Jon Mackenzie - Anfield
With a 5-0 away win to defend, Liverpool ambled their way into the quarterfinals of the Champions League with a 0-0 draw against Porto at Anfield. Despite the late introduction of Mohamed Salah, the club's Egyptian talisman, neither keeper could be beaten.
Liverpool 0-0 FC Porto (0-0 HT)
With the relentless need for success that has been escalated by the rapid influx of money into the global game, it is easy to forget that football is as much about the spectacular as it is about the winning. In games such as this, where victory is no longer so much of an issue, it is pleasant to be reminded of the entertainment that is so intrinsic to the game itself.
Sitting on the comfortable buffer of a 5-0 away win, Liverpool set the stage for an encounter completely unsullied by the need for a result, giving the game a carnival atmosphere. A packed out Anfield seemed happy enough to revel in the glory of a fixture which portended certain progression into the quarterfinals. Porto fans, also there in their droves, seemed content to enjoy a European away day.
It was inevitable, then, that the frivolity in the stands was not reflected on the pitch. In fact, the resulting spectacle shared more in common with Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, a play which caused some wit to note, sardonically, that 'nothing happens... twice'. Carnival may have been what we wanted, but it was absurdism that we got.
First as tragedy...
The first half passed by like one of those car journeys where you drive and drive but it is only upon arriving that you realise that you were driving at all. Things must have happened, you reason, but you can't for the life of you remember what.
FC Porto, sitting five points clear in Liga Nos, the Portuguese Primeira, had their minds no doubt set on retaining their domestic bliss. As a result, they set up deep, counting the Champions League over for another year and looking to avoid the embarrassment of another heavy defeat.
Their opponents, on the other hand, were suffering from an equal and opposite problem. With little onus on Jurgen Klopp to win, the game was treated as very much as an exercise in preservation, Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk being rested for the weekend clash with Manchester United.
Along with van Dijk, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold were also rested, giving the defence the ramshackle look that it had had at the beginning of the season. Still, patchwork as they may have been, they still managed to reduce Porto's chances to zero in the first half.
In fact, there was only one real chance in the opening act of this particular play: with the struggling Diogo Dalot misjudging the flight of the ball, Sadio Mane found himself with the ball at his feet in front of Iker Casillas' goal: the Senegalese international beat one but not the other - the post keeping out his effort.
...Then as farce
For theatre-goers, part of the force of Waiting for Godot is the fact that the second act promises the hope of a resolution. So it was with this football match. Similar to the play, though, it never comes.
Of course, there was never more hope than when Mohamed Salah entered the proceedings in the 72nd minute. He popped and fizzed as he so often does but even his industry could conjure up little for the home side.
As the game opened out, spaces appeared and Liverpool created more chances, the best of which fell to James Milner late in the half. The chisel-jawed midfielder, though, was only able to power his header towards Iker Casillas in the Porto goal.
Alberto Moreno and Danny Ings, revivified from the bowels of Melwood, also looked likely to ruin the ennui of a Beckettian ending. Moreno in particular had a couple of chances but, with his customary boyish enthusiasm, he could only snatch at them, skewing and slicing with wild abandon.
What of Ings? A solitary header proved all that was forthcoming in the way of chances but it amounted to little. Yet he fought like a man possessed. "Shall we win?' he asked. They did not win.