Liverpool, Man City through to Champions League semis
Liverpool, April 14 (PTI/AP): Liverpool didn’t need its best players to secure progress to the Champions League semifinals.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp opted to rest stars like Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold, and saw his backups play out a wild 3-3 draw with Benfica in the second leg of the quarterfinals to wrap up a 6-4 aggregate win on Wednesday.
Villarreal awaits Liverpool in the last four.
Ibrahima Konat, one of the scorers in Liverpool’s 3-1 win in the first leg, netted another header for Klopp’s team for the first goal and Roberto Firmino added two more in the second half at Anfield.
Gon alo Ramos had made it 1-1 on the night in the 32nd minute keeping Benfica in with the unlikeliest of chances but Liverpool never looked like squandering its big advantage, even though substitute Roman Yaremchuk and Darwin Nez scored goals for the visitors in the 73rd and 82nd minutes, respectively.
Liverpool stayed on course to win the competition for a seventh time, and for an unprecedented quadruple of trophies this season.
That Klopp was able to rotate so heavily after building a commanding lead in Lisbon last week should enable Liverpool to field a full-strength team against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals on Saturday.
City wasn’t in such a luxurious position Wednesday, taken all the way by Atletico Madrid in the Spanish capital where a 0-0 draw sealed a 1-0 aggregate victory. City will face Real Madrid in the semifinals.
Liverpool is into the last four for a 12th time in the European Cup or Champions League tied for the record for an English team with Manchester United and the first since the last of its six triumphs in 2019.
That felt inevitable even before Konat leapt highest at a corner whipped in by Kostas Tsimikas to plant a header into the bottom corner, in a similar fashion to the goal he scored in Lisbon his first both for Liverpool and in the Champions League.
Ramos’ goal had a hint of fortune about it, with the ball ricocheting to the 20-year-old forward from a tackle by Liverpool midfielder James Milner. His finish from the edge of the area was emphatic, though, flying past Alisson.
Firmino is no longer first choice for Liverpool following the arrivals of Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz but he staked his claim for a starting spot in the team’s big upcoming games with a double in the space of 10 minutes.
His first goal came after mistakes from goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos, who fumbled as he attempted to gather a through-ball, and Jan Vertonghen, who hurried his resulting clearance. Jota drove the ball back into the middle of the area and Firmino applied the finish in the 55th.
The Brazil striker volleyed in Tsimikas’ free kick to make it 3-1 but Liverpool eased off, and Benfica took advantage by breaking the offside trap for both of its late goals.
“At one point we were 6-2 up on aggregate and maybe we relaxed,” Jota said.
Playing Benfica and Villarreal, the two outsiders in the quarterfinal draw, to reach the final is pretty much a dream scenario for Liverpool, though captain Jordan Henderson was taking nothing for granted.
“They beat Juventus and Bayern Munich, two very good sides they are a very good team in their own right,” Henderson said of Villarreal.
“It was pretty comfortable,” he said about Liverpool’s display against Benfica, “but we’re disappointed with the goals we conceded.”
Man City fends off Atletico
Manchester City held Atletico Madrid to a 0-0 draw to return to the Champions League semifinals and keep alive its hopes of winning Europe’s top club competition for the first time.
City advanced thanks to its 1-0 win in the first leg last week.
In the end, it was Pep Guardiola getting the best of Diego Simeone in the battle of styles between City’s offensive-minded tactics and Atletico’s more cautious approach.
Atletico’s attack struggled to find the net again and the Spanish club managed only three attempts on target after having none in the first leg.
The hosts played the final minutes a man down after defender Felipe was sent off for kicking an opponent. The benches had been cleared a few moments earlier as Atletico’s players appeared upset with City’s attempt to waste time.
The match ended with more than 12 minutes of stoppage time and Atletico had a couple of goods chances to break the deadlock but couldn’t capitalize on them.
Runner-up last year, City will next face Real Madrid, which eliminated defending champion Chelsea on Tuesday at the Santiago Bernab u Stadium.
In the other quarterfinal on Wednesday, Liverpool advanced past Benfica to set up a semifinal against Villarreal, the modest Spanish club that eliminated Bayern Munich on Tuesday.
Atletico was able to have the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium at full capacity after the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Wednesday accepted the club’s appeal to overturn UEFA’s closure of a 5,000-seat section as punishment for a fan’s Nazi salute in the first leg in England.
The club was trying to reach the semifinals for the first time in five years.
Atletico is now winless in its last seven Champions League games at home, while City is unbeaten in its last 13 away games in all competitions, with 10 wins.
Playing in its 100th Champions League game from group stage to final, City controlled possession early on and kept Atl tico from creating any significant threat.
Criticized for playing overly defensively in the first leg, Atl tico tried to press forward more often at the Metropolitano and ended with more total attempts than City. But Atl tico’s top forwards, including starters Antoine Griezmann and Jo o F lix, failed to score again, as did veteran Luis Su rez after coming off the bench near the end.
Atl tico has been held scoreless in its last three matches in all competitions, with only four total shots on target.
Griezmann nearly found the net with a volley from outside the area in the 57th, Rodrigo De Paul’s shot just missed wide in the 70th and substitute Matheus Cunha came close in the 86th when his close-range shot was blocked in front of the goal.
City had one of its best chances when Ilkay Gundogan hit the post from close range in the 30th.
The English side has kept seven clean sheets in its last eight away games in all competitions.