Liverpool fans are now looking ahead to the Reds’ Champions League quarter-final opponents, following their progress after an iffy 1-0 defeat to Inter Milan.
Jurgen Klopp‘s team were beaten at home for the first time in a year on Tuesday, with Lautaro Martinez’s goal the difference between the two sides.
Fortunately, Liverpool had done enough in the first leg to still go through on aggregate, and they were more than worthy of progressing in the end.
It means the Reds are still battling across four competitions in early March, in what could become a legendary campaign in the next few months.
OWEN: OK, first things first: job done, progress made, into the quarter-finals and that quixotic quadruple still floating mirage-like on the Parisian horizon.
That being said, the underwhelming nature of this victory might help cool talk of the Fab Four for now and give both team and fans a slightly clearer head for the next couple of months.
It was also a bonus to see Thiago back sooner than expected, even if he wasn’t at his full string-pulling best, and Curtis Jones made the most of his hour, as he continues his admirable response to being dropped for Wembley.
The absolute standout, however, has to be Trent Alexander-Arnold, who is on a real streak of defensive form at the moment and nullified Ivan Perisic for most of the game.
He was less swashbuckling in attack whilst still oozing quality, and even though more of his time was spent deeper, the joyous late counter (which deserved Luis Diaz to conclude it with a goal) was just another jaw-dropping reminder of his endless abilities.
Yes, it was very far from a vintage European night at Anfield, but if someone had whittled a centimetre or two off each goalpost, we’d probably have won 3-0 without really getting out of second gear.
Arguably, we didn’t play much worse than the away leg, which just illustrates the absurd margins between triumph and despair.
JOHN: There’s no two ways about it, the best part of last night was to go through. The performance wasn’t fantastic, despite comfortably creating enough to win the game, and the team seemed to be stuck between two stools – whether to go gung-ho and attack or whether to sit in and protect their lead – and didn’t look entirely comfortable with what they had to do.
With that being said, the narrative around Inter – suggesting they were dominant and the Reds were lucky to progress – was nonsense. They scored from a one-in-a-million shot and Liverpool missed huge chances.
Television pundits engage in hilarious mental gymnastics to try and paint a certain picture, but overall, Liverpool easily deserved to progress on the balance of the two legs.
Trent was superb. His delivery from set-pieces was its typical world-class level, but he shackled Perisic really well, as Owen mentioned. All the more impressive given he is, at times, a right-winger, a central midfielder, and an attacking midfielder.
It feels like he’s in several positions at once. He won’t get any credit for it, of course, because the dye has been cast and idiots have made their mind up that he can’t defend; but he can and he was excellent at it last night.
It was also great to see Thiago back. He started slowly and looked rusty, but grew into it as the game progressed, showing his customary class, but also getting stuck in physically.
Keeping him fit could be the difference in winning a glut of trophies, he’s that good.
HENRY: It was a tough watch, wasn’t it? But that’s not to say it was all bad.
In fact, the result wasn’t a fair reflection of the game at all, and in general, Liverpool felt in complete control of the tie.
I thought Van Dijk was majestic at times, especially in tough conditions, while Trent probably stood out as the Reds’ best player.
Oh, and we’re in the Champions League quarter-finals – that’s pretty good!
OWEN: European nights are usually refreshing, not just for the floodlit atmospheres and globe-trotting adventures, but the noticeable jump in quality from the men in the middle.
Until that is for last night. Antonio Mateu Lahoz seemed to lose his head as quickly as he’s losing the hair on it, turning out one of the more enraging, incoherent and arrogant refereeing performances we’ve witnessed on the continent for a long time.
He more than played his part in disrupting what little rhythm there was anyway. Let’s hope we don’t see him again this term.
Diogo Jota looked totally anonymous for nearly the entire game, with Diaz doing more in his seven minutes than he managed in 83. And oh, Mane, Mane…at times his touch was as heavy as a pasta sandwich, while on one occasion he set off without the ball altogether.
If I were a Twitter conspiracy nutjob, I’d suggest since winning AFCON and basically completing his medal collection, his appetite has abandoned him.
In reality, he’s more likely just knackered, or – heartbreaking though it is – coming down the other side of his peak years.
It had to happen sometime — “all things must pass”, as George Harrison told us — and it’s worth remembering for all these sublime, generational players; they simply won’t stay this good forever.
For the love of God people, enjoy it while it lasts. These are the days…
JOHN: The referee was genuinely appalling. He was unbelievably reluctant to blow his whistle in the first half and then hugely pedantic, blowing for nothing, in the second half.
The decision to send Alexis Sanchez off was correct, but he could have easily done it earlier when he fouled Thiago.
I felt none of the front three, barring a few Salah dribbles, were anywhere near their best.
Perhaps it was inevitable with Salah and Mane just back from the gruelling schedule of AFCON and Jota finding his feet after injury, but they looked lead-footed and didn’t seem to play well as a collective unit and made poor and selfish decisions.
HENRY: Firstly, the referee, as mentioned. He was so bad I’m refusing to even acknowledge his name!
That’s up there with the most incompetent refereeing performance I’ve seen at Anfield, with the man in question desperate to make controversial decisions and make himself the centre of attention.
There was a foul on Salah late on that somehow wasn’t given and he made an endless string of baffling calls against both sides (mainly Liverpool!).
On top of that, I thought Mane and Jota were poor, especially the latter. Salah wasn’t great but had a good last 30 minutes or so.
As Owen noted, Mane looked like he was going to fall over every time he got the ball – he tripped over his own attempt at a stepover at one point – while Jota did almost nothing all evening and should lose his place against Brighton.
It is getting to the stage where you feel Diaz has to be starting most games now – he brings a vibrancy that seems to be lacking in others for chunks of matches.
Meanwhile, that woman who sits near the commentators and endlessly screams “forward” needs to be removed from Anfield permanently!
And who do you want in the quarters?
OWEN: I suppose there’s not much point saying Sporting Lisbon, is there?
From a statto’s point of view, there are only eight teams of the 51 that Salah has faced for us that he hasn’t scored against — answers on a postcard — and three of them, PSG, Bayern Munich and Ajax, could be in the next round.
It would be nice to set that record straight.
As unromantic as it sounds, though, I just want the easiest team. There are some fearsome opponents left and we could do with some of them taking each other out while we face up to Villarreal or Lille.
The reality is that you go further in every competition if you can avoid the big boys for longer; I wonder if the stepladders would have been out to update the Champions Wall last week if we hadn’t had such a comparatively kind draw in the run to Wembley.
Keep your glamour ties for now, give me a nice relaxing path to the semis and then let’s conquer all of Europe.
JOHN: I want Benfica. With Liverpool going strong in so many competitions, a less difficult game – with respect to them – is the ideal scenario.
As good as this squad is, they are only humans and any kind of tie that doesn’t require their best is the best-case scenario
HENRY: Like the other lads, I want it as easy as possible, please! The thought of facing Man City is exciting but also terrifying, while Chelsea would be a nasty draw, especially with League Cup final revenge in the air.
I don’t want Man United, just in case the unthinkable was to happen, while Bayern Munich are also to be avoided.
Anyway, back to who I WANT to get – I will go for the winner of the Ajax vs. Benfica tie. Both of those teams shouldn’t cause Liverpool a big problem.
It would also be a guaranteed nice away day for the travelling Reds.