From a breathless and unforgettable Champions League quarter-final decider, Fernando Llorente’s hip and an injury-time call from the video-assistant referee saw Tottenham Hotspur end Manchester City’s quadruple bid with a staggering 4-4 away-goals triumph.
A historic, competition-first four goals in the opening 11 minutes caused the visitors at Etihad Stadium to race into a 3-2 aggregate lead. England forward Raheem Sterling artfully found the bottom corner in the fourth minute to level the tie, before South Korea attacker Son Heung-min – the only scorer at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – took advantage of some poor Ederson goalkeeping from the edge of the penalty box and then wonderfully curled home.
Portugal winger Bernardo Silva’s deflected shot in the 11th minute moved the hosts to within two goals, a gap Sterling closed to one 10 minutes later when he tapped in Belgium playmaker Kevin De Bruyne’s sublime cross.
The tinderbox atmosphere at the Etihad burst into flame just before the hour mark when Argentina striker Sergio Aguero, who missed a penalty in the opener, lashed in at the near post to give City a 4-3 aggregate lead. This elation ended on 73 minutes when Spain forward Llorente rose from a corner and unwittingly flicked in, with VAR ruling out a handball.
Outside assistance then proved key in a dramatic 94th minute. Sterling slotted in after Denmark playmaker Christian Eriksen casually lost the ball, but Aguero was, correctly but narrowly, adjudged offside when Bernardo Silva’s interception flicked his way to tee up the scorer.
EARNING THEIR SPURS
This was a contest that will not be forgotten in a hurry.
Deportivo La Coruna’s 4-0 recovery in 2003/04’s quarters. Barcelona’s 6-1 ‘remontada’ against Paris Saint-Germain from 2016/17’s round of 16, plus the Catalans’ ‘Romantada’ in the Eternal City a season later in the last eight.
These modern classics now have exalted company.
From the high-octane start, Aguero’s unnerving – and trademark – finish at the near post that put City ahead for the first time in the tie and then VAR twice proving its enduring worth.
Second-half injury time witnessed impassioned celebrations from Pep Guardiola, his staff, players and the City faithful give way to crushing disappointment. Tension pulsed through the dark-suited Mauricio Pochettino and the travelling Spurs hordes, before indelible memories were formed amid vehement revelry upon the final whistle.
This was a moment of deliverance and redemption.
The derisory tag ‘Spursy’ has followed a propensity for the club to, seemingly, fail at clutch moments. These include finishing third in 2015/16’s ‘two-horse title race’ with Leicester City, to 2016/17’s FA Cup semi-final surrender to Chelsea.
Never mind the fact that chairman Daniel Levy’s parsimony has seen them fail to invest in the last two transfer windows, yet still remain in situ in the big-spending Premier League’s top three.
Spurs have far exceeded realistic expectation under Pochettino to make a second-ever UCL semi. The last came in 1961/62.
The Argentine’s nous shone again. His bravery to throw on Llorente for the injured Moussa Sissoko on 41 minutes when a conservative midfield change seemed obvious gained immeasurable reward.
For now, he will not care a jot that it’s now seven losses from his team’s last eight away matches.
Another clash for the ages should follow against Ajax’s artisans. Beat a side that has eliminated holders Real Madrid and Juventus, then, well, anything is possible.
4 - Four goals in the opening 11 minutes of Manchester City vs Tottenham is the fastest four goals have ever been scored in a single Champions League match. Bonkers. #MCITOT— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 17, 2019
LOSING A PEP IN HIS STEP
The Champions League has turned into a cruel mistress for Guardiola.
Ecstasy from Sterling’s, apparent, salvage job dissipated into debilitating despondency.
This represented the latest concussive blow since 2010/11’s second triumph with Barcelona.
A trio of campaigns at Bayern Munich did not advance into another showpiece, Real Madrid’s rout in 2013/14 representing the nadir. At City, Monaco’s round-of-16 turnaround and 2017/18’s humbling by Liverpool preceded this.
Guardiola’s tactics could not be faulted – unlike in the first leg when he bafflingly benched De Bruyne. Width and pace from the full-backs stretched the pitch, provided pockets for the exceptional De Bruyne and Sterling to profit.
City had 66-per-cent possession and nearly doubled Spurs’ attempts on goals (20/11).
Unforeseen limp defending from usually outstanding uncapped French centre-back Aymeric Laporte for all three goals was critical.
The bleeding must stop here.
Spurs await in the Premier League on Saturday – and they cannot flinch with Liverpool going nowhere.
PEP 💬 I am so proud, especially of the fans for the reaction. I never saw the stadium like today. We are sad for all of them but they know we have everything but football is unpredictable and unfortunately we are not in the next stage,— Manchester City (@ManCity) April 17, 2019
NOT KEEPING THEM OUT OF TROUBLE
This has been an abysmal few days for Manchester’s goalkeepers.
Both United’s David De Gea and City’s Ederson have belied their reputations as two of the planet’s premier shot stoppers with a series of woeful errors.
In the latter’s case, Son repeatedly exposed technical deficiencies in his exuberant game.
Ederson, for better or worse, is a gambler. This proactive personality appeals to boss Guardiola’s expansive approach.
This adventure, however, can sometimes betray the Brazil No2. Low shots from Son in both legs went more central than anticipated, crucially slipping under an off-balance Ederson when diving wider.
Take these moments away and City would have cruised through.
