Liverpool continue their quest for more silverware as the Nerazzurri suffer another CL knockout blow.
These are the fourth Champions League quarter-finals of Klopp’s Liverpool days and that level of consistency – the general uplift in standards – is the bigger picture here. There was no rapture at the final whistle because they are used to winning matches at Anfield these days but even so, the Klopp effect has been transformative.
This was the end of a 15-game unbeaten run for Liverpool in all competitions that stretches back to the Dec 28 defeat to Leicester City at the King Power and had endured up to this point through games in all three the trophies for which they are still in contention as well as the one they have already won. That first leg win in Milan was enough and, as Klopp would later say, there were some near misses – Mohamed Salah hit both posts at the Kop end in the second half and Joel Matip sent a first-half header against the bar.
“The art of football is to lose the right games,” Klopp said. “I still hate it [losing games]”. This was, however, one that he said his team could afford to lose and he returned more than once to the subject of the quality of Inter’s performance.
“A really good football team,” he said, “they are like Leeds under [Marcelo] Bielsa just with more quality.” He criticised his team’s counter-pressing in the first 20 minutes and reflected on the missed chances – “a bit slapstick at times”.
The game’s outstanding player was the midfielder Arturo Vidal who kept the energy going in that impactful first 20 minutes for his side and unlike his fellow Chilean managed to last the distance. It was only in the latter stages of the first half that it looked like Liverpool had fought back and seized the advantage. Vidal’s efforts were at last rewarded with a booking delivered so emphatically that the Spanish referee Lahoz did not stop advancing on his intended target and the pair ended up in a reconciliatory embrace.
So much talent in this Inter team but struggling for consistent form since the turn of the year. Friday’s 5-0 win over Salernitana was the first in six games in all competitions including the 2-0 defeat to Liverpool in San Siro the previous month.
In the early stages they looked impressive with a midfield five and Martinez and Sanchez leading the press. On the back foot they had a five-man defence with Ivan Perisic and Denzel Dumfries closing down the wider positions. It took a while for Liverpool to get the measure of them.
There was a strong performance from Virgil van Dijk even if he stood off the strike of Martinez a little too long when the goal did eventually come. Before then Liverpool had been in control in the latter stages of the first half. They looked most dangerous from corners and free-kicks whipped in by the endlessly adaptable right foot of Trent Alexander-Arnold. It was from that side the cross came for Matip’s header against the bar and then, from the ensuing corner, van Dijk had a good header blocked by Milan Skriniar.
There seemed to be a momentum that was unstoppable about Liverpool until Matip’s mistake on the right side on 61 minutes that was recycled into a fine goal for Inter seconds later. Within three passes it went to Martinez, the final ball coming from Sanchez, and the Argentinian striker in the inside-left position struck a perfect right-foot shot with enough slice on it to take the ball beyond the reach of Alisson.
So to the red card, just two minutes after the goal. Sanchez did get to the ball but his lack of control then took him into Fabinho. Asked about it later, Klopp was emphatic. “I don’t understand why we have to discuss it,” he said. “If Fab had gone with a long leg then both players could have got injured.
“In the end he [Sanchez] couldn’t stop and hit Fab in a really bad way. I think he was quite lucky that he didn’t get a [red] card for the foul on Thiago. Passion is good but if it leads to these things, it doesn’t help.”
Referee Lahoz followed up with the dismissal of one of Inzaghi’s staff. Salah would hit the post again and the substitute Luis Diaz also had a chance for the equalizer although in the end Liverpool were never quite safe until the whistle.