about going to the next round, and we are not in the next round. Let’s talk about it after the next game.
“We will really have to work there again like hell.”
Klopp’s caution is born out of the fact that City thrashed 10-man Liverpool 5-0 in their only previous meeting at the Etihad this season.
“We conceded there already five. How can I say it is not possible?”
And City boss Pep Guardiola insisted he still believed despite his side’s most comprehensive defeat of the campaign.
“I think in this room there is nobody except the guy talking to you who believes we are going to go through,” said Guardiola.
“Tomorrow we are going to try to convince ourselves that in six days it is 90 minutes more and we are going to try.”
Liverpool’s night was slightly marred when Salah limped off with an injury early in the second half.
“After the game he said: ‘I will be good, I will be fine’ but now we have to wait for the real diagnosis,” added Klopp on his Egyptian star’s fitness.
City could already be crowned English champions by the time the sides meet again for the second leg in six days’ time should they beat local rivals Manchester United on Saturday.
Guardiola’s side have been in stunning form for the large majority of the season, but he lamented a poor 20-minute period in the first-half that has likely cost them a shot at European glory.
“The result is tough but I don’t have feeling we played to concede that result,” added Guardiola. “But in this competition (what happens) in the boxes makes all the difference and they were so good in those situations.”
City were well aware of the cauldron they were facing from the off as their team bus was battered by bottles and cans on their arrival at Anfield.
Klopp was quick to apologise as were the club in a strongly-worded statement condemning the actions of their own supporters.
The atmosphere was equally electric inside the stadium for Liverpool’s first Champions League quarter-final for nine years.
The visitors were caught out on the counter-attack on 12 minutes when Salah sprang Roberto Firmino in behind the City defence and, after his initial effort was parried by Ederson, Firmino teed up Salah to smash home his 38th goal of the season.
City should have struck back straight away when Leroy Sane pulled his shot wide from the edge of the box as City outnumbered the Liverpool defence on a quick break of their own.
However, they were soon swept away in the euphoria engulfing Anfield as Oxlade-Chamberlain pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the area and rendered Ederson helpless with a stunning strike from 20 yards.
A third duly arrived as Salah stood up a cross to the far post for Mane to head in and take Liverpool’s prolific front three’s tally for the season to 77.
City pressed relentlessly for an away goal that would get them back in the tie, but failed to register a single shot on target as Liverpool held out for a priceless clean sheet.
The Champions League returned in spectacular fashion this week, as the first legs of the four quarter-final ties produced 14 goals and some impressive individual performances.
Here we pick out our Champions League Team of the Week…
GK: Keylor Navas – Real Madrid
While Cristiano Ronaldo rightly grabbed all of the headlines in Turin, Real Madrid fans will be extremely grateful for the heroics of Navas with the score at 1-0. The Costa Rican produced a stunning save to deny Gonzalo Higuain from close range, which preserved Madrid’s clean sheet.
RB: Trent Alexander-Arnold – Liverpool
A real coming-of-age performance from the 19-year-old, as he kept Leroy Sane, arguably the Premier League’s most in-form youngster, quiet on the biggest stage. Alexander-Arnold made a game-high seven interceptions and 10 clearances as Liverpool hammered Manchester City and kept a vital shut out.
CB: Dejan Lovren – Liverpool
With Joel Matip ruled out for the rest of the season, Lovren – much maligned for his performances in big games – started alongside Virgil van Dijk and produced a defiant defensive display. The Croatian made four clearances and won two aerial duels as the Merseysiders prevented Pep Guardiola’s men from recording a shot on target throughout the 90 minutes.
CB: Gerard Pique – Barcelona
Pique’s impressive display was capped with Barcelona’s third goal of the night. Defensively, the Spanish international did superbly well, winning four aerial duels, making five clearances and blocking two shots, as Ernesto Valverde’s men recorded a convincing 4-1 win against AS Roma.
LB: Marcelo – Real Madrid
Another fine European display from the Brazilian. The left-back’s clever pass allowed Isco to tee up Ronaldo for his opening goal of the night, before getting in on the act with a goal himself. The 29-year-old showed great composure to lift the ball over Gianluigi Buffon and tap home from close range for Madrid’s final goal in Turin.
CM: James Milner – Liverpool
Up against his former club, Milner had an important part to play in all three of Liverpool’s goals. After setting Mohamed Salah away in the build-up to the first, Milner then grabbed his record-equalling eighth assist of this season’s Champions League campaign for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal. For the third, Milner won the ball off Nicolas Otamendi to start the counter. A real combative midfield performance.
CM: Thiago – Bayern Munich
With a 92 per cent pass success rate, Thiago was in control of the first leg, dictating play from midfield. With two tackles and two interceptions, the Spaniard contributed defensively while also scoring the winning goal to give Bayern Munich the advantage ahead of the second leg next week.
CM: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – Liverpool
The former Arsenal man enjoys playing City at Anfield. After a fine goal in the Premier League battle between the two, Oxlade-Chamberlain rifled home a stunning strike to double Liverpool’s lead on the night in this clash. His tireless workrate denied the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva time on the ball as the Etihad Stadium club had no answer to Liverpool’s intensity.
RW: Mohamed Salah – Liverpool
Pep Guardiola opted to play Aymeric Laporte up against Salah at Anfield, but just like so many before him, he was unable to stop the Egyptian. After grabbing his 38th goal of the season with a close-range finish, Salah then teed up Sadio Mane with a teasing cross to make it 3-0 just after the 30-minute mark. Simply unstoppable, it seems.
LW: Sadio Mane – Liverpool
With a game-high six dribbles, the Senegalese international gave the visitors’ defenders a torrid time. Deserving of a goal for his workrate alone, Mane showed his commitment to the cause in the second-half, working tirelessly as City tried to find a way back into the game.
ST: Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid
Madrid’s man main loves the Champions League. After becoming the first player to score in ten consecutive games in the competition with his first of the night, the Portuguese international then scored arguably his greatest ever goal with an overhead kick that made it 2-0. 14 goals in nine Champions League games so far this season tells you all you need to know about Ronaldo.
There is no love lost between Barcelona and Real Madrid most of the time but so extraordinary was Cristiano Ronaldo‘s overhead goal against Juve in Tuesday night’s Champions League quarter-final that it even has Blaugrana players in awe.
After Barca’s own-goal assisted 4-1 win over AS Roma on Wednesday night, midfielder Ivan Rakitic was asked about Ronaldo’s “worldie” and he couldn’t help but enthuse.
Seeming to remember the fierce rivalry between the Spanish giants halfway through – Rakitic checked himself and began to temper his praise, noting that Los Blancos are not the current focus of Barca as there is still a second leg to play against Juve next Tuesday at the Nou Camp – as much as a formality as that would now seem following the three goal advantage from the home leg.