Jurgen Klopp saluted Liverpool’s understudies after they dented Porto’s bid to qualify for the Champions League last 16 as Thiago Alcantara’s first goal since May inspired a 2-0 win on Wednesday.
Klopp’s side had already booked their place in the knockout stages as Group B winners, but they did not rest on their laurels at Anfield.
Thiago has endured a difficult time with Liverpool, struggling to recapture the form that made him a Champions League winner at Bayern Munich.
The Spanish midfielder gave a glimpse of his talent with a composed display capped by a blistering long-range strike to put Liverpool ahead in the second half.
Mohamed Salah sealed Liverpool’s fifth successive group victory with his 17th goal this season.
Porto are second in the group, one point ahead of Atletico Madrid and AC Milan, leaving Sergio Conceicao’s team needing to beat the Spanish champions in their last match on December 7 to advance alongside Liverpool.
The Reds do not have an empty midweek left in 2021 and face nine games in all competitions in December, so Klopp rested several stars including Virgil Van Dijk, Andrew Robertson, Fabinho and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
“It was good. Some people might have thought we would play an easy game but we were not here for that. We won the game with two exceptional goals, especially Thiago’s. Wow!” Klopp said.
“It was hectic, which is not unusual for a team that has not played together a lot. But so many good things happened, both individually and as a team.
“We had young players playing, players back from injury and the right players got minutes and the right players got some rest.”
Liverpool’s 19-year-old midfielder Tyler Morton made his Champions League debut, with Neco Williams, Ibrahima Konate and Takumi Minamino also coming in.
Morton made his first Premier League appearance as a late substitute against Arsenal at the weekend, but he did not look out of place on the big stage.
“If you are in our squad you are a good player, it’s as simple as that. I would not throw a player into a game if he was not ready,” Klopp said.
“With Tyler some might have been surprised before kick-off but he did exceptionally well and I am pleased he put in a performance like this.”
– Thiago magic –
Porto were inches away from taking the lead when Otavio robbed Kostas Tsimikas and whipped a cross towards Mehdi Taremi, whose header hit Joel Matip and deflected just wide.
Moments later, Luis Diaz’s deft pass picked out Otavio’s run into the Liverpool area, but Tsimikas made a lunging last-ditch tackle that forced the midfielder to poke wide.
Sadio Mane thought he had scored in the 37th minute when he ran onto Thiago’s pass and slotted home, but a VAR check showed the Senegal forward was marginally offside.
When Mateus Uribe swivelled to fire just wide soon after half-time, it seemed Porto were beginning to take control.
But it was Klopp’s men who made the breakthrough thanks to Thiago’s moment of magic in the 52nd minute.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s free-kick was headed out to Thiago and he drilled a superb 25-yard drive past Diogo Costa.
Oxlade-Chamberlain went close with a long-range rocket before Thiago was substituted to a standing ovation from the Kop.
Thiago’s replacement Jordan Henderson set up Liverpool’s second goal in the 70th minute, picking out Salah, who shimmied inside before planting a low strike into the bottom corner from 12 yards.