59 min: Nunez attempts a Van Bastenesque volley from a wide position on the left. Nope. The ball sails softly into Alisson’s arms.
57 min: That assist is Jota’s last act of the evening. He’s one of three Liverpool changes. Henderson and Milner also depart; Fabinho, Thiago and Salah come on.
Keita bursts into space down the middle. He feeds Diaz, who should break into the box and score. He takes a heavy touch and Vlachodimos comes out to smother. He should claim, but the ball pings off his legs. Vertonghen, facing his own goal, hoicks a panicked ball to the Liverpool left. Jota sends it straight back in, and Firmino taps home. What a fiasco from a Benfica point of view!
53 min: Liverpool stroke it around the back. Benfica aren’t pressing them right now. It’s a stand-off.
51 min: Diaz and Firmino latch onto a loose ball on the edge of the Benfica box. Both juggle with it. Neither can quite get it under control. Eventually Firmino has a whack, only to smack his effort into the back of Diaz. Liverpool are not quite clicking at the moment.
49 min: Yaremchuk hares after a long pass down the right. Alisson is forced to race out of his box to blooter clear. Anfield is pretty quiet right now. A two-goal lead is never quite enough, as Real Madrid nearly found out last night.
47 min: Diaz wins a Liverpool a corner down the right. Nothing much comes of it. A fairly low-key start to the half.
Liverpool get the second half underway. They’re kicking towards the Kop in the second half, which will please the superstitious among their fanbase. Benfica have made a change: striker Roman Yaremchuk has come on for Diogo Goncalves.
There’s just enough time for Goncalves to have a dig from distance. Easy for Alisson, the flag goes up for offside anyway, and that’s the end of a highly entertaining first half. Liverpool are still in control of this tie, but Benfica are far from finished.
45 min +2: Diaz dribbles infield from the left. The ball breaks to Henderson, who rolls into the direction of Gomez, steaming in from the right. It’s an ersatz facsimile of the Pele / Carlos Alberto dynamic in the 1970 World Cup final. Gomez connects well, but his shot flies straight at Vlachodimos.
45 min +1: The first of three extra first-half minutes passes by without incident.
45 min: Keita has another go from distance. This effort is much better, a daisy-cutter sent towards the bottom right from 25 yards. It curls wide of the post at the last. Had that stayed on a true line, the keeper wasn’t getting to it.
44 min: Now it’s Benfica’s turn to stroke it around confidently. Liverpool aren’t exactly clinging on, but they won’t be unhappy to hear the half-time whistle, I’ll be bound.
42 min: Liverpool try to settle everyone down with a little bit of sterile possession in the midfield. Whether they calm anyone in the stand is a moot point, but they keep Benfica at arm’s length for a couple of minutes.
40 min: The goal, quickly followed by that spurned opportunity, has given Benfica more belief. Anfield is suddenly a more pensive place. Meanwhile here’s Mark Lloyd: “The presence of Darwin in the Benfica line up nudges me to ponder that if the great Divock doesn’t call his autobiography ‘On The Species Of Origi’ it’ll amount to a tragic oversight.”
38 min: A huge chance goes begging for Liverpool. Milner’s long ball down the middle finds Firmino clear. Vlachodimos is in no man’s land. Firmino thinks about the lob, but instead squares for Diaz, who shapes to slam home from six yards … only for Grimaldo to slide in from nowhere and take the ball off his toe! Diaz hops around in impotent frustration. The resulting corner comes to nothing.
37 min: Keita tries to score from 35 yards! Full marks for ambition, though the ball’s currently flying over Stanley Park.
35 min: The ball did indeed come off Milner as it was played through … and Ramos was onside anyway. Nothing wrong with that goal whatsoever. Liverpool will be annoyed with themselves, though, as that came out of nowhere.
34 min: VAR takes a good look at it. Was Ramos offside? They haven’t drawn the lines on screen. Ramos looked a little off to the naked eye … but the ball could equally have come off Milner’s foot last. Anyway, the decision is made, and the scores are level on the night!
Goncalves wins a 50-50 with Milner and prods a ball down the inside left. Ramos is clear! He lashes a shot past Alisson and into the left-hand side of the net. The away end erupts in delight. That came out of nothing!
