Sadio Mane and Luis Diaz were on target as Liverpool won 3-1 at Benfica to take a firm grip of their Champions League quarter final tie.
The Merseysiders are heading into a crucial period in their quest for an unprecedented quadruple and will now be confident of reaching the last four of Europe’s elite competition after a dominant display secured a first-leg advantage.
Jurgen Klopp’s side deservedly took the lead on 17 minutes when Ibrahima Konate headed home his first goal for the club from Andy Robertson’s corner.
Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita had chances to add to the tally before Mane polished off a sublime, incisive move involving Trent Alexander Arnold and Diaz on 34 minutes.
Liverpool could easily have been out of sight by the interval but were made to pay for failing to make more of their openings when Darwin Nunez punished a Konate error with a clinical finish on 49 minutes.
The hosts were much improved throughout the second half with Nunez offering their greatest hope of rescuing a draw.
The visitors failed to find their best form in the latter stages but added a third through Diaz three minutes from time to ensure they are in control heading into the second leg at Anfield on April 13 courtesy of equalling a club record of five successive away victories in Europe.
Liverpool will now switch focus to Sunday’s huge top of the table Premier League clash at Manchester City. Benfica host relegation-threatened Belenenses in the Primeira Liga on Saturday.
The Liverpool machine rolls on. No slip up here. Liverpool not only picked up the victory many were expecting but the margin of it means the Anfield leg should now be a formality. Of course, given their complete dominance in the first period, there may be some very slight disappointment privately that they didn’t put the tie out of sight, particularly as the second match in this quarter final sits right between two huge matches against Manchester City in the league and FA cup. However, a 3-1 away-day victory in a Champions League last eight encounter remains very significant and puts them in pole position to progress.
It’s the latest, small step in the bid for legendary status. Liverpool aren’t hiding from the fact the month of April will have a huge bearing on how many trophies they end up with as the clashes with Pep Guardiola’s men are followed by league matches at home to rivals Manchester United and Everton. There is simply no let up, but you can expect Klopp and co to embrace it and enjoy the ride such is the belief and quality within their ranks.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Luis Diaz (Liverpool). The former FC Porto man was booed for long spells but answered them in the best way possible, capping another lively attacking display with a goal and an assist.
BENFICA: Vlachodimos 7, Gilberto 6, Otamendi 6, Vertonghen 6, Grimaldo 6, Weigl 7, Taarabt 6, Rafa 7, G.Ramos 6, Everton 7, Nunez 7. Subs: Meite 6, Yaremchuk n/a, Joao Mario n/a.
LIVERPOOL: Alisson 7, Alexander-Arnold 8, Konate 6, Van Dijk 7, Robertson 7, Fabinho 7, Thiago 6, Keita 7, Salah 6, Mane 7, Diaz 8. Subs: Henderson 6, Firmino 6, Jota 6, Milner n/a, Gomez n/a.
17’ – GOAL! – Benfica 0-1 Liverpool. Konate is given too much space to rise at the far post and power a header home from a left-wing corner.
19’ – LIVERPOOL CHANCE! Liverpool are given too much freedom once again down the left. It’s crossed towards an unmarked Keita who gets his free header horribly wrong. That’s a real let off for the Eagles.
34’ – GOAL! – Benfica 0-2 Liverpool. Mane taps home Diaz’s superb headed assist following a sublime diagonal cross from Alexander Arnold.
49’ – GOAL! – Benfica 1-2 Liverpool. Lifeline! Konate goes from hero to villain as he completely misses a low right-wing cross, allowing Nunez to take it down and coolly place it into the far corner.
68’ – BENFICA PENALTY SHOUT! Nunez escapes down the left and is clear of the Liverpool defence. He drives into the area but throws himself to the floor trying to turn inside the recovering Van Dijk. The referee isn’t interested – and VAR backs him up – but the whistles of disapproval from the home fans are deafening!
87’ – GOAL! – Benfica 1-3 Liverpool. Diaz restores the visitors’ two-goal cushion as he charges after Keita’s through ball, rounds the keeper and fires home.