Liverpool took a firm grip on their Champions League tie with Inter Milan as late goals from Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah earned them a 2-0 victory at a deflated San Siro in their last-16 first leg on Wednesday.
Inter had the better of the first-half chances, but Juergen Klopp’s side were resilient if not at their very best as they comfortably held the hosts at bay before inflicting two damaging blows on their opponents.
Having struggled to create many opportunities, Klopp rang the changes in the second half, and one of those substitutes came up trumps – Firmino flicking home from a corner to break the deadlock in the 75th minute.
With their resistance broken, the errors started to creep in for Inter and Salah pounced when they failed to clear a long ball into the box to put the game to bed seven minutes from time.
Even with the away goals rule no longer in force, the victory puts the 2019 Champions League winners in a commanding position ahead of the return leg on March 8 at Anfield.
“We expected to be under pressure because this is the Champions League,” Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk told BT Sport. “One of the messages before the game was that we needed to be ready to suffer.
“It was a very good performance and clean sheet.”
Liverpool have won all seven of their Champions League matches this season, extending what is their longest ever winning run in Europe’s elite club competition.
Inter, back in the Champions League knockout stages for the first time in a decade, started brightly in front of a raucous crowd, unhindered by their reduced numbers as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.
Argentine striker Lautaro Martinez shot wide early on from distance, before Hakan Calhanoglu went even closer, firing against the crossbar when afforded too much time in the penalty area.
Liverpool had plenty of efforts at goal in the first half, but struggled to create that killer opening, with Sadio Mane’s header from a free kick that went just over as close as they came.
There was not much improvement after the break from Liverpool, with Inter’s final pass deserting them when it mattered most.
The hosts’ wastefulness proved costly as Firmino struck to silence the frustrated San Siro, flicking home Andy Robertson’s corner. It was his 11th goal as a substitute for Liverpool in all competitions and no player has scored more from the bench for the Reds under Klopp.
Salah, aided by a slight deflection, stroked home the second after Virgil van Dijk had knocked down Trent Alexander-Arnold’s long ball to seal the win.
The Egyptian has scored in each of his last eight away appearances in the Champions League, the second-longest ever such run by a single player, after Cristiano Ronaldo between 2013 to 2015.
It was not vintage Liverpool, but they got the job done. This is this sixth time they have won the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie away from home and they have progressed from each of the previous five.
“This performance should give us plenty of confidence because we played a great game,” Inter coach Simone Inzaghi said. “We did not deserve to lose but that’s football.
“I think we can be proud because we played a great game against one of the best teams in Europe.”