Liverpool reached their first Champions League semi-final for 10 years after coming from behind to win at Manchester City and secure an emphatic 5-1 aggregate win.
City made the perfect start as they tried to reel in a 3-0 deficit from the first leg when Raheem Sterling set up Gabriel Jesus for a cool finish after only two minutes – but they never recovered from a contentious incident just before half-time that saw manager Pep Guardiola sent off.
Bernardo Silva had struck the post and with Liverpool under intense pressure, Leroy Sane scrambled home what City thought was a crucial second.
The goal was ruled out for offside even though the ball came off Liverpool’s James Milner and Guardiola marched on to the pitch in an explosion of fury to remonstrate with referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz. The outburst saw him forced to watch the second half from the stands.
With Guardiola away from his technical area, City lost momentum and the visitors delivered the killer blow of the away goal when, inevitably, Mohamed Salah chipped in his 39th goal of the season after a powerful run by Sadio Mane in the 56th minute.
Roberto Firmino’s classy finish 13 minutes from time completed the formalities and Liverpool will now have their sights set on a sixth triumph in Europe’s elite competition.
The Reds will discover their semi-final opponents when the draw is made on Friday at 12:00 BST in Nyon, Switzerland.
Magic Salah delivers again
Salah’s fitness was the major topic of conversation around Liverpool’s team selection before this game – and his decisive contribution in the 56th minute demonstrated exactly why.
The striker was substituted in the first leg with a groin problem but was fully fit and restored at the start as Liverpool protected that three-goal lead from Anfield.
The Egyptian was powerless in the first half as City tried to claw that deficit back in a thunderous first 45 minutes that saw Jurgen Klopp’s side under siege.
In this golden season, however, Salah only needs one chance and so it proved again as he collected the ball as it ran loose from Mane’s drive into the area before delivering a composed lofted finish with the confidence of a man who feels he cannot miss.
These are the sort of game-changing contributions needed at this elite level and Salah delivers them.
It was fitting that the underrated Firmino added Liverpool’s second with equal calm as City ran out of hope – but it was Salah’s cool head in this frantic atmosphere that changed the course and emphasis of this quarter-final second leg.
Guardiola loses cool as Man City curse luck
City will feel they were on the rough end of the decisions as they complained that Sterling should have had a penalty when he was fouled by Andrew Robertson and Salah’s opening goal at Anfield was offside.
The sense of injustice was burning again here when what could have been a crucial goal to put City 2-0 up was ruled out for offside.
Milner got the final touch but the flag went up in a moment that was effectively the end of City’s challenge on the night.
Guardiola lost his cool, storming onto the pitch to gesticulate wildly at the referee as the players trooped off at half-time.
It was enough to see Guardiola sent to the stand and the debate will rage about just how much of an influence this had on City in the second half without their manager to orchestrate and inspire from the technical area.
Guardiola has history with Lahoz after he was angered by a penalty awarded to Monaco in the last-16 first leg of the Champions League at the Etihad last season, which was missed by Radamel Falcao, and also his failure to award Sergio Aguero a penalty in the same game.
Tuesday night’s result was City’s third damaging defeat in six days after defeat at Anfield in the first leg followed by the concession of a two-goal lead at home to Manchester United when victory would have brought them the Premier League title.
But their efforts were appreciated by the home supporters who applauded them off warmly.
It has been a painful few days for Guardiola and his players – but at least they will soon have the league title to console them.
Can Liverpool go all the way in the Champions League?
Liverpool will draw huge confidence from emerging successfully from this all-Premier League quarter-final – and there will have been delight when news filtered through from Italy that Roma had stunned Barcelona.
Klopp’s side have the quality in attack to trouble any of the defences left in the Champions League, with Real Madrid and Bayern Munich looking favourites to join Liverpool and Roma in the last four.
Liverpool’s defence rode their luck and had their nervous moments here but the bottom line is they restricted City to one goal over two legs.
The final aggregate score was convincing, although City will complain long and hard about some decisions.
Liverpool cannot match the experience of battle-hardened Champions League campaigners like Real and Bayern.
However, the potency of their attack, their growing momentum and the history that gives the club a sense of destiny in this competition means they will have high hopes of lifting the trophy for a sixth time.
Man of the match – Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Familiar territory for Liverpool – the stats
- Liverpool have reached the semi-final stage of the European Cup/Champions League for the 10th time – the only English team to have appeared in more are Manchester United .
- After reaching the Champions League semi-finals in each of his first seven seasons in the competition as manager with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Pep Guardiola has failed to make this stage in both of his campaigns with Manchester City.
- Liverpool are the first team to beat a side managed by Guardiola three times in a single season.
- Jurgen Klopp has beaten Guardiola more often than any other manager [seven wins].
- Guardiola has only progressed in two of his eight Champions League knockout ties as a manager in which his side lost the first leg [v Porto in 2015, Arsenal in 2011].
- Guardiola has lost three consecutive matches in all competitions for the first time since May 2015 as Bayern manager.
- Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah have both scored more goals in a single Champions League/European Cup campaign for Liverpool [eight each] than any other player in the club’s history.
- Gabriel Jesus has scored three goals in three games against Liverpool in all competitions, more than against any other team since his debut with Man City.
- Liverpool have scored 33 goals in the Champions League this season – the most by an English side in a single campaign.
Manchester City head for Wembley looking to avoid a fourth successive defeat when they meet Tottenham in the Premier League on Saturday [19:45 BST]. Liverpool will know the identity of their Champions League semi-final opponents by the time they kick-off against Bournemouth at Anfield on Saturday [17:30].