Liverpool and City win Champions League first leg ahead of PL showdown
English Premier League title challengers Manchester City and Liverpool prepared for their top-flight clash at the weekend with wins in their respective Champions League quarter-final first legs.
For Liverpool, it had to be Luis Diaz.
The Colombian winger was the last player Benfica fans inside the Estádio da Luz atmosphere wanted to see run on a through ball and produce an emphatic finish to complete a 3-1 victory for Liverpool in the first leg of the fixtures. Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday.
After all, Diaz was playing for Porto, Benfica’s arch-rivals in Portugal, until he was signed by Liverpool in January. No wonder he was whistled by home fans – and even targeted with objects thrown from the stands – as he walked away in celebration after his crucial third goal in the 87th minute.
It was a brilliantly taken goal too, as Diaz latched onto Naby Keita’s deflected pass which split the Benfica defense before rounding the goalkeeper and slotting his finish into the unguarded net from a tight angle.
“He had a good reception, didn’t he?” said Liverpool defender Andrew Robertson with a smile.
Diaz, who was mocked every time he touched the ball, also played a big role in Liverpool’s second goal, when he nodded from a precise long pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold to allow Sadio Mane to come home at close range in the 34th. This built on Liverpool’s opener scored by Ibrahima Konaté – the club’s first centre-back – from a 17th-minute Robertson corner kick.
Benfica, contesting the quarter-finals for the first time since 2016 after knocking out Ajax in the round of 16, could easily have gone further at half-time as Liverpool pressed high and were much sharper with their overtaking. But the hosts pushed the game further to the six-time European champions in the second half and Uruguay striker Darwin Núñez took advantage of a Konaté error to pull a goal back in the 49th.
Konaté erased what was otherwise a strong defensive display by failing to clear Rafa Silva’s cross from the right. The ball went through his legs and landed at the feet of Núñez, who took a few touches and delivered a composed, side-to-side finish past the sprawling Konaté and into the bottom corner.
There were a few tougher moments for Liverpool – in one of them goalkeeper Alisson Becker was nearly dispossessed at the edge of his box by Silva – before Diaz’s strike guaranteed the side Jurgen Klopp a fifth consecutive victory in all competitions.
“Coming here and winning an away game in the Champions League is difficult,” Klopp said.
Yet the Reds have passed the latest test in their bid for an unprecedented quadruple of trophies, with the semi-finals now in sight. They have already won the English League Cup, are in the FA Cup semi-finals and are one point behind leaders Manchester City in the Premier League.
Klopp even took the option of knocking out star forwards Mane and Mohamed Salah in the 61st minute, perhaps with the league showdown against City on Sunday in mind.
City will also enter this match thanks to a victory in Tuesday’s other quarter-final, 1-0 against Atletico Madrid.
Kevin De Bruyne scored the only goal in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday.
After a close 70 minutes, City finally found their way through Atletico’s tough rear guard, aided by Phil Foden’s vision. Just 79 seconds after coming off the bench, Foden slid in a nice through ball and De Bruyne raced to fire in a low shot from a tight angle.
“We knew it would be quite difficult to create chances,” said De Bruyne. “The first half was tight, but we didn’t give up and in the second half we had a few chances. It was good that we took one.
In the other first leg of the quarter-finals of the evening, six-time European champions Liverpool won 3-1 at Benfica.
City and Atletico reached the Champions League final but never lifted the trophy.
Atletico played their usual cautious game as coach Diego Simeone promised.
The first half was played at a slow pace with City controlling most of the ball but, despite having all of their outfield players at times in the final third, unable to create openings.
De Bruyne and Joao Cancelo both diverted efforts and Aymeric Laporte missed the target with a header.
Ilkay Gundogan shot well over the top and Rodri blocked a long-range effort before De Bruyne was denied a penalty appeal and John Stones also missed.
“It’s very difficult,” said De Bruyne. “They played almost five at the back and five in midfield, it’s very difficult to find the spaces.”
It wasn’t until the second half that the hosts tried to inject more pace into their game. It opened up the game slightly and Atletico almost capitalized with a few deep breaks. Antoine Griezmann spoiled an opening with a bad pass and Marcos Llorente obediently chipped goalkeeper Ederson with another.
However, City also started to threaten more as Gundogan had a deflected effort wide and Laporte went close with a header.
City requested another penalty for Reinildo’s push on Sterling, but it was not granted. It proved Sterling’s eventual involvement as manager Pep Guardiola took him off in the game-changing move.
Foden, who came alongside Jack Grealish and Gabriel Jesus, coached De Bruyne for the goal.