30 min: Tsimikas whips it in from the left. Some head tennis. Diaz’s header finds Firmino, six yards out. Firmino heads goalwards, but the ball breaks off Vertonghen’s back and deflects over. Another corner. No such drama at that one.
29 min: Vertonghen yanks Keita back by the shirt. A free kick is awarded, but no yellow card. Very strange. Liverpool move up the field. Jota considers a curler towards the top right, just inside the box, but opts to slip Tsimikas in on the overlap instead. Tsimikas wins a corner.
28 min: Diaz very nearly releases Jota down the right, but Otamendi sticks out a telescopic leg to intercept. Possibly a goal-saving intervention.
26 min: Diaz sits down Weigl with pace and elegance, and enters the box down the inside-right channel. He sends a rasping shot towards the top right. Vlachodimos twists to turn the ball out for a corner; Diaz shouts in frustration, because that would have been a picture-book goal. The resulting corner leads to nought.
25 min: That was such an assured finish by Nunez, even if it didn’t count. Another reminder that this is still not over, with plenty of time remaining. The manner in which Anfield felt silent attested to that.
23 min: Nunez is slipped clear down the inside right channel by Everton’s cute pass. He draws Alisson and chips him. What a finish! Unfortunately for Benfica, it won’t count, as the flag goes up correctly for offside. VAR confirms he was well off. “I thought Vlachodimos could have dislodged a tooth there. They might have needed Pliers to remove it.” Stephen Carr, ladies and gentlemen, because somebody had to.
A first corner of the evening for Liverpool out on the left. Tsimikas takes long. Konate rises highest on the six-yard line, and plants a simple header into the bottom right. A calm, confident finish by the man who opened the scoring last week!
20 min: Diaz tears at warp speed down the right and fires towards the low post. Milner tries to flick home but doesn’t get enough on the ball. Vlachodimos can’t gather, but Firmino can’t get to the rebound, and Benfica clear. As close as the hosts have come.
19 min: The free kick, taken by Tsimikas, is a waste of time.
18 min: Milner sprays a pass wide left for Tsimikas, who has plenty of options in the middle, but doesn’t get enough height on his cross. Tsimikas comes again, dribbling down the wing and getting clipped by Gilberto. Free kick in a dangerous position, just to the left of the box.
16 min: It takes the physio some time to make sure Vlachodimos is OK to continue. Eventually it’s decided he’s fine. Play restarts.
14 min: Liverpool come again in short order, Jota one-twoing with Firmino down the inside-left channel. Jota stretches to get to the return ball. Vlachodimos comes out. They come together. The ball pinballs out off Jota for a goal kick, and the keeper takes an accidental knee upside the noggin. On comes the physio, out comes the ice pack.
13 min: Gomez digs out a marvellous deep cross from the right. Jota heads it into the right-hand side of the net, but he’d shoved Otamendi in the back. An obvious free kick.
12 min: Diaz is brought down by Grimaldo on the right. Milner blooters a witless free kick into the wall, and Benfica counter. Everton has a little bit of space and sends an outswinging shot wide of the top-left corner. Another reminder to Liverpool that this isn’t over yet.
11 min: Nunez dribbles down the left and gets the better of Matip, reaching the byline before pulling back in the hope of finding Goncalo Ramos. Alisson is on point to gather. That was dangerous, and will give Benfica hope.
10 min: A little bit of space for Tsimikas down the left. He hoicks a decent cross into the middle but Otamendi deals with it well. After a fairly even start, Liverpool are beginning to assert some dominance.
8 min: Jota breaks into space down the left but slips over as he gets into the box. Milner tries to keep things going with a wedge down the channel. He chases after his own chip, but can’t get to it and Benfica clear.
7 min: Benfica look to spring Nunez clear down the left. He’s flagged offside, but there wasn’t much in it. The visitors looking to exploit Liverpool’s high defensive line, just as Manchester City did last Sunday.
5 min: Diaz gets the crowd going with a determined press. The Benfica defence doesn’t look particularly comfortable with it, especially when Jota and Henderson join in.
3 min: Nunez, Benfica’s goalscorer in the first leg, makes good down the left and curls a dangerous inswinger into the Liverpool box. Tsimikas clears under pressure from headline-in-waiting Everton, and the flag goes up for offside anyway.
