Liverpool knew that top spot in Champions League Group B was already assured heading into the game against Porto at Anfield, and in truth the match played out in much that fashion. In an evening that rarely got out of second gear, a moment of pure quality from Thiago made the difference, before Mohamed Salah put things to bed to secure a 2-0 win.
Jürgen Klopp opted to name a hybrid side, comprised of a mix of first-team regulars and fringe players. Tyler Morton was the stand-out name in terms of youth options, while Salah and Sadio Mané were headline inclusions in the front line.
Yet it was the world-class talent in midfield that ultimately made the difference, with a strike that made an otherwise quiet night utterly unforgettable. Thiago was not signed for his goals, but he was signed for his difference-making quality: that was certainly on display, as his delightful strike set Liverpool on the way to five wins out of five.
Konaté a major asset
Ibrahima Konaté has had limited chances to impress since his summer move from RB Leipzig, but hasn’t really put a foot wrong when called upon. He continued that trend against Porto, putting in an assured display.
In particular, his recovery pace was on display. With the visitors piling on some pressure early in the first half, he got back brilliantly to deny Evanilson. He might feel he should have scored from a corner shortly afterwards, but he completed his primary brief with distinction, as well as picking out a couple of nice searching passes.
For now, Konaté will need to remain patient in terms of being a guaranteed starter — his partner on the night, Joël Matip, makes sure of that. However, the Frenchman demonstrated that he can be a useful option in games where pace at the back is crucial. As for the future, he looks well on track to become a key man at Anfield eventually.
Williams’ future may not lie in defence
Neco Williams didn’t have a torrid time in defence, although Liverpool-linked Luis Díaz certainly tested the Welsh international at times. However, the 20-year-old still produced his best work in the final third of the pitch.
Between his quick feet and his dangerous deliveries, Williiams looked well at home popping up in advanced areas. This is a key asset for anyone looking to understudy for Trent Alexander-Arnold, but also raised the question of whether his future might lie further up the field.
Klopp experimented with this briefly in the Carabao Cup against Preston, where it paid major dividends. Williams actually started out as a winger in the youth sides — he was shifted into defence to increase first-team opportunities, but with the African Cup of Nations looming for Salah and Mané, necessity could move him back the other way.
Morton quietly impressive
Tyler Morton didn’t do too much to draw attention to himself in his European debut for Liverpool, and that’s exactly what Klopp would have wanted.
Tasked with the not inconsiderable duty of emulating Fabinho, he made a very decent fist of it. Understated but assured, he helped keep the balance in the side, dropping in when necessary and helping to limit the fast breaks on offer to the visitors.
On the few occasions he was noticeable, it was for the right reasons. He intercepted a cut-back as the first half was coming to a close, denying a near-certain goal in the process. Morton has played primarily as a number eight in the youth sides, but he is well on his way to playing himself into a permanent berth as a defensive midfield option for the first team.
Thiago and Oxlade-Chamberlain good again
Thiago and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have been thrown together by circumstance as much as anything else, with injuries limiting Klopp’s options, but the duo are looking like a strong pairing. Following on from an excellent showing against Arsenal, the pair once again complemented each other nicely.
It looked like Thiago had produced a magical assist for Sadio Mané in the first half, but a very marginal offside call saw it chalked off. Not to be denied, he went one better in the second half, scoring a goal of sumptuous quality. A controlled half-volley stayed low all the way, skimming into the corner through a crowd.
Oxlade-Chamberlain also gave a showcase of his unique skill-set. In some ways the good and the bad was on display: a few mazy runs had the fans off their seats, but most seemed to end up down blind alleys. Even so, the balance between him and Thiago was very neat indeed, with Liverpool looking pretty secure in the middle of the park.
It could be one we see more of in the future, even when injury returns offer the manager more choice.
Liverpool are goal machines
Salah had a fairly quiet night on the whole, but managed to get his customary goal with the last kick before being substituted. The strike had particular significance in that it marked the 16th straight game in which Liverpool have scored two or more goals.
Remarkably, no English team has achieved this feat since Wolves in 1939. It is credit to the greatness of Salah, but also to Klopp — he has tweaked the midfield balance this season, giving more freedom to those playing ahead of the defensive midfielder, and it has paid dividends. The defensive side still needs some work in places, but Liverpool are certainly firing on all cylinders in an attacking sense.
On a personal level, Salah made it 17 goals in 17 appearances this season, continuing a campaign on track to eclipse even his remarkable debut year at Anfield. Even so, it is the goal from Thiago that will live longest in the memory.
Midfield depth is back
Thiago was withdrawn on the hour mark after his virtuoso performance, and Liverpool had the luxury of replacing him with captain Jordan Henderson, back from an enforced absence.
Henderson promptly produced a neat pass in the build-up to Salah’s goal, showing that Klopp has quality options in the middle of the park once more. With Milner back on the bench too, coming on for the final few minutes, the manager has his depth back at a vital moment: Liverpool are about to enter a hugely congested period.
Once Curtis Jones, Naby Keïta and Harvey Elliott return to the fray, there will be a real battle for places in Klopp’s midfield. This healthy competition could be key to maintaining momentum through the festive calendar and beyond.