Liverpool escapes unpunished after relaxed performance

Liverpool beat Porto 2-0 at Anfield on Tuesday, but against more illustrious opposition its laid-back nature could be exposed.

Mohamed Salah missed a good opportunity to add a third goal.   -  Getty Images

A 2-0 win over Porto in the Champions League quarterfinal first leg certainly has Liverpool in a decent position, though against better teams such a relaxed attitude has the potential to see its chances go up in flames.

Liverpool's run to last season's Champions League final was largely as unexpected as it was spectacular, and it came amid serious domestic pressure.

The Reds only managed to qualify for the competition again on the last day of the Premier League campaign, a situation Jurgen Klopp described as "proper pressure" before Tuesday's win over Porto.

"If you are not for sure in the Champions League, it changes everything," Klopp said on Monday, in the knowledge Liverpool has already secured elite European football in 2019-20 after beating Southampton at the weekend.

Although long seeming a formality, that achievement lifted a weight from Klopp and Liverpool – even if it is still very much in a title challenge – and that was notable in the build-up to Tuesday's game.

Anfield certainly expected upon the visit of Porto, regardless of any perceived lack of pressure felt by Klopp and his players, however.

Porto did not get the intimidating welcome Manchester City did at this stage last term, surely a sign that supporters felt the Reds didn't need really need the help intimidation might bring.

While Porto's team clearly boasted technical ability, it was soon obvious this was to be Liverpool's day, with Naby Keita's strike taking a hefty deflection on its way into the top-right corner after just five minutes.

Belief initially flowed through the Reds, hunting the ball down in packs with their typical off-the-ball intensity, while they looked capable of carving through Porto almost every time they entered the final third.

The players were confident, at ease and in charge.

Keita, whose first season at the club has been somewhat stop-start, was particularly bright, driving forward with great purpose and giving defenders plenty to think about with his probing passes.

Mohamed Salah, too, looked unshackled, having recently returned to goal-scoring form – though he will be kicking himself for a miss late in the first half, shooting wide with just the goalkeeper to beat when pouncing on a poor back-pass.

A beautifully worked Roberto Firmino goal wrapped things up in the end, but there were nervous moments to come.

Porto certainly didn't offer nothing, as Moussa Marega spurned a couple of good chances in the first half and a spell soon after the break suggested Liverpool had to be careful.

It was in that situation that Liverpool's rather relaxed approach began to look a little dangerous, as the visitors targeted the Reds with passes in behind the defence. Some caused problems.

Marega continued to threaten and waste half-chances in equal measure, with the final 10 minutes proving far more nervous than they had to be for Klopp's men.

The Anfield crowd became particularly tetchy, even getting vocal towards Iker Casillas for the minimal offence of taking a free-kick 10 yards too far forward.

Thankfully for Liverpool, it can rely on a defence which contains Virgil van Dijk and the Dutchman was again impressive, marshalling a back four that managed to hold out.

"I love this season so much more," Klopp said on Monday when comparing the apparent decrease in pressure from the 2017-18 campaign.

But, on the evidence of Tuesday's performance, a little extra pressure would be helpful.

Such a laid-back performance against Manchester United or Barcelona in the semifinals – should Liverpool get there – will have Klopp regretting talk of a release of pressure.