It took six seconds.
The ball was played out of defence to the feet of Roberto Firmino, who would have been forgiven for slowing down the game with a 2-0 advantage in the away leg of a knock-out tie. Not a bit of it. That is not how this Liverpool team play.
Firmino’s first-time flick was sumptuous, into the path of the onrushing Mohamed Salah. That’s hardly a surprise given that Salah spends 60% of every game onrushing. Most of the other 40% is occupied by scoring goals. He now has at least 14 games to score ten goals and become the first Liverpool player to score 40 in a season since Ian Rush in 1987.
Salah darted forward, still at standard sprinting pace even when slowing down to survey his options. His hands were up the sleeves of his undershirt, like a teenager at PowerLeague for the third time that midweek because all he thinks about is playing football. The pass between two Porto defenders, when it eventually came, was perfect.
Somehow, despite Salah’s speed, Firmino had by now made his way beyond his teammate and into the penalty area. That epitomises the pace that every member of this outrageous attack possesses, but also the Brazilian’s determination to cover as much ground as possible for the cause. Salah is the superstar and Virgil van Dijk the most expensive signing, but Firmino is Jurgen Klopp’s disciple on the pitch.
Fittingly, Firmino misses the first opportunity. Like Manchester City on Tuesday, this was not a night of perfection for Liverpool. Far from it. Twice the wrong option was taken when a presentable chance was one correct decision away, and Porto should have scored at least once.
But imperfection here is intended as a compliment, not insult. Perfection, like lightning, rarely strikes twice. Liverpool scoring three or more times is as commonplace as a passing shower. They have done so on 19 occasions already this season. Wednesday’s attacking display was the rule, not the exception.
Having seen the initial shot saved, there was never any doubt that a Liverpool player would be first to react. Of all the wonderful attributes of this attacking unit, the one that lingers the most in the memory is the ability of one, two or all of them to be in the right place at the right time and do the right thing. It was Salah for Liverpool’s delightful second goal but Mane for the flowing third. The finish was as emphatic as the final result.
It took six seconds. And that included a rebound.
Liverpool went into this tie as favourites, but it was far from formality. This was their first knock-out Champions League game in nine years and they had won one of their last six away matches in this competition, and that against a dreadful Maribor team. The draws against Spartak Moscow and Sevilla seemed more instructive.
Yet the doubts regarding this team are dissipating with every wave of their attacking wand. They are now the top scorers in the Champions League, and had won this tie with 65% still to play. With the second leg coming four days before a league fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford, it’s no surprise that Klopp’s smile was as wide as the gap between the two teams. He treated each of the substituted players as if they were long-lost lovers reunited on Valentine’s night.
Like their performance, Liverpool are not perfect. But like their performance, there are too many good news stories to worry about imperfections. They have found a left-back, bought a central defender, settled on a goalkeeper, added depth to midfield and created an attack that retains the coiled spring propensity to hurt any and every defence. The only thing more certain than the destiny of this tie is that no team will want to draw Liverpool in the quarter-finals.