LONDON: Manchester City and Liverpool struck a double success for the English Premier League in the opening clashes of the Champions League quarter-finals. City won 1-0 at home to Atletico Madrid while Liverpool succeeded 3-1 away to Benfica in Lisbon.
Kevin De Bruyne struck 20 minutes from time to give City a slender advantage. The Belgian playmaker fired home from a tight angle after Phil Foden came off the bench to stunning effect.
Atletico were their usual dogged, defensive selves for most of the game and frustrated City despite the hosts’ dominance of possession.
Yet the introduction of Foden as part of a triple substitution by Pep Guardiola in the 68th minute paid almost immediate dividends.
Within moments he had slipped in De Bruyne with a delicate through ball and he finished firmly to put City in control heading into next week’s second leg in the Spanish capital.
Atletico boss Diego Simeone had promised Atletico would play their usual cagey game and he was as good as his word, forcing City to play patiently.
The first half was played at a slow tempo with City controlling most of the ball but, despite having all their outfield players in the final third at times, being unable to create openings.
De Bruyne and Joao Cancelo both had efforts deflected wide and Aymeric Laporte missed the target with a header.
Raheem Sterling felt he should have had a free-kick on the left edge of the area after a good run and Bernardo Silva went down in the box moments later but nothing was given.
Ilkay Gundogan shot well over and Rodri had a long-range effort blocked before De Bruyne had a penalty appeal turned down and John Stones also missed.
Yet still City were not greatly threatening and it was not until the second half they tried to inject more pace into their play.
This did open the game up slightly and Atletico almost capitalised with a couple of breaks from deep. Antoine Griezmann wasted one opening with a poor pass and Marcos Llorente chipped tamely at Ederson from another.
Yet it was a move that paid off as City began to threaten more. Gundogan had an effort deflected wide and City’s first serious chance came when De Bruyne forced Jan Oblak to save a low free-kick. Laporte then went close when he headed over from a corner.
City appealed for another penalty for a push by Reinildo on Sterling as he attempted to latch onto a De Bruyne through ball but referee Istvan Kovacs was not interested.
That proved Sterling’s final involvement as Guardiola took him off in the move that changed the game.
His decision paid off as Foden, who came on alongside Jack Grealish and Gabriel Jesus, teed up De Bruyne to shoot past Oblak.
Liverpool in command
Winger Luis Diaz marked his return to Portugal with the crucial late goal which gave Liverpool a 3-1 lead over Benfica to take back to Anfield.
The former Porto star, signed in January, was booed relentlessly but he responded perfectly in the 87th minute to spare the blushes of Ibrahima Konate, whose mistake just over half an hour after scoring his first goal for the club had gifted the hosts a goal they had barely deserved.
Jurgen Klopp’s side had been coasting at half-time in the Estadio da Luz after Sadio Mane’s goal doubled the advantage given to them by their centre-back’s header but having squandered numerous chances, Konate’s legs got tangled as he tried to make a clearance early in the second half and Darwin Nunez capitalised.
It was a goal which significantly changed the game for a long period, as Benfica suddenly looked the better side with Liverpool completely out of sorts, but Diaz had the final word to make the return look slightly more comfortable than it had done.
Victory saw Liverpool, who had lost on their last three visits here, equal a club record of five successive away victories in Europe.
The omens had not been great for Benfica, third in Portugal’s Primeira Liga 15 points behind leaders Porto – whom Liverpool had hammered 5-1 and 2-0 in the group stages this season.
Of the six changes Klopp made, the best one was bringing right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold in after almost three weeks out with a hamstring injury. He provided a superb pass which Diaz headed into Mane’s path for the second goal.
It was the first time Klopp had started the midfield trio of Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara and Naby Keita, with the latter impressing in attacking areas.
In the opening 45 minutes the midfielder almost operated as a fourth forward, joining the attack to have four shots of his own before the break to underline the visitors’ dominance.
That they only had a two-goal lead to their name was nothing short of criminal considering the opportunities which fell to Keita, Diaz, Salah – three times – and Alexander-Arnold.
Konate eventually made the crucial 17th-minute breakthrough when Diaz won a corner which Andy Robertson swung to the far post, where the defender easily out-jumped Everton to beat the goalkeeper with a downward header.
But better was still to come as Alexander-Arnold’s crossfield ball was laid on a plate for Diaz to nod into Mane’s path and the Senegal international could not miss from close range, going past Steven Gerrard’s total of 22 Champions League goals.
Half-time brought another club record as Liverpool went 19 matches without conceding a first-half goal, although they had barely been troubled with Everton coming closest with a shot into the side-netting.
Four minutes into the second half that all changed after Konate’s calamity trying to deal with Rafa Silva’s low cross.
The goal altered the mood in the stadium and the momentum on the pitch and Klopp’s triple change of Roberto Firmino, Diogo Jota and Jordan Henderson for Mane, Salah and Thiago attempted to restore control.
Further Konate misjudgements caused more problems with Alisson Becker first having to parry Everton’s low shot and then, after the defender went chasing a ball he could never win, Nunez had a penalty claim rejected after tumbling under Virgil Van Dijk’s challenge.
The pressure seemed to be getting to even the best, with Van Dijk’s air-kick in the centre-circle a brief moment of concern while Alisson also duffed a couple of clearances.
But just when it looked like frustration would get the better of them, Keita’s perfect through-ball allowed Diaz to round the goalkeeper and slot home an angled shot.
On the last two occasions the teams met in the quarter-finals of this competition, in 1978 and 1984, Liverpool went on to lift the trophy and Diaz’s goal put them well on their way to the last four this time.