A TIME-ly reminder from Mohamed Salah as Liverpool eventually pulverise Porto

Matt Jones 18/04/2019
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Liverpool will meet Barcelona in a mouthwatering semi-final tie in the Champions League after Porto were eventually pulverised at the Estadio Do Dragao.

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

Mane

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.

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Kevin De Bruyne's hat-trick of assists in vain as Spurs stun Manchester City

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Manchester City and Tottenham provided the footballing community with arguably the best game of the season, sharing a total of seven goals in an epic Champions League tie.

Trailing by one goal from the first leg, City needed to win this tie by two goals to ensure Spurs didn’t progress on away goals.

Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Sergio Aguero were among the goal-scorers for City, with Kevin De Bruyne bagging a hat-trick of assists.

We take a deeper look at his performance.

KEY STATS

Minutes: 90

Goals: 0

Assists: 3

Shots (on target): 3 (2)

Passes (success rate): 38 (84.2%)

Successful dribbles: 3

Key-passes: 4

30-SECOND REPORT

When it looked like things were going City’s way, it was De Bruyne who was constantly creating the threat through his needle-threading passes.

The Belgian did almost everything well; he was winning duels, completing dribbles with ease and even tested Hugo Lloris with a couple of promising hits.

He had earlier revealed how he enjoys a great partnership with Sterling off the pitch. Their chemistry on it deserves a shout too. De Bruyne assisted Sterling twice and was linking up beautifully with the Englishman.

GOT RIGHT

De Bruyne’s eye for a pass is clearly one of his strongest suits and the best version of that was on display against Spurs. Picking the best of the Belgian’s three assists on the night is no easy task.

For his first, he set Sterling into space, allowing the Englishman to drift inwards and slot home. The fact that he did it with a lot of Spurs bodies around him made it all the more impressive.

To set up Sterling’s second and City’s third, De Bruyne delivered a perfect pass across the face of the goal, ahead of a bunch of Spurs and City players and right into the path of Sterling at the far post. The winger finished the move with a sublime touch past Lloris.

He finished the hat-trick of assists by setting up Aguero with a splendid run past three Spurs players.

The Belgian completed the night with four key passes, clearly outranking David Silva as the major source of creativity.

Kevin De Bruyne

Kevin De Bruyne was imperious yet City crashed out.

VERDICT

Compared to the absolute beast he was last season, De Bruyne has had a pretty tame season. In his defence, the Belgian was out with injury for a good part and had his performances took a dip.

But against Spurs, he showed exactly what he is capable of. The midfielder was arguably the best player for City, perhaps even the best player on the pitch, showing that he’s capable of performing on the biggest stage.

City failed to make it to the semi-final of the Champions League yet again, but they still have the FA Cup final and the Premier League title to play for. Performances like these in the league can help City achieve the domestic treble.

An in-form De Bruyne will be extremely crucial for Pep Guardiola’s men in the concluding stages of the season.

Rating: 8/10

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A look at the rise of surprise Champions League package Ajax

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Ajax are the surprise package of this season’s Champions League following their march to the semi-finals.

After hammering holders Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the previous round, Erik Ten Hag’s brilliant young side knocked out Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus with another stunning win in Turin.

Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at the secrets of their success.

COACH

Ten Hag’s first managerial job was with Go Ahead Eagles in 2012, before moving to Bayern Munich II between 2013 and 2015. The Bayern first team were led by Pep Guardiola at this time and the Spaniard’s influence on Ten Hag is evident.

A return to his homeland saw the Dutchman exceed all expectations at Utrecht with back-to-back top-five Eredivisie finishes and Europa League qualification. He was appointed Ajax boss in December 2017.

Ajax boss Erik ten Hag.

Ajax boss Erik ten Hag.

RISING STARS

Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs De Ligt are among the brightest prospects in European football and form part of the crop of young talents coming through at Ajax.

Barcelona have already snapped up De Jong, the midfielder set to join the Spanish champions on a five-year contract for €75million in the summer.

Captain De Ligt looks like he could be the next to leave, with the likes of Barca, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Arsenal reportedly keen to sign the 19-year-old.

EXPERIENCE

Ten Hag has rejuvenated the careers of Dusan Tadic and Daley Blind, who were signed during the summer following a frustrating campaign for both men in the Premier League last season.

Former Southampton forward Tadic became just the ninth player in history to get a perfect 10 out of 10 score in L’Equipe’s infamously ruthless player ratings for his performance in Ajax’s 4-1 victory in Madrid last month.

Frenkie de Jong is off to Barcelona this summer.

Frenkie de Jong is off to Barcelona this summer.

STYLE OF PLAY

Guardiola’s influence is clear but Ten Hag has also been true to the Ajax way pioneered by Johan Cruyff. That philosophy has seen Ten Hag mould a vibrant and energetic team led by an exciting blend of talented youngsters and aided by a few experienced heads.

TRADITION

Installing former players who understand the club in key off-field roles has aided the resurgence of Ajax. Marc Overmars is the director of football and has been credited with playing a major role in the assembly of Ajax’s precocious side.

Meanwhile, Edwin Van Der Sar is currently working as the club’s chief executive.

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