Champions League: Unforgiving Liverpool take commanding lead over Inter

Milan, Italy - It may not have been a vintage performance, it might not stick too long in the memory of its fans, but Liverpool came away from Milan with a commanding first leg lead in their last 16 tie against Inter.

Liverpool celebrates its second goal against Inter through Mo Salah.
Liverpool celebrates its second goal against Inter through Mo Salah.  © IMAGO / NurPhoto

Jürgen Klopp's side got there in the end, although they had to sweat, grapple, and stay patient in a 2-0 win that puts them firmly on track to progress.

There was plenty of guile and flair on the pitch between Liverpool and Inter's attacking players, but this was always going to be a game for relentless, gut-bursting, muscle-sapping pressing. It goes some way towards explaining why it took 75 minutes for someone to manage a shot on target.

The Reds eventually took control of the midfield chaos midway through the first half, but not before Hakan Calhanoglu gave them an almighty scare by rattling the crossbar in the 15th minute. That would remain Inter's biggest chance by far, on an evening where their offense just couldn't find that final product.

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Simone Inzaghi did inspire his team to make a strong start to the second half, though, and for a while, the hosts really did take the initiative. They seemed to suddenly remember that going long and wide to exploit Liverpool's high full backs is a great way to hurt them. Had Perisic served the incoming Lautaro Martinez with a better cross after one such move, we could be talking about a different result.

Instead, that very first shot on target belonged to substitute Roberto Firmino, who placed a header from an Andy Robertson corner perfectly into the far corner of the net. One moment of lax marking cost Inter dearly, and it got worse eight minutes later when Mo Salah got his obligatory goal through a deflected shot from inside the box.

That was pretty much that, and even though away goals no longer count double in European competitions, it's hard to see a way back for the Serie A champions at Anfield on March 8.

The lineups

The player spotlight

Roberto Firmino takes off after scoring Liverpool's first goal against Inter.
Roberto Firmino takes off after scoring Liverpool's first goal against Inter.  © IMAGO / Marco Canoniero

It's only right to pay goalscorers their due, especially when they've not been in the best of form. Over the past two seasons, Roberto Firmino has slowly but surely found himself displaced from Liverpool's starting 11 by Diogo Jota and more often than not, he starts on the bench.

But aside from being a brilliant player in his own right, Firmino is also a consummate professional who seems happy to contribute whatever's asked of him.

His sharp front post run unlocked the Inter defense and the header was a thing of beauty. In such a tight game, that kind of impact is just priceless. Klopp thought so, highlighting his number nine in his post-match comments to BT Sport: "You try everything and they did very well defensively, but Bobby found the space and a great goal."

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Firmino now has three goals in four Champions League appearances this term.

The big picture

Salah salutes the Liverpool fans up high in the San Siro.
Salah salutes the Liverpool fans up high in the San Siro.  © IMAGO / NurPhoto

There was a lot of talk about the marked pessimism around Inter's chances of pulling it off against Liverpool. It seemed a bit surprising to see a club of this stature wracked by a lack of confidence, even against an admittedly top class opponent.

In the end, those fears were well-founded. Critics pointed out Inter's inability to take its chances, which adds another layer to Wednesday's story. Sure, Calhanoglu was the only one who actually threatened Alisson's goal, but that shouldn't take away from the quality of that chance. As it was, he couldn't find the perfect finish, whereas Firmino did. Such are the fine margins of soccer at this level.

Liverpool, meanwhile, just keep rolling on, their ninth win in 11 games underlining their status as genuine Champions League contenders.

Cover photo: IMAGO / NurPhoto

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