2 min: A fairly nondescript start as both teams look to find their feet. Anfield nevertheless continues to give it plenty.
Benfica get the ball rolling. They’re kicking towards the Kop in this first half. “I read about Bèla Guttmann, mostly in an essay form,” writes Yash Gupta. “The thing that really surprised was how Benfica basically tried to appease his soul and relieve the curse. Only if we knew who to look back to at Spurs!” Jimmy Seed? More on him here, if you so desire.
Before kick off, the teams mingle to pose for a photo, calling for peace around the world. Then a period of silence to remember those who went to a game at Hillsborough in 1989 and never made it back home. Justice for the 97.
The teams are out! It’s a Big European Night at Anfield™ and so the crowd are responding accordingly. A rare old atmosphere to greet two of the biggest and most storied names in European football. Liverpool wear all red, something they’ve done ever since their very first European Cup run in 1964-65. Benfica are Vermelhos too, so they’re forced into second-choice white tonight. It’s a feast for the eyes … and for the ears. We’ll be off after a blast of Zadok the Priest (Version) and You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Jurgen Klopp speaks to BT Sport. “We have to make sure we are ready for a really tough game. I hate it so much when last night my smart phone was saying ‘Oh, Villarreal then!’ Oh I honestly hate that so much! If we thought like this, we would not deserve to go through. But we are ready to make a proper game of it. The reason for the changes is that I expect a tough game. I want fresh legs, I want excitement and desire. I don’t want players to have to fight to get through games. It is my job, I have to make decisions before I know what will be the outcome. But I am really happy with the line-up and the set-up, and really believe this team will go for it. That’s the idea! The plan is to make five subs, to change the game from the bench or bring it over the line. It is the Champions League quarter final. If we do not fight for it, then fair play, Benfica should play in the semis and not us. I would go for it 100 percent, so why shouldn’t Benfica?”
Liverpool make seven changes to the team sent out in Lisbon. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, Virgil van Dijk, Thiago, Fabinho, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are all rested, dropping to the bench. In come Roberto Firmino, Diogo Jota, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Kostas Tsimikas.
Benfica make just one change from the first leg, and it’s enforced. Right-sided winger Rafa Silva in injured, so Diogo Gonçalves takes his place.
Liverpool: Alisson, Gomez, Konate, Matip, Tsimikas, Keita, Milner, Henderson, Jota, Firmino, Diaz.
Subs: Fabinho, van Dijk, Thiago, Mane, Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jones, Robertson, Origi, Kelleher, Alexander-Arnold, Elliott.
Benfica: Vlachodimos, Gilberto, Otamendi, Vertonghen, Grimaldo, Taarabt, Weigl, Goncalves, Goncalo Ramos, Everton, Nunez.
Subs: Meite, Seferovic, Yaremchuk, Joao Mario, Lazaro, Radonjic, Gil Dias, Andre Almeida, Bernardo, Helton Leite, Morato, Pedro Alvaro.
Referee: Serdar Gozubuyuk (Netherlands).
History tells us that Liverpool are home and hosed already. That’s because Liverpool have been victorious all 35 ties in Uefa competition in which they’ve won the first leg away from home. Last week’s 3-1 win at the Stadium of Light therefore puts them in quite the favourable position to make it through to a semi-final with Villarreal.
Nothing’s ever that simple, though, as the last of those 35 ties may illustrate. In the previous round, the Reds won 2-0 away at Internazionale, only for the Italian champions to come haring back at them at Anfield. Had Alexis Sánchez not got himself stupidly sent off seconds after Lautaro Martínez gave an increasingly confident Inter the lead, that run could well have ended at 34, and we wouldn’t be here today. Sliding tackle, sliding doors.
Benfica gave Liverpool the runaround for 25 second-half minutes last week, and there’s no reason why the Portuguese giants can’t make life as uncomfortable for the home side again tonight, just as Inter did. Can they put paid to Liverpool’s proud European sequence, and go one step closer to breaking the curse of Béla Guttmann, which has seen the club lose eight European finals since refusing to give the man who led them to the 1961 and 1962 European Cups a pay rise? Or will Liverpool finish the job they so impressively started last week in Lisbon? We’ll find out soon enough. Kick off at Anfield is at 8pm BST. It’s on!