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Sadio Mane scores hat trick as Liverpool dismantles Porto

It was all Liverpool as they ran rampant in Portugal.

FC Porto v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg Photo by Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

It was a dominant showing for Liverpool in the Champions League, going to the normally formidable Estádio Do Dragão in Portugal and blasting Porto off the pitch in a 5-0 romp headlined by a Sadio Mane hat trick of goals.

Liverpool actually started the match quite slowly, having to play around their midfield while the trio of Jordan Henderson, James Milner, and Georginio Wijnaldum struggled to get going in the match. That allowed for Porto to get a few early half-chances to score, but Liverpool’s back line was up to the challenge, with Virgil Van Djik and the teenage right back Trent Alexander-Arnold putting in particularly impressive showings to protect Loris Karius in goal.

And once Liverpool got rolling, that was basically it for Porto. Even before Mane scored his first goal off a 25th-minute rebound, blasting his shot off Jose Sa’s left hip in the process, Liverpool were using their superior pace to pull apart Porto’s defense almost at will, with Diego Reyes, Ivan Marcano, and Ricardo Pereira all struggling massively to contain Liverpool’s lethal attacking trio of Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mo Salah.

Salah followed Mane’s strike with one of his own in the 29th minute, bouncing the ball around acrobatically before poking it home. That goal effectively ended the match with Porto struggling to find any way to respond to Liverpool’s onslaught, and by the time Sane scored his second goal in the 53rd minute, Porto looked to be very out of the game. That third goal of the match effectively put the tie to bed, and when Firmino scored in the 70th minute followed by Mane finishing his hat trick late in the match, Liverpool were almost adding insult to injury.

Liverpool are in full control of this tie — a 5-0 lead all in the form of away goals makes Porto’s trip to Anfield in March all but impossible to come out of triumphantly, at least on paper. We’ve seen stranger things, but not very often. Porto are a very good team, but on Wednesday Liverpool were just on another level. They look very much like the dominant side they want to be, and they’re opening a lot of eyes in the process.

Porto: Jose Sa; Ricardo Pereira, Diego Reyes, Ivan Marcano, Alex Telles; Sergio Oliveira, Hector Herrera; Moussa Marega, Otavio (Jesus Corona 46’), Yacine Brahimi (Majeed Waris 62’); Tiquinho Soares (Gonçalo Paciência 74’)

Goals: None

Liverpool: Loris Karius; Trent Alexander-Arnold (Joe Gomez 79’), Dejan Lovren, Virgin Van Djik, Andrew Robertson; James Milner, Jordan Henderson (Joel Matip 75’), Georginio Wijnaldum; Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino (Danny Ings 80’), Sadio Mane

Goals: Mane (25’, 53’, 85’), Salah (29’), Firmino (70’)

Three things we saw

Liverpool’s faith in Sadio Mane paid off

Mane has been in fairly bizarre form for much of the season, with long stretches where he looked virtually incapable of scoring. That form has seen his scoring numbers and his confidence alike take a big step back this season, but on Wednesday, he got back on the scoresheet in emphatic fashion.

Now, Mane didn’t exactly score world-class goals. Both of his first two strikes were rebounded, clean-up type goals, and his third was a nice individual finish, but against a badly broken defense at the end of a back-breaking match for Porto. But that they came in such a big match for Liverpool, and after he’d had another bad miss just moments before his first goal, is notable, because Mane made no mistakes in either goal, getting to the right spot and making the perfect finish both times.

Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp could have benched Mane ages ago, giving him time to clear his head or just to get a more in-form player on the pitch. But they didn’t. They stuck with him, and Mane rewarded that faith with a huge and important performance at just the right time.

Sérgio Conceição made several key mistakes against Liverpool

Porto’s manager has done a good job leading his team this season, by and large avoiding major mistakes to put his team in as good a position to win games as possible, even in difficult matchups. On Wednesday, though, he failed to do that, and it cost Porto dearly.

Diego Reyes has been in shaky form, but was forced into the lineup thanks to the suspension of the much stronger Felipe. That’s understandable, but Conceição setting up his midfield duo of Hector Herrera and Sergio Oliveira to stay relatively static and not protect the back line as much meant that Reyes was badly exposed to Liverpool’s pacy and tricky attackers — and they burned him over and over again.

Speaking of that midfield, despite not shielding the back line overmuch, they also weren’t given the freedom to push up either, meaning that Porto never got the opportunity they needed to punish Liverpool’s midfield for their abysmal start to the match. Had they pushed up — and had the slashing trickery of Tecatito Corona started over the steadier but unfit and out-of-form Otavio at the tip of midfield — Porto could have put much-needed pressure on Liverpool more often early in the match, and potentially avoided giving Liverpool the time and space they needed to score their two first-half goals.

Liverpool needed this kind of dominant result

Liverpool have made huge strides as a team this season, but fans weren’t exactly brimming with confidence on the European front. Too often in recent years, Liverpool have played down to the level of their opponents in continental competitions and lost shocking matches because of it. Even during the group stage, they didn’t really look like the dominant side they could and should have been for much of it, throwing away two sure wins over Sevilla and failing to convince against Spartak Moscow on the road.

But in this match, against a team that plays up in big matches like Porto and in a hostile environment like the Estádio Do Dragão, Liverpool overcame a slow start and ran absolutely rampant. They effectively ended the tie after one match, with a whopping five away goals to their credit going into the second leg at Anfield in March. It’s an important sign of just how far this team has come over the last few weeks, and it’s almost a shame that Manchester City have run so far away with the Premier League title race, because this would be a fun team to watch fight for a league title late in the season.