Roberto Firmino secured Liverpool ‘s place in the Champions League semi-finals to down Manchester City 2-1 at the Etihad.
The Blues started fast though, in their efforts to overturn a three-goal deficit. Sterling shoved Virgil van Dijk to force a turnover, with Fernandinho quick to send the England international away, with Gabriel Jesus expertly finishing the perfect square ball to break the deadlock after just 126 seconds.
Loris Karius then failed to clear a lofted ball into his area, punching the ball off James Milner, with the ball ricocheting back into the net – only for the offside flag to be wrongly raised to enrage Pep Guardiola.
Mo Salah came alive in the second half following a loose ball after Sadio Mane was stopped by Ederson, coolly finishing after rounding the goalkeeper for the crucial away goal.
And Firmino finished the tie with a smart finish cutting inside from the left, bending the ball into the bottom corner to secure the Reds’ place in the final four.
1. Salah decisive again
You just knew he wouldn’t panic when the ball fell to him amidst frantic scenes around him.
Sadio Mane rushed through on goal and was bundled over to claim a penalty for a touch from Ederson, but there was Mo Salah to pick up the loose ball.
The Egyptian’s quick train of thought saw him sprint past a desperate lunge from Ederson and rather than merely hit the target with the goal at his mercy, he lifted it beautifully over Nicolas Otamendi on the line for that crucial away goal. It’s now 39 goals for Salah in a historic season.
2. Fernandinho masterful in maintaining City pressure
The Brazilian was tasked with the unenviable task of holding City’s midfield together, whilst also ensuring City maintained pressure by recycling Liverpool’s half-clearances.
After Raheem Sterling hurried Virgil Van Dijk to force a turnover, Fernandinho was incisive on the ball to find the England international in behind to set Gabriel up for the opener.
Whether it was a by chesting the ball into the path of Kevin De Bruyne after a high, lofted clearance, or switching play out to Leroy Sane to offer a different angle – Fernandinho enabled City’s aggressive start and gave them hope in the tie.
3. Pep’s tactical ingenuity
When Pep Guardiola’s starting XI was released, the immediate reaction for most was bewilderment. The social media graphic failed to help either, with City bursting with attacking fluidity.
Fernandinho holding in front of a back three? No wing-backs? Or the Brazilian shifted into a back four – Pep ensured he had an abundance of options in pursuit of goals to chip away at their three-goal deficit: Gabriel Jesus, preferred to Sergio Aguero, supported by five sublime footballers.
The team selection was perfect to hit the Reds hard early – and the early goal was a result of the intense approach from the first whistle, emphasising Guardiola’s belief that his sides will always go down fighting.
His hot head, following an altercation with referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz at half-time, may have cost City dearly as the Spaniard could only watch from the stands as Liverpool turned the game around in the second half.
4. Mane a lucky boy
Sadio Mane returned to the scene of the crime from earlier in the season after his kung-fu kick smashed Ederson’s face to earn him a red card and ultimately lead to a 5-0 thrashing for the Reds.
The Senegalese’s exuberance was not stemmed by that incident though. He flew out the traps and put one on Kevin De Bruyne to leave his opponent in a heap – but referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz resisted brandishing a card so early (though not for long).
Mane lost control again when he slipped whilst pressing Nicolas Otamendi, catching the Argentinian with a studs up challenge, as well as his knee clipping his face on the way through. It was a yellow this time, but with the momentum all with City, his reckless challenge could have left Liverpool in a tough predicament.
5. Firmino creates history
Just like Salah, Firmino patiently waited to impact the game and the tie – suffering with poor service for an hour.
The Brazilian dropped in and expertly released pressure at times, even if momentarily, but his newfound cool head in front of goal iced the tie with 10 minutes to go.
A sidefoot finish, curled delicately inside the far post was his ninth in the Champions League this season – nobody has ever achieved that in a Liverpool shirt. Along with Salah and Mane, the Reds can stake a claim to have Europe’s most potent strike force.
The clinical nature of their performances at the Etihad will frighten any opponent and ensure Klopp might just guide them to glory in Kiev.