Naby Keita, Liverpool Beat Porto 2-0 in Champions League Quarter-Final Leg 1

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistApril 9, 2019

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 09: Roberto Firmino of Liverpool celebrates after scoring his team's second goal with Sadio Mane of Liverpool during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final first leg match between Liverpool and Porto at Anfield on April 09, 2019 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Liverpool are 90 minutes away from qualifying for the UEFA Champions League's last four in back-to-back seasons after they beat Porto 2-0 in the opening leg of their quarter-final meeting on Tuesday.

Naby Keita sent Anfield into raptures after his deflected effort unlocked Porto's defence five minutes in, and Roberto Firmino was positioned well to slot home a second before the half-hour mark.

The hosts couldn't add to their tally in the second half, but a home clean sheet ahead of next week's visit to the Estadio Do Dragao will please manager Jurgen Klopp.


Keita Catching Fire at Exactly the Right Time

Four days after scoring his first goal for Liverpool in a 3-1 victory at Southampton, Keita doubled up with his first strike in front of an Anfield crowd.

The 24-year-old has attracted attention for his under-performance since arriving from RB Leipzig last summer in a deal worth a little more than £52 million.

Klopp has never waned in his belief that the player would come good, and Keita's second strike in as many games—even with the opposition's assistance—helps vindicate the manager (U.S. only):

Bleacher Report Live @brlive

Liverpool ahead after 5 minutes 👋 Keita's shot takes a favorable deflection past Casillas for the 1-0 lead Watch now on #BRLive: https://t.co/54Qb6dnN1G https://t.co/fnyC0S3x62

At his best in the Bundesliga with Leipzig, Keita was a multi-faceted and reliable electrode in the middle of the park. He could break up play and distribute with accuracy, but more important were his piercing runs from deep.

He hasn't played with the same confidence or reliability in his maiden Premier League campaign. But he could prove an essential asset for Liverpool down the line if this glacial first eight or so months do prove nothing more than a settling-in phase. 

Keita was responsible for six of the 11 tackles Liverpool completed in the opening half, per WhoScored.com, and Statman Dave attested to the midfielder's versatility:

Statman Dave @StatmanDave

No player on the pitch won more tackles (6) or completed more take-ons (2) than Naby Keita in the first half vs. Porto He won twice as many tackles as any other player. 👏👏👏 https://t.co/yyxAgaDQ0C

Goal provided more detail from the Guinea international's first half:

Goal @goal

Naby Keita's first half vs Porto: ⚽️ 46 touches 🎯 29 passes 👊 6 tackles 💪 6 recoveries 🔑 1 chance created 🥅 1 goal https://t.co/PFvR5qNBdB

The Reds as a whole weren't as penetrative after Porto chief Sergio Conceicao changed his plans at the break, but Keita's 86 percent remained one of the best ratios on the field as he brought calm to Klopp's order.

As a stand-in for this season's consistently reliable Georginio Wijnaldum, that's what the manager will want him to deliver when he's to step in, though his dose of dribbling verve and the odd goal are always welcome.


Liverpool Shouldn't Sleep On Porto 2nd Leg

The warning bells were ringing for Porto after taking their time to get off the mark on Merseyside, but the away team settled somewhat after a submissive spell.

It also seemed like fate that on the same night Tottenham Hotspur defender Danny Rose was penalised for an accidental handball against Manchester City, Trent Alexander-Arnold escaped an almost identical fate.

Goalkeeper Alisson tipped the ball onto the arm of his team-mate, but the video assistant referee didn't come to the same conclusion as was the case at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, per sportswriter Duncan Castles:

Duncan Castles @DuncanCastles

Moreover UEFA does not even appear to be applying its aggressive rewriting of the handball law consistently. This is also not a deliberate handball, but Alexander-Arnold’s arm is further from his body than Rose’s was. Yet no penalty, even post-VAR... https://t.co/A0VgfIdvFX https://t.co/oarSCuxyqd

There's also the matter of Mohamed Salah being fortunate to remain on the pitch and avoid a straight red card in the game's final exchanges. Replays showed his studs-up challenge on Danilo Pereira surely warranted a red, which would have seen the Egyptian miss out on next week's return leg.

Crucially, Porto's failure to get an away goal is likely to be their undoing at the Estadio do Dragao, where the Reds were rampant 5-0 victors during last season's round of 16.

Conceicao has had more time to implement his blueprint at the club since then, and Porto will look forward to the return of several important players for the return fixture. 

Experienced defender Pepe and key anchor Hector Herrera will be available after suspension, while star left-back Alex Telles should be fit to come back into their lineup.

Striker Moussa Marega hit the target with three of his five shots and is a threat on Liverpool's stubborn back line, having missed out on a major scoring streak on Tuesday:

Bleacher Report Live @brlive

.@FCPorto's Moussa Marega is on 🔥in the #UCL https://t.co/5tisntOdMk

Nevertheless, he can make up for that miss by getting on the scoresheet at home, with Porto hoping to reach the Champions League's last four for the first time since winning the competition in 2004. 


What's Next?

Liverpool's two-point lead at the top of the Premier League will come under threat when they host Chelsea on Sunday. Porto will travel to Portimonense on Saturday as they seek to take the Primeira Liga lead from Benfica before these two teams clash in Portugal next Wednesday.


This article will be updated to provide more information soon.

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