Luis Diaz came back to haunt Benfica, scoring a vital third goal for Liverpool as they beat Benfica 3-1 in their Champions League quarter-final first leg in Lisbon.
Diaz has shone for Liverpool since moving from Benfica’s fierce rivals Porto in January, and he restored the Reds’ two-goal lead in the 88th minute.
The Colombian strode confidently past Benfica goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos before slotting into the far corner, giving Liverpool some much-needed breathing space heading into next Wednesday’s second leg at Anfield.
The first leg was the epitome of a game of two halves. Liverpool dominated the first half, with Ibrahima Konate heading home his first goal for the club, doing so from a whipped Andy Robertson’s corner.
Sadio Mane then tapped home after a dazzling counter-attack, which summed up a strong first half. Trent Alexander-Arnold – starting for the first time since injury – picked up a loose Adel Taarabt pass before playing an inch-perfect pass over the top.
The sublime ball found the head of Diaz, who spotted the run of Mane down the right of the area. He squared his header and it was an easy tap-in for the Senegal international.
While Benfica ended the first half with one shot on target and looked to be facing a swift exit from the Champions League, the second half could not have been more contrasting.
Much had been made of Nunez heading into the game, with Premier League links drawing the eye, and he showed his poacher’s instinct four minutes after the break. A woefully attempted clearance from Konate in the middle of the box saw the Benfica striker presented with a golden chance, which he dispatched past Alisson.
- There were six changes made by Jurgen Klopp from the weekend win over Watford.
- Trent Alexander-Arnold was fit enough to start alongside Naby Keita, Ibrahima Konate, Fabinho, Sadio Mane and Luiz Diaz, all of whom were drafted in.
Nunez could have been awarded a penalty in the 67th minute too as he and Rafa Silva tested a stunned Liverpool defence. The striker was body checked by Virgil van Dijk inside the area before going down, but a VAR review did not award Benfica the penalty.
Liverpool soon began to regain a foothold in the match and looked to quieten the passionate crowd as well as a revived Benfica side. Their recovery paid off when Diaz slotted home late on to put the visitors in a commanding position ahead of the second leg, with his strike met with a sigh of relief and a smile from Jurgen Klopp.
With Manchester City edging their own Champions League leg tie against Atletico Madrid 1-0, it sees both Liverpool and City with midweek victories under their belts heading into Sunday’s Premier League title showdown at the Etihad Stadium, live on Sky Sports.
Looking ahead to the Super Sunday game, Jurgen Klopp told his post-match press conference: “If we win against City – it’s already difficult enough – I don’t think anybody would think ‘that’s it – decided’ [the Premier League title race] because the quality of the opponent. We play against the best team in the world, that’s how it is and we will give it a try anyway.
“Everybody knows the importance of the next game. But after this game, there will be other games. If you can’t be first, you want to be second. If you are behind, you want to get closer and if you are close, you want to overtake. That is the situation and we will give it a proper try.”
Reddy: Experience helps Liverpool to victory
Sky Sports News’ senior reporter Melissa Reddy in Lisbon:
“Liverpool steered through a contrast of halves to take charge of this quarter-final, which caused them greater concern than anticipated especially considering their position going into the break.
“They managed to regain control late on after being hugely sloppy, removing the sting from the game, and as such, the force of the crowd.
“Benfica, as they’ve done in the competition this season, produced an aggressive spell in out of possession that threatened to derail Liverpool, but Klopp’s men leaned on their experience and resilience to record a 3-1 win.
“That’s a club-record five straight away victories in the competition for the Merseysiders.”
Klopp: Benfica fought for their lives
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp:
“We came here for a result. I didn’t expect the game of being any easier. It’s a big compliment to Benfica, they fought for their lives, especially after we opened the door a little bit for them.
“It was clear when they scored that the crowd will be back and atmosphere was really good and good football teams tend to use that, but we calmed them down immediately a little bit with the three changes… They [the players who came off] were all having tough periods and that’s why it was good that we could have fresh legs.
“The game was slightly more open that I would wish, but we scored a third one. Everyone can agree we could’ve scored more goals, maybe should have… The best player for Benfica was probably the goalie and it says a lot.
“It’s half-time, we are two goals up. We were two goals up at half-time today and we knew it wasn’t over, and it’s effectively the same information we have now. Now they have to come to Anfield and we have to use that.”
Reflecting further on facing Man City on Sunday, live on Sky Sports, Klopp added: “We are in the quarter-finals and semi-finals [of the FA Cup] and the further you go in competitions, the harder it gets, that’s unfortunately the truth. You barely reach a final and win 8-0…
“We knew already since late December, it was clear that if you want to achieve something, we better win all our games. That’s not really likely, but that’s why we take it game by game and then it’s maybe a little more possible, but it will be really tough.”
Robertson: I had lighters thrown at me
Andy Robertson speaking to BT Sport:
“I had quite a few lighters thrown at me – maybe it will help them stop smoking? You’ve got to take the positives. We’ve seen it a lot people getting hit, luckily they were all quite close to me but they didn’t hit me.
“It’s tough when it’s late in the game and the fans are frustrated but you should not throw stuff onto the pitch. It could hurt people. I was just trying to take the corner and get out of there as quick as possible.”
Benfica: Vlachodimos (7), Gilberto (6), Otamendi (7), Vertonghen (6), Grimaldo (6), Weigl (6), Taarabt (6), Rafa (7), G.Ramos (6), Everton (6), Darwin (7).
Subs used: Meite (6), Yaremchuk (n/a), Joao Mario (n/a).
Liverpool: Alisson (7), Alexander-Arnold (7), Konate (6), Van Dijk (7), Robertson (7), Fabinho (7), Thiago (6), Keita (6), Salah (6), Mane (6), Diaz (8).
Subs used: Jota (6), Firmino (6), Henderson (6), Gomez (n/a), Milner (n/a).
Man of the match: Luis Diaz.
Man of the match – Luis Diaz
A goal and an assist on his return to an old Portuguese rival – does it get better than that? Another stellar evening’s work for the Liverpool forward.
Opta stats – Liverpool take first leg advantage
- Liverpool have beaten Benfica in a UEFA Champions League/European Cup match for the first time since October 1984 (3-1), having lost their previous three such meetings before tonight without scoring a goal.
- Sadio Mane scored his 22nd UEFA Champions League goal, overtaking Steven Gerrard (21) as Liverpool’s second-highest goalscorer in the competition, behind Mohamed Salah (33).
- Darwin Nunez has scored his fifth UEFA Champions League goal of the season, no player has ever scored more for Benfica in a single campaign in the competition.
Tuesday’s Champions League game begins a huge 11-day period for Liverpool. They face Premier League title challengers Man City on Super Sunday, live on Sky Sports from 4pm; kick-off 4.30pm.
Liverpool will then host Benfica next Wednesday in their quarter-final second leg, before taking on Man City once again in the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday April 16.