Liverpool will face Villarreal in the semi-finals after a thrilling draw with Benfica | Champions League

Benfica saved the pride of Anfield while Liverpool held on to dreams of a seventh European crown and an unprecedented treble. Jürgen Klopp will consider this a decent exchange.

There was humility in Liverpool’s exit after the final whistle compared to the jubilant scenes among Benfica fans who serenaded the chic Darwin Núñez and co after their late recovery in VAR form.

Perhaps lapses in concentration while comfortably up front played on Liverpool’s mind, or the knowledge that they had to start again in the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City on Saturday, but they had plenty to worry about. happy anyway.

A Champions League semi-final against Villarreal awaits Liverpool after a fluctuating game when an Ibrahima Konaté header and Roberto Firmino brace extended the comfort of their 3-1 first leg lead. Benfica fought back from 3-1 up on the night thanks to two late goals which were disallowed for offside before being allowed by VAR.

Núñez also had two other goals ruled out for offside. Their efforts were in vain. Liverpool are heading to a 12th European Cup/Champions League semi-final, equaling Manchester United’s record for an English club, and remain confident on course for a third Champions League final in five seasons under Klopp . On the previous two occasions, Liverpool beat Benfica in the quarter-finals – 1978 and 1984 – and went on to lift the trophy.

Klopp is more concerned with practicalities than omens and made seven changes from the side that started Sunday’s draw at City on the basis that the second leg of the quarter-finals required the “fastest legs”. cooler”. His schedule requires rotation but no doubt the squad sheet will have raised Benfica’s hopes ahead of kick-off. These were only slim hopes. It was Liverpool’s 200th European game at Anfield.

Only seven of the previous 199 had ended in defeat by two or more goals.

There was a minute’s silence before the match in memory of the 97 Liverpool supporters who were unlawfully killed at Hillsborough 33 years ago on Friday. It would be nice to point out that it was impeccably observed, but some cretins from the Benfica section, ignoring the “shh” that came from the majority around them, decided otherwise.

With Mohamed Salah rested on the bench for the first time in a Champions League game this season, Klopp tasked Luis Díaz with troubling Benfica from the right. The former Porto winger impressed again against their former rivals, with his pace, touch and direct movement a constant thorn in the visitors’ defence. A thread ball from Jordan Henderson allowed Díaz to exchange passes with Firmino before darting towards the boundary line and crossing dangerously into Benfica’s mouth. Goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos, injured moments earlier in a brave save at the feet of Diogo Jota, fumbled under pressure from James Milner but recovered in time to snatch the loose ball from Firmino. Liverpool stayed in attack and opened the scoring with a repeat of their first goal at Estádio da Luz.

Kostas Tsimikas, starting in place of Andy Robertson, swung a corner into the Benfica area where Konaté rose above a Jan Vertonghen and Nicolas Otamendi to head towards the left corner of Vlachodimos. Konaté had opened his account at Liverpool in the same style eight days ago. Lessons had not been learned in Benfica’s defence.

Darwin Núñez tied the match at 3-3.
Darwin Núñez tied the match at 3-3. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA

There were, however, warning signs for Liverpool. Everton curled a shot just wide of Alisson’s top corner in the opening minutes and Núñez thought he had canceled out Konaté’s header with a superb chip on the Liverpool keeper. However, the dangerous centre-forward was offside on the run to Everton’s pass. Benfica were growing increasingly confident on the ball, encouraged by loose play from Liverpool, and equalized for the first time on the night Goncalo Ramos beat Alisson with a convincing finish. Liverpool turned to VAR to save them with an offside call against Ramos but Milner, challenging Diogo Goncalves in midfield, had inadvertently played the goalscorer.

Liverpool should have restored their lead before the break, but Firmino delayed a pass to an unmarked Díaz and gave Alejandro Grimaldo time to sweep. The Colombia international was far from impressed. The Brazilian made amends with two goals in quick succession early in the second half.

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His first was a mess from a Portuguese perspective. Naby Keïta kicked off the move with a piercing pass to Díaz. Vlachodimos arrived first but the keeper, impressive in the first leg, fumbled again and forced Vertonghen into a desperate clearance which he sliced ​​at Jota. The Liverpool striker scuffed his shot through the goal but Firmino was on hand to convert into an empty net.

Firmino’s second was a controlled volley at the far post from a Tsimikas free-kick that sailed above the Benfica defence. Liverpool were heading to the last four and went out as a result. Benfica substitute Roman Yaremchuk was ruled offside after receiving Julian Weigl’s pass, rounding Alisson and rolling into an unguarded net. VAR spotted he was played by Joe Gomez and Benfica had a lifeline in the game if not the tie. A third followed in the same way. Núñez’s cool finish after collecting a long ball past the defense was disallowed and then rewarded after a lengthy VAR review.

The Uruguayan striker struck again in the 95th minute but this time he was offside. Liverpool’s quest continues.