Liverpool suffered their first Anfield defeat in a year after a 1-0 defeat to 10-man Inter Milan but still progressed to the quarter-finals of the Champions League courtesy of their two-goal first-leg advantage.
Lautaro Martinez’s 61st-minute goal had given the visitors a chance of overturning the deficit but Alexis Sanchez’s red card for a second bookable offense less than two minutes later blew a hole in their hopes.
Liverpool, who have not lost a European tie when they have won the first away leg – 37 times and counting – should have put the result beyond doubt as Mohamed Salah hit both posts in the second half.
But in keeping with what was, for periods, not the easiest of nights against the Serie A champions Jurgen Klopp’s side saw things out to reach a fourth quarter-final in five years despite losing their 100 per cent record in the competition this season.
The last team to win here was Fulham, at the end of an unprecedented six-match losing streak at Anfield, 366 days ago but the caliber of this opposition was considerably stronger and, very much like the first leg, Liverpool did not have things all their own way as they are used to doing domestically.
Inter coach Simone Inzaghi had said pre-match his side had to score in the first half and they set about their challenge with determination with their 3-5-2 formation and high-intensity press giving their hosts plenty to think about.
Denzel Dumfries’ early shot was easily saved by Alisson Becker but aside from a Hakan Calhanoglu’s free-kick straight at the goalkeeper – who had purposefully left a gap for him in a two-man wall – Inter saw little reward for their effort.
In fact, Liverpool could have put the tie to bed before the interval as Joel Matip headed against the crossbar and Virgil Van Dijk had an effort deflected wide.
Trent Alexander-Arnold whipped a free-kick wide deep in added time and then, soon after the restart, produced a strangely late-dipping shot which almost caught out Samir Handanovic.
After the break Liverpool discovered the control they had been looking for as Inter’s intensity levels began to drop.
It should have brought the opening goal when, with goalkeeper Handanovic on the floor having beaten Diogo Jota to the ball, Salah shot against the post with only a couple of covering defenders to beat.
That was all the encouragement Anfield needed and, with the last eight edging closer, the noise levels were raised.
With the game opening up Martinez had a shot deflected wide when he should have really hit the target, although he made no mistake with his swerving 20-yard effort in the 61st minute.
But within two minutes Inter’s task was made more difficult when Sanchez was sent off after his follow-through on Fabinho earned him a second booking.
Klopp immediately stiffened his midfield by sending on Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita for Thiago Alcantara, making his first start after a three-match absence, and Curtis Jones, also just back from injury.
Sadio Mane’s lofted pass saw Salah volley against the other post while in added time substitute Luis Diaz had a certain goal denied when Arturo Vidal deflected his shot over.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.