Jurgen Klopp lauds Reds' middle men

Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson put in an accomplished performance in an advanced midfield role against Porto.
Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson put in an accomplished performance in an advanced midfield role against Porto.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp hailed the performance of Jordan Henderson in Tuesday's 2-0 Champions League quarter-final first-leg win over Porto, with the midfielder delivering another impressive display in a more advanced role.

The Reds captain recently said he had been badgering Klopp to allow him more freedom to break into the final third and, after scoring as a second-half substitute at Southampton last Friday, he started and delivered a killer pass that led to Roberto Firmino's second goal.

"Hendo is a brilliant player. He obviously likes the position. We've not used him there for 3.5 years - sorry about that!" grinned Klopp. "I'm glad he can show it."

Henderson has often played in a defensive midfield role for Klopp but, with Brazilian Fabinho taking up that responsibility, he is now able to push into advanced areas.

The Englishman supported the front trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Firmino with his harrying and pressing to maintain pressure on the Porto defence. Yet his defence-splitting pass to the overlapping Trent Alexander-Arnold showed that he is more than a workhorse.

Klopp was also pleased with the "really, really good" Naby Keita, who opened the scoring after just five minutes, saying the midfielder delivered his most complete display since his close-season move from RB Leipzig.

The Guinean excelled in the first half, during which Porto opened themselves up to be attacked despite setting up in an unorthodox 5-2-3 designed to deny the hosts space.

But Liverpool were also leaving gaps to exploit at the other end, with little evidence of the defensive solidity they have shown this season.

With the away-goals rule, by which the Portuguese side beat Roma in the previous round, the Reds will be grateful they are 2-0 up rather than 3-1 or 4-2 ahead, which might have reflected a slightly chaotic match more accurately.

And they had a VAR scare, when the ball struck Alexander-Arnold's arm, and could have easily lost top scorer Salah in the closing stages for a dangerous lunge on Danilo Pereira - all of which led Klopp to warn his side of an "intense" return leg.

He said: "We scored two goals and controlled the ball most of the time. We lost a little bit of direction in the second half, but there's nothing to criticise. 2-0 is a very, very good result.

"We cannot decide the tie tonight, so now we have to go there and fight again."

REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2019, with the headline 'Klopp lauds Reds' middle men'. Print Edition | Subscribe