Liverpool are into the last four of the Champions League after a draw on home soil and aggregate win over Benfica, as Jurgen Klopp shuffled his pack.
Liverpool 3-3 Benfica (6-4 agg)
Champions League Quarter-Final Second Leg, Anfield
April 13, 2022
Goals: Konate 21′, Firmino 55′ 65′; Ramos 32′, Yaremchuk 73′, Nunez 82′
Wild lineup prevails
Well, rotations were certainly forewarned by the boss, but possibly not many supporters expected this many changes.
No Virgil, Fab, Mo, Sadio or Trent; Bobby recalled, Milner in for just his second start since mid-January and even Kostas managed to break out of Azkaban prison or wherever he’s been for a run-out.
In terms of possession, it was as erratic as you might expect as a result at times, occasionally excellent interspersed with terrible touches and with the midfield three ranging between 69 and 85% accuracy in passing at the break.
But overall, it’s hard to fault any of them.
The energy and positional play was good, the link-up was as decent as could be hoped for and, importantly given what’s on the horizon, a few players with a lot of minutes in the legs this season could be rested ahead of the weekend.
This selection showed the trust in the whole squad – and being able to rest key players at this time will be key to this incredible final six weeks ahead.
Planned subs and all five this time
Several key players got a rest, yes. Of particular importance was probably resting both full-backs for the full match, given the demands on them tactically and physically.
But it’s also worth noting that with five subs available (and used, this time), the first batch of three around the hour mark appeared very much planned.
We’ve often remarked that the Reds appear sharpest and most fluid when the games come every three or four days, rather than following a week off or break away for warm-weather training – that rhythm is better, the tempo higher.
With that in mind it’s good to note Thiago, Fabinho, Mane and Salah all appearing off the bench for a fairly decent chunk of game time, without it being too heavy or stressful while they were on.
Thiago looked like he was down the park for most of it, with all the no-look, outside the boot and outrageously good technique he possesses being on show.
There can’t be much question that all four will be in the lineup for the semi-final after that introduction, along with the possibility of some of those who came off early also appearing.
Konate strikes again
Mirror image of the first leg! Ibrahima Konate has a mighty leap on him and the pint-sized statue of Nicolas Otamendi had no chance of containing him as Ibou headed in once more.
While in the away leg that goal was followed up by an error which gifted one, this time
In truth, without the first leg error we’d be looking at two man of the match candidate performances for the centre-back in this late stage of Europe’s top competition, which is a massive pointer toward his eventual ceiling.
Given the defensive issues the Reds had against Man City in the league at the weekend, there must be a big decision for Klopp to make over whether to keep Konate in at Wembley.
What formation has five forwards in it?
Whatever your preferences of the starting trio in attack these days, it has to be said that Jurgen Klopp has an unenviable task deciding who to leave out.
Right now, there’s a case to be made for any of the five ‘first choice’ forwards being in each starting three.
Diogo Jota isn’t always the most finessed player, but his consistency in front of goal and menacing defensive work are both sensational. The latter has long applied to Firmino, and his strike rate this term is also brilliant – another two goals here were well-taken and as a result of fine movement in dangerous areas.
We need to say very little about Luis Diaz these days, a firm fan favourite already, while Sadio Mane and Mo Salah both looked very sharp off the bench here.
Mane tapped one in offside and almost had a carbon copy of his weekend goal to aim for, while Mo is still without finding the net in open play for some time, but was heavily involved and went close twice.
Also, he’s boss.
Three from five still then, or else we play the table football formation…
City again and last four ahead
So it’s back to the future and another Pep battle to look forward to, this time at Wembley.
This time, too, a draw won’t be an acceptable outcome for either side or the regulations of the competition – we go the distance, and we’ll go through to the final or we go out and talk of the quadruple no doubt becomes an irrelevant argument of who has more chance of a treble.
While Liverpool were resting players here, City made just two changes against Atletico, saw Kevin de Bruyne and Kyle Walker off injured and several others taking knocks in a very physical encounter. Draining…
We can’t afford to look much further ahead, given it’s Man City, but Liverpool already know it’s Villarreal in the Champions League semis.
They’ve beaten Juve and Bayern to get this far, so cannot be ignored or underestimated, clearly.
But they’re also miles away from being Europe’s absolute elite, and the entire fanbase know that the Reds have been handed a massive opportunity to fly straight into the European Cup final again.
It is all still on.