Liverpool booked their spot in the final four of the Champions League and a clash with Villarreal after seeing the job through with a 3-3 draw with Benfica (6-4 agg).
Ibrahima Konate and a Roberto Firmino double did the damage for Jurgen Klopp’s side as they repelled a brief threat of a Benfica comeback when Goncalo Ramos netted in the first half.
Roman Yaremchuk and the impressive Darwin Nunez scored two consolation goals for the visitors to level the game on the night but overall this was a routine evening for Klopp’s side, who decided to rest Virgil van Dijk, Sadio Mane, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andrew Robertson and Mohamed Salah from the start in a rotated team from the 2-2 draw with Manchester City on Sunday.
Liverpool: Alisson (8), Gomez (7), Matip (7), Konate (7), Tsimikas (8), Keita (7), Milner (6), Henderson (6), Jota (7), Firmino (8), Diaz (7)
Subs: Salah (7), Mane (6), Thiago (6)
Benfica:Vlachodimos (6), Gilberto (7), Otamendi (6), Vertonghen (6), Grimaldo (7), Everton (7), Weigl (7), Taarabt (7), Diogo Goncalves (6), Goncalo Ramos (7), Nunez (8)
Subs:Joao Mario (7), Yaremchuk (7)
Man of the match: Darwin Núñez
Liverpool had been victorious on aggregate in all 35 of the UEFA competition ties in which they won the away first leg and had few moments of worry at Anfield, holding a 3-1 lead from the first leg.
Just like the first leg, it was a set-piece that opened the scoring for Klopp’s side and once again it was Konate. Kostas Tsimikas whipped the corner in from the left and the centre-back sprung between three Benfica defenders to head into the bottom corner.
Liverpool’s risk-reward offside trap that usually catches plenty of prey was breached on 32 minutes when James Milner’s deflected block sent through Ramos, who finished confidently into the far corner.
Any hope of an unlikely comeback at Anfield required Benfica to grab the next goal but Liverpool put their foot down in the second half. Their second goal arrived in comical fashion when goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos blotted his copybook with an unforced error to allow the ball to slip out of his grasp and a rushed Jan Vertonghen clearance allowed Diogo Jota to cross for Firmino to tap in.
The Brazilian was on hand to grab his second goal 10 minutes later from another excellent Tsimikas delivery that was missed by Nicholas Otamendi and finished in classy fashion by the Liverpool striker.
Benfica managed to break through the Reds offside trap again on 73 minutes when Yaremchuk scampered through and rounded Alisson. The offside flag originally chalked the goal off but VAR stepped in to award it as Joe Gomez was playing the Ukrainian striker onside.
VAR was involved again on 81 minutes to overturn another wrongly-called offside decision which had ruled out Nunez’s tidy finish from a Joao Mario pass. Nunez, linked with a host of Premier League clubs, almost set up a grandstand finish but his powerful volley was brilliantly stopped by Alisson and his late finish was ruled out by the assistant referee – this time correctly.
Man of the match: Darwin Nunez
This performance will have left the Benfica hierarchy rubbing their hands together as their star man must have added millions to his asking price. If this was an audition for the player to see if he could cut it against elite Premier League opposition then he passed it with flying colours.
Newcastle, Arsenal and Manchester United have all been reportedly linked with a move.
This is a player absolutely ready-made for the rigours of English football. He can run, he can hold the ball and at Anfield he showed he can finish. On another day he could have walked away with the match ball. The records will say he only scored once but he had the ball in the net three times, showcasing deadly finishing ability. It was unfortunate that he was slightly ahead of the play on both occasions which triggered the assistant referee’s flag to be raised.
- Liverpool have reached the semi-final of the European Cup/Champions League for a 12th time; no English club has reached the last four more times (level with Manchester United).
- Klopp has reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League for a fourth time, three of which have been with Liverpool (other one with Borussia Dortmund). Only Alex Ferguson (seven) has reached the competition’s final four more times with English clubs as a manager.
- Firmino became the fourth player to score 20 European Cup/Champions League goals for Liverpool, after Mo Salah (33), Sadio Mané (22) and Steven Gerrard (21). The Brazilian scored twice in a single match at Anfield for the Reds in any competition for the first time since March 2019 against Burnley.
- Núñez has scored six UEFA Champions League goals this season, the outright most ever by a Benfica player in a single campaign in the competition proper, surpassing Nuno Gomes with five in 1998-99.
- Aged 36 years and 99 days, Liverpool’s James Milner was the oldest English player to start a UEFA Champions League knockout stage match since David Beckham for PSG v Barcelona in the 2012-13 quarter-finals (37y 335d).
Champions League semi-final draw
- Man City vs Real Madrid
- Liverpool vs Villarreal
First legs to be played April 26/27; Second legs to be played May 3/4.
Final to be played in Paris on May 28.
What’s next for Liverpool & Benfica?
Liverpool face title rivals Manchester City again on Saturday as they head to Wembley for the semi-final of the FA Cup; kick-off at 3.30pm. Jurgen Klopp’s side then play host to Manchester United at Anfield on Tuesday, live on Sky Sports Premier League from 7pm; kick-off at 8pm. Liverpool trail City by a point with just seven games left to play in the Premier League and cannot afford any slip-ups in the run-in.
Benfica return to action with a derby against Sporting Lisbon in the Portuguese league on Sunday; kick-off at 8.30pm. Nelson Verissimo’s side trail second-placed Sporting by nine points with five games remaining, and need a win to keep their hopes of securing Champions League football next season alive.