LIVERPOOL - Inter turned in a resolute performance at Anfield, but ultimately, it was always going to be a tall order to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg at San Siro three weeks ago. Lautaro Martinez conjured up a stunning goal with 61 minutes on the clock that flew into the top corner from the edge of the box, but it was not enough for the Nerazzurri to reach the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite club competition. Alexis Sanchez saw red for a second bookable offence soon after Inter opened the scoring, which left the visitors in a difficult position to push for a second goal and it gave the Reds a much-needed boost just as it looked like there might be scope for a remarkable second-leg turnaround.
To give an idea of the magnitude of the task at hand, Liverpool were yet to lose a game in 2022, were unbeaten at home in a year and last suffered defeat at Anfield in the Champions League in November 2020. Klopp’s side are in the quarter-final draw, but Inzaghi’s players can take heart from a strong display that the vocal Nerazzurri faithful in the away end clearly appreciated. Playing at Anfield for 30 minutes with ten men was an insurmountable task for Inter, but it didn’t stop the team from ending the Champions League campaign with an impressive win.
It was a matter of attacking sensibly, while knowing that overcommitting against Liverpool would be a potentially dangerous strategy. Inter had a plan of action to try to remind the Reds that their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League was not a foregone conclusion, which the team did admirably. Good positioning on the pitch, a serious approach and full tanks ready to burn were key elements of that strategy.
The visitors, who were kitted out in their slick black strip, started on the front foot, just as they had done at San Siro, but without the crucial magic touch in front of goal. Klopp’s side looked to adopt a more controlled approach to protect their advantage, which didn’t exactly go to plan in the first 15 minutes as Simone Inzaghi’s charges played with enterprise.
Ivan Perisic was a constant thorn in Trent Alexander-Arnold’s side, but with Edin Dzeko on the bench, there was not as much height to aim for in the middle. Liverpool finally got going on 16 minutes when they began to look dangerous from set plays. The game was balanced in midfield, with Inter holding their position well despite the attacking threat being reduced temporarily. The referee then had to bring the game to a halt as it took five minutes to deal with a pitch invader.
When the action resumed, the hosts went close when Joel Matip’s header in the 31st minute stuck the bar before Milan Skriniar did brilliantly to get in the way of a seemingly goal-bound Virgil van Dijk header. The half came to a close when Trent Alexander-Arnold unleashed a dangerous free kick from all of 25 yards out that flew just wide of Samir Handanovic’s post.
After bringing on Danilo D’Ambrosio to replace Stefan de Vrij, who had suffered a calf strain, Inter made a strong start to the second half and passed the ball around confidently, culminating in chances to open the scoring while leaving the door open at the other end. On 52 minutes, Liverpool struck the woodwork for the second time when Salah took aim after Handanovic rushed out of his goal to brilliantly thwart Diogo Jota.
With 60 minutes on the clock, Alexis Sanchez dummied Perisic’s low cross brilliantly, leaving Lautaro in space in the box to shoot, but his low shot was deflected wide for a corner. Two minutes later, however, the game took a double twist.
After winning the ball back in midfield, Sanchez was able to play a pass into Lautaro’s path that sat up on the edge of the box for El Toro to unleash a scintillating, crisp strike that rocketed into the top corner, leaving Alisson helpless and Anfield stunned while 3,000 Nerazzurri fans jumped for joy. Inter believed and tried to up the tempo further, but the result was a second booking for Sanchez after a sliding challenge in which he got the ball but also his opponent, and followed in the footsteps of Marco Materazzi, who got sent off at the same stadium back in 2008.
With just under 30 minutes to go and a goal behind on aggregate, Inter faced an uphill battle at Anfield, while Marcelo Brozovic had to be withdrawn with an injury. Liverpool struck the frame of the goal for a third time when Salah’s half volley came back off the post, which got fans wondering if it might really be our night. Joaquin Correa came on up front, while Roberto Gagliardini, Matteo Darmian and Matias Vecino provided fresh legs, but it was always going to be a struggle to break into opposition territory a man down.
Arturo Vidal’s tireless performance was epitomised by a stunning last-gasp tackle in the second minute of stoppage time when Luis Diaz seemed destined to score, ensuring that Inter kept an impressive clean sheet at Anfield and left with a victory on the night. The Nerazzurri may not have made it through, but certainly gave everything and impressed the continent with two strong performances against one of the top sides in Europe.
Liverpool 0-1 Inter (HT: 0-0, 2-1 on aggregate)
Scorer: Lautaro Martinez 62.
LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): 1 Alisson; 66 Alexander-Arnold, 32 Matip, 4 Van Dijk, 26 Robertson; 17 Jones (8 Keita, 65), 3 Fabinho, 6 Thiago Alcantara (14 Henderson, 65); 11 Salah, 20 Diogo Jota (23 Diaz, 84), 10 Mane.
Subs not used: 13 Adrian, 62 Kelleher, 7 Milner, 12 Gomez, 15 Oxlade-Chamberlain, 18 Minamino, 21 Tsimikas, 27 Origi, 67 Elliott.
Coach: Jurgen Klopp.
INTER (3-5-2): 1 Handanovic; 37 Skriniar, 6 De Vrij (33 D'Ambrosio, 46), 95 Bastoni; 2 Dumfries (36 Darmian, 75), 22 Vidal, 77 Brozovic (5 Gagliardini, 75), 20 Calhanoglu (8 Vecino, 84), 14 Perisic; 10 Lautaro (19 Correa, 75), 7 Sanchez.
Subs not used: 21 Cordaz, 97 Radu, 9 Dzeko, 13 Ranocchia, 18 Gosens, 32 Dimarco, 88 Caicedo.
Coach: Simone Inzaghi.
Referee: Antonio Matheu Lahoz (ESP).
Assistants: Roberto del Palomar, Pau Cebrian Devis (ESP).
Fourth official: Ricardo de Burgos (ESP).
VAR: Juan Martinez Munuera (ESP).
Assistant VAR: Guillermo Cuadra Fernandez (ESP).