Liverpool 3-3 Benfica (6-4 agg): Firmino’s double and Ibrahima Konate’s goal were enough to set up a semi-final against Villarreal after an entertaining evening at Anfield
From Bayern Munich to Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain to Manchester United, Europe abounds with clubs who would love to advance into the last four of the kampioen liga with a full-strength team. Liverpool did it with a weakened side, setting up a semi-final date with Villarreal and eliminating Benfica while diverting their attentions to Manchester City.
They will be favourites to reach a third Champions League final in five seasons. They should be the fresher team at Wembley on Saturday as they seek to beat Pep Guardiola’s men and progress to a first FA Cup final in a decade.
Ibrahima Konate scored and Roberto Firmino struck twice in an example of Liverpool’s strength in depth. Benfica departed Anfield with a creditable draw and three goals as evidence of their attacking abilities, but Jurgen Klopp rested, rotated and reached the next round in entertaining fashion. A 3-3 scoreline completed a 6-4 aggregate triumph and his quest for the quadruple continues.
A vocal advocate of five substitutions made seven changes of a different sort, Klopp retaining only Alisson, Joel Matip, Jordan Henderson and Diogo Jota of those who started at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. His gamble did not backfire: indeed within the opening quarter, Konate had given Liverpool the insurance of an extra goal. Firmino, who had scored an autumn brace against Porto, repeated the feat against a second Portuguese team.
Of the rested seven, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara made cameos. Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson were unused substitutes, with Liverpool’s high defensive line exploited as they conceded three goals in their absence. All are presumably pencilled in for Wembley returns.
The understudies showed a potency without them. Inderdaad, Robertson’s deputy Kostas Tsimikas ended the night with twin assists while Konate has proved prolific in this quarter-final. The summer signing had not scored for Liverpool before last week’s first leg. Now he has two goals, each against Benfica. He rose above a different generation of centre-back, Nicolas Otamendi and Jan Vertonghen, to meet Tsimikas’ corner with an emphatic header for a goal that stemmed from two defenders who are not in strongest side.
Liverpool were pegged back. Diogo Goncalves’ pass took a touch off James Milner on its way to Goncalo Ramos. His finish was precise and the goal survived a VAR check. It was far from the only moment when Benfica showed hints of quality to suggest that several of their players will figure on summer shopping lists. Everton curled a shot wide, sommige 11 days before the other Everton visit Anfield; they will have a shorter journey than the Benfica winger.
At the other end, Grimaldo made a brilliant sliding intervention to deny Luis Diaz a tap-in after Firmino squared the ball instead of shooting. Odisseas Vlachidimos did well to prevent James Milner and Firmino from turning in Diaz’s cross. Naby Keita fizzed a shot into the advertising hoardings.
Firmino’s 11-minute double secured the semi-final spot, with Benfica obligingly leaving him unmarked for both. First the Brazilian had a simple finish from Jota’s cross after Vlachidimos spilled a shot. Then he produced a wonderful volley from Tsimikas’ free kick. Otamendi, who had neglected to jump for the first goal, instead leapt and headed thin air this time.
But Benfica were enterprising and excellent when they went forward. They continued to show ambition and the substitute Roman Yaremchuk surged on to a through ball, round Alisson and slotted the ball into the net. He was initially given offside; a replay later, the goal stood. Then another VAR intervention brought another goal; Darwin Nunez had beaten Alisson stylishly. Once again, an offside flag seemed to frustrate Benfica but technology brought another verdict.
There was still time for a further disallowed goal at each end – this time the offside verdicts stood – as Benfica’s wait goes on. Seven times European Cup finalists, they have not reached the semi-finals since 1990. In 2022, as in 2018 en 2019, Liverpool could be in club football’s biggest game.