A late goal from Luis Diaz put Liverpool in a commanding position to reach the last four of the Champions League after a 3-1 win over Benfica in their quarterfinal first leg at Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz on Tuesday.
Early goals from Ibrahima Konate and Sadio Mane had Liverpool in total control at half-time but Benfica capitalized on a sloppy start to the second half by the visitors, with Darwin Nunez pulling a goal back to breathe fresh life into the tie. Instead, with three minutes remaining, Diaz seized on a through ball from Naby Keita to restore Liverpool’s two-goal advantage heading into next week’s second leg at Anfield.
For a Liverpool team facing a crucial trip to Premier League leaders Manchester City in between the two matches with Benfica, the first half could hardly have gone better.
Not for the first time, Liverpool’s two rampaging full-backs were key to finding the net. First, on 17 minutes, Andy Robertson supplied a pinpoint corner kick and Konate rose highest to power a header down and in from six yards for the centre-back’s first Liverpool goal.
Then just a few minutes later, Trent Alexander-Arnold capitalized immediately on a Benfica giveaway in the midfield to supply a wondrous diagonal ball over the top of the Benfica defense. Diaz got on the end of it to head across the face of goal and give Mane the simple task to side foot into the net.
With his 22nd Champions League goal for Liverpool, Mane surpassed the mark of Reds legend Steven Gerrard, putting him behind only Mohamed Salah in Europe’s premier competition.
At half-time it looked to be only a matter of time before Jurgen Klopp began to rest some of his key men ahead of Sunday’s top-of-the-league clash at the Etihad.
Benfica, though, had other ideas. Less than five minutes after the restart, Nunez showed why he is reportedly in the sights of some of Europe’s top clubs as he slotted in for his 20th goal in his last 20 games in all competitions after Konate failed to cut out a Rafa Silva cross.
Klopp’s concern was evident when choosing to make a triple substitution, bringing on Jordan Henderson, Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino.
Spurred on by a reawakened home crowd, Benfica continued to threaten to level the tie up. But Liverpool’s greater quality shone through as Diaz, on his return to Portugal following his January move from Porto, continued to prove himself an exceptional midseason addition and give Liverpool an ideal start to a massive week.
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