Liverpool withstood an early flourish from Porto to eventually breeze into the Champions League semi-finals with a 4-1 victory and set up a glamour tie with Barcelona.
Sadio Mane’s 26th-minute goal took the air out of the buoyant hosts while Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Virgil van Dijk joined in the fun in the second half to add the gloss on a fine European performance. Eder Militao briefly made it 2-1, but in truth the contest was wrapped up once Mane struck.
Our Liverpool ratings are below …
Alisson Becker – Steely resolve as Porto threw everything they had at Liverpool – which wasn’t much laced with quality – but the Brazilian coped admirably and with minimum fuss. 7
Trent Alexander-Arnold – Sensational – some would say De Bruyne-esque – pass to tee up Salah. Certainly made up for generally wayward long balls from the back – 7
Virgil Van Dijk – Strange to see Van Dijk being roughed up a touch by Marega. However, was usually there with the clearance when needed and conjured up yet another goal. 7
Joel Matip – Didn’t have the most comfortable of evenings, but clung onto important territory as Porto struggled to infiltrate the box. 6
Andy Robertson – Not at his marauding best, but kept it conservative for a reason as Liverpool completed the job in Portugal. 6
Georginio Wijnaldum – Couldn’t get to grips with the returning Hector Herrera in the middle of the pitch – his lack of energy is a big reason Liverpool struggled at times. 4
Fabinho – Ineffective with the ball at his feet but on a night when the Reds were hardly at their fluent best, was a terrier at the heels of the Porto attack. 6
James Milner – It is easy to see why he remains a Klopp favourite, especially for a knockout UCL tie in an intimidating atmosphere. Not loads of inspiration, but lots of pluck. 6
Sadio Mane – Guilty of a horrible miss having rounded Iker Casillas – but don’t hold it against him. Scored, assisted and made a whopping six tackles in an all-action display. 8
Mo Salah – The Egyptian was clinical off few enough chances in a way that he hasn’t been for the entirety of the season. A match-winner up there with the best of them. 7
Divock Origi – Surprise call quickly altered at half-time as Klopp brought Firmino on. Not up to scratch. 4
Roberto Firmino (46′) – Tale of two halves for the Reds’ attack, and Firmino was the main storyline. Back together with Mane and Salah, he brought an air of serenity to proceedings, topped off with a fine header. 8
Jordan Henderson (70′) – Came off the bench here, but his cameo solidified Liverpool’s midfield and his sumptuous cross set up Firmino. Looks like a natural partner to Fabinho. 7
Joe Gomez – (65′) On for Alexander-Arnold but didn’t register a single tackle, interception or clearance despite being on the field for an ample amount of time. 5
Mightily impressive in the first half, the hosts were however guilty of frittering away a succession of gilt-edged goalmouth opportunities as they let a jittery Liverpool off the hook – with Moussa Marega particularly off key.
Jurgen Klopp’s men went ahead with their first meaningful attack, Sadio Mane sliding in to convert Mohamed Salah’s deft pass. Porto pushed on but in truth it was a long way back – they needed four goals.
They were eventually picked off in the second half – Salah, Roberto Firmino and Virgil van Dijk turning it into a rout, Real Madrid-bound Eder Militao heading in a consolatory goal – as Klopp’s side went through in eventually commanding fashion.
PORTO POSITIVE BUT PROFLIGATE
The only quarter-final tie that was a foregone conclusion, apparently. Yet Porto threatened to surge back into contention with a ferocious start that bamboozled the usually rock-solid Reds.
Totemic Van Dijk wobbled as he struggled to cope with the pace and power of Marega, while the returning Hector Herrera had Liverpool’s defence and midfield hanging on every stroke of his boot. The Mexican midfielder – who missed the first leg – was a menace, probing at and pulling the visiting defence uncomfortably all over the place.
If only they had stellar finishers in their ranks and not a journeyman striker in Marega who, although works hard, lacks an elite pair of scoring boots.
The Mali international – who was industrious yet insipid in the first leg – was again energetic and all-action here, but his finishing was also all over the place – his night summed up as he shanked one volley hopelessly wide.
He had five shots overall, but none of them threatened Alisson’s goal, while Yacine Brahimi fired three in anger, but not in accuracy.
Overall, Sergio Conceicao’s side attempted 19 shots to Liverpool’s 13 – and the Reds’ tally was only inflated late on when Porto faded with the result out of reach.
A TIMELY REMINDER
And Porto ultimately paid the price for their profligacy as Liverpool’s front three 2.0 continued to combine with devastating effect to take the tie out of the hosts’ reach.
Despite Porto’s purring start and commendable commitment to attack, Liverpool always knew they could afford to sit back and soak up pressure – knowing one goal would leave the home side requiring four.
And, after weathering a ferocious early storm in which Porto really should have scored at least once, Liverpool struck a decisive, clinical blow. In one of their few forays forward, Salah fashioned space in the box before flicking a deft floated ball into the path of Mane who slid home – albeit there was a lengthy wait while VAR came into play.
It was a timely reminder of the Egyptian’s alternate, yet equally intrinsic, value to Liverpool on the day he was named as one of six global icons featuring as a cover star on TIME 100, the magazine’s annual list of the world’s most influential people.
Critics ignore Salah’s transformation into a more well-rounded player in Klopp’s improved, almost impervious, Liverpool this season – shouldering a more creative and defensive burden while also still jointly leading the Premier League goalscoring charts.