Jurgen Klopp admitted he was relieved Liverpool booked a Champions League semi-final showdown against Villarreal, as the quadruple pursuers survived a late collapse in Wednesday’s 3-3 draw against Benfica. Klopp’s side already had one foot in the last four after winning 3-1 in the quarter-final of the first leg in Lisbon. They were on cruise control for a long time in the second leg at Anfield but had to curb their nerves before taking a 6-4 lead after an unusual collapse in the closing stages.
Ibrahima Konate put Liverpool ahead before Goncalo Ramos equalized late in the first half.
When Roberto Firmino scored twice after the break, the score seemed anything but over.
Roman Yaremchuk and Darwin Nunez, however, struck for Benfica to give the visitors a moment’s hope of an astonishing breakout act, before Liverpool finally restored order.
“If I’m not over the moon about qualifying for the Champions League semi-finals, something is really wrong and I may have to stop!” said Klopp.
“The situation was that the defense had never played together and it was about details, staying 100 percent focused.
“We were 6-2 up in total. The players are people, they said ‘Okay, done’. But Benfica kept fighting and I respect that.
“It wasn’t exactly what we wanted, but it’s not important at all. We’re through and that’s all that matters. I’m really happy.”
The Reds will face Spain’s Villarreal in the semi-final as they aim to reach their 10th Champions League final and claim a seventh title in the league.
Despite Villarreal’s impressive victories over Bayern Munich and Juventus in the last two rounds, Liverpool will be the firm favorite to reach a third Champions League final in the last five seasons.
“To beat Juventus and Bayern Munich, they deserve to be in the semi-finals of the Champions League. Unai Emery is the king of the cups, it’s unbelievable what he’s doing. But give me some time to get it right prepare.” said Klopp.
Liverpool are one point behind leaders Manchester City after Sunday’s draw against their title rivals.
Amid a streak that will define Liverpool’s season, Klopp was able to keep Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Virgil Van Dijk fresh as he started with his stars on the bench for Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City .
– Firmino stars –
Konate had headed the opener at Benfica in the first leg and the towering Liverpool centre-back again tormented the Portuguese side with his air skills in the 21st minute.
Kostas Tsimikas struck a flying corner towards Konate and he climbed above three Benfica players to enter the far corner from 10 yards.
Benfica grabbed the equalizer in the 32nd minute against the rhythm of the game.
Diogo Goncalves’ pass cut off James Milner and ran on to the unmarked Ramos, who made a fine finish past Alisson from just inside the area.
Any hopes of a stunning Benfica backlash seemed dashed as the visitors farcically shot themselves in the foot 55 minutes into the game.
Goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos was the instigator of Benfica’s collapse when he made a mistake with what should have been an easy interception of Naby Keita’s over-hit pass.
Jan Vertonghen’s panicky attempt to clear the danger wasn’t much better and Jota returned to the six-yard box, where Firmino had the simple task of tapping into the empty net.
Firmino followed his first Champions League goal at home in two years with another 10 minutes later.
Tsimikas curled a beautiful free kick to the pass and Firmino dodged Benfica’s sloppy mark to charge home from close range.
As Klopp’s men took their foot off the gas, Yaremchuk struck in the 73rd minute, rounding out Alisson to score the goal after beating Liverpool’s offside trap.
There was a sharp breath around Anfield as Nunez scored in the 82nd minute with a predatory finish.
Moments later, Nunez’s low blow put Alisson to the test, but Liverpool persisted to keep the quadruple dream alive.
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