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Benfica 1-3 Liverpool: Reds earn hard-fought Champions League advantage
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Sadio Mane celebrates his goal against Benfica
Sadio Mane celebrates his goal against Benfica

Liverpool took control of their Champions League quarter-final tie against Benfica as they claimed a hard-fought 3-1 win in Portugal.

Jurgen Klopp's side looked to be cruising into the last four after first-half goals from Ibrahima Konate and Sadio Mane gave them a deserved half-time lead.

However, Benfica were back in it when Darwin Nunez netted shortly after the restart, and they continued to threaten an equaliser before Luis Diaz wrapped things up in somewhat fortuitous fashion late on. 

The signs of the hosts' potential were evident in an encouraging start that came about thanks in no small part to a fervent crowd at the Estadio da Luz.

A fast-paced early break from Rafa seemed to hint at how Benfica might trouble their opponents and Nunez soon followed suit to provide a low cross that deserved better support.

But Liverpool, too, were creating chances and eventually took one when Konate rose highest in space to head home an Andy Robertson corner.

That marked the start of utter domination from the visitors, who doubled their tally just past the half-hour mark when Diaz nodded down a beauty of a Trent Alexander-Arnold pass to hand Mane a tap-in. 

Alexander-Arnold almost created another goal just before the break, an incredible pass on the turn putting in Mohamed Salah for a one-on-one that he should have done better with.

Given the one-sided nature of the first half, it did not feel like Liverpool would rue that miss, but it took just four minutes after the restart for Benfica to totally change the complexion of the game.

They visitors looked wide open even before Konate's miscued back-post clearance allowed Nunez all the time in the world to side-foot home and ignite the atmosphere once more.

Nelson Verissimo's men were subsequently transformed and went close again through a Nunez header before Everton shot straight at Alisson when he perhaps should have found a corner.

That flurry of opportunities prompted Klopp to look to his bench, Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota emerging all at once to try and settle things down.

The trio partially succeeded in their aim, although they were not capable of entirely negating Benfica's threat on the break or silencing cacophony that greeted their every burst forward.

However, unaided by any mistakes similar to that that allowed Nunez to score, the hosts failed to find a second goal.

And they were hit by a late sucker punch when a heavy deflection on a Naby Keita throughball allowed Diaz to round Odisseas Vlachodimos and pass the ball home.

What does it mean? Reds get much-needed cushion

With two humongous games against Manchester City on either side of the return leg, Liverpool needed to ensure there was not too much riding on their second meeting with Benfica.

A 3-1 lead might not mean the tie is completely settled, but Klopp surely has some wiggle room for changes given that advantage is being taken back to the fortress of Anfield.

Robertson back to his best

The additional competition and opportunities for occasional rest provided by Kostas Tsimikas' place in the Liverpool squad seems to have done Andy Robertson the world of good this season.

He may now have a competent back-up behind him, but the Scot proved why he is number one here in providing three key passes and an assist.

Out-of-sorts Salah a concern

With negotiations over a new mega-contract still ongoing, Salah could have perhaps done without his recent poor run of form.

The Egyptian lost possession as many times as any other player on the pitch (22) and, after drawing a blank in front of goal, has now found the back of the net just once in his last nine outings.

Key Opta Facts:

- Liverpool have beaten Benfica in a Champions League/European Cup match for the first time since October 1984 (3-1), having lost their previous three such meetings without scoring a goal.
- Benfica are winless in four consecutive European matches at home to English sides (D2 L2) for the first time since March 1984 (D1 L3), which included two defeats to Liverpool.
- Liverpool have won each of their last eight away games in all competitions, their longest ever such winning run in their history.
- Liverpool have progressed from 12 of their previous 13 Champions League knockout ties when winning the first leg, only failing to do so against Bayer Leverkusen in April 2002 (won 1-0 at home and then a 4-2 defeat away).
- Konate scored his first Champions League goal (12th app) and his first in all competitions for Liverpool (20th app), while he became the first Frenchman to score in the Champions League for the Reds since David N'Gog in November 2009 (against Debreceni).
- Mane scored his 22nd Champions League goal, overtaking Steven Gerrard (21) as Liverpool’s second highest goalscorer in the competition, behind Mohamed Salah (33).

What's next?

Next up for Liverpool is a mouth-watering trip to face Premier League title rivals Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. Benfica, meanwhile, return to league duty against Belenenses at home on Saturday.


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