Lisbon, April 6: Premier League giants Liverpool have one foot in the UEFA Champions League semi-final after defeating Portuguese club Benfica 3-1 in the first leg of their quarter-final at the Estadio da Luz here on Wednesday. (IST).
Ibrahima Konate’s first goal for the club, a header in the 17th minute, was followed by a Sadio Mane strike to round off an excellent first-half game for the Reds.
The Portuguese team did not take long to cut off the visiting charge after the break, when Darwin Núñez put the ball in in the 49th minute.
But Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool withstood mounting pressure from Benfica and scored again late through Luis Diaz to ensure they held a huge lead in the second leg at Anfield on 13 April.
The German tactician has made half a dozen changes since the weekend’s win over Watford, with Trent Alexander-Arnold returning at right back and Diaz named in attack on his return to Portugal.
Liverpool threatened to take the lead after nine minutes when Mane’s heeled pass into the box found Mohamed Salah. However, the Egyptian striker’s goal was blocked by Nicolás Otamendi, according to liverpoolfc.com.
Naby Keita was then denied by the gloves of Benfica goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos with a shot from 20 meters, but the Reds broke through in the 17th minute. Andy Robertson sent the ball deep to the far post from a left angle and Konate escaped his marker to receive the shot with a firm header to the lower right corner.
An impressive pass from Alexander-Arnold reached Diaz inside the area and he headed through the goal for Mane to hopefully push into the net and complete an excellent team move in the 34th minute.
In the second half, Rafa Silva escaped down the right flank and when he sent a cross into the penalty area, Ibrahima Konate was unable to clear and Benfica’s Núñez pounced with a sure tag out of Alisson’s reach.
Momentum shifted significantly in favor of the home team right away and they pressed hard for an equalizer with quick and direct attacks. Liverpool responded by deploying a triple substitution: Roberto Firmino, Jordan Henderson and Diogo Jota came on in place of Mane, Salah and Thiago Alcantara.
Klopp’s men managed to ease the pressure in the closing stages and then extended their lead for the second leg on Merseyside next week. Keita took the ball up the middle and passed to Diaz, who went around the goalkeeper and shoved a shot into the open net to make it 3-1.
Manchester City beat Atletico Madrid Manchester City will take a narrow 1-0 lead over Madrid next week after a hard-fought quarter-final first leg at the Etihad on Tuesday night.
The Spanish club defended decisively and City kept attacking almost from start to finish, finally managing to score in the 70th minute through Kevin De Bruyne.
It was a moment of magic from Phil Foden, opening up the Atlético defense for De Bruyne to score the only goal of the game.
With Atlético totally on defense and City attacking at every possible opportunity, it was frustrating to watch.
In fact, City were virtually camped out in the opposition’s final third at all times, but were unable to bother goalkeeper Jan Obiak, thanks in part to some misguided rangers.
However, there was more urgency about City after the restart with Ilkay Gundogan firing a low shot just wide and De Bruyne seeing a free kick saved by Obiak in the opening 10 minutes.
With 67 minutes remaining in the game, City manager Pep Guardiola brought in Jack Grealish, Foden and Gabriel Jesus to try and find a breakthrough.
And, after three minutes, the English club was ahead. Foden collected the ball 10 meters outside the Atletico box, passing a ball into the path of De Bruyne, who fired a low shot through Obiak and into the bottom left corner that made the Etihad nervous.
“It was a tough game against tough opponents, they played two banks of five for the first 25-30 minutes and it was very difficult to find spaces, but we were patient enough except for the first 10 minutes. The first 5-10 minutes of the second half We didn’t attack with the right rhythm and we didn’t play the way we played,” Guardiola told mancity.com.
“But yeah, it was a good result today. We had one or two more chances to score a second with Kevin, but it was a good result and we won the game.”