And now this. Talk of quadruples is cheap, closure still a long way off, and Klopp was determined to dismiss the suggestion as “impossible”. Virgil van Dijk had made the point that what this team is doing should “not be taken for granted”. Perhaps that is inevitable, though. There is an authority about them that was replicated early here, attention perhaps already turning to Sunday and Manchester City.metasports
And yet, it did not work out that way. Van Dijk had been right: the relentless can make it look too easy but every win must be earned and Benfica forced Liverpool to do just that. Twelve shots in the first half became none in the opening 15 minutes of the second, by which time Benfica had racked up five. There was a goal, too, a penalty shout, and tension. Until, with three minutes to go, Díaz appeared, whistled all the way to the end.
Díaz should have scored the second midway through the half, his attempt to lift the ball over Vlachodimos hitting the keeper’s arm, but he did then provide it soon after. When Alexander-Arnold’s gorgeous long diagonal found him inside the area, he guided the header beyond Vlachodimos and into the path of Sadio Mané to run it in. This was done early, it seemed: never mind resolving the tie in the first leg, it looked as if they might resolve it in the first half. A happy return for Klopp, back to where it had all begun.
This is the city where he was on a break with his family when he got the call telling him that Liverpool wanted him to take over. “Completely in the holiday mood,” he had been trying to ignore the phone, avoiding football entirely, paying little attention to the rumours. Less attention than his sons, at least; they could not help but follow the stories while their dad was on a sabbatical. That day, though, he took the call from Marca Kosicke, his agent.
He might not have been the outstanding player – Trent Alexander-Arnold’s sumptuous diagonal passing gave him a strong claim on that – but Díaz had been decisive. The only member of the front three to play all 90 minutes, a hint perhaps that he may not start at the weekend against Manchester City, he had scored one, made one and won the corner for the other in a 3-1 win. You need not have watched to know that; you could hear it.
Rivalry played a part; so, too, did respect. Benfica’s fans have long known how good he is. More, in fact, than Liverpool’s supporters, delighted by how swiftly he has taken to a new club, a new style. His name was whistled when it was read out before the eagle swooped down pre‑game and, once it began, his every touch was greeted with a rise in pitch, a noise that, as it turned out, foreshadowed Benfica’s fall, all the way to the finish – when, at last, Jürgen Klopp could smile, a comfortable first half becoming a fraught second.