Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes Sadio Mane is back to his best after a hat-trick in the 5-0 win in Porto virtually assured his side a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
The Senegal international scored the Reds’ opener midway through the first half when his shot squirmed under goalkeeper Jose Sa on a slippery, wet surface and added a couple more after the break, completing his treble with a powerful blast from outside the area.
Mohamed Salah brought up his 30th goal of a remarkable season with a brilliantly instinctive individual effort and Roberto Firmino was also on target but Mane, who has endured a roller-coaster season after being sent off at Manchester City and then getting injury, was the man who got the praise.
“He gave the right answer,” said Klopp.
“I said to him after the last game (at Southampton) ‘Finally, you are back.’
“After the game we met on the pitch and tonight he showed it again.
“He was always important, he was always fantastic for us even in his ‘not that good’ moments. That’s real quality.
“If you are not at 100 per cent but still involved in goals that’s really important. Then it will come if you keep working really hard like he did.
“The first was a little lucky, but the other two – the second one was about being in the right place and he used his fantastic skills on the third one so it’s good, really good. I’m happy about it.”
Salah became the second-fastest Liverpool player to the 30-goal landmark in the club’s history – behind only George Allan whose 27 games in 1896 was seven faster.
“He played a good season, I recognise that already but it’s very important for us,” added Klopp
“Each goal was kind of a winner. That’s important tonight. We spoke a lot about Mo in the last few weeks, completely deserved.
“Sadio had his comeback tonight, and Roberto was there again after outstanding work-rate again, so it was good.
“Who was quickest? (answer George Allan). Wow. That’s long ago then, because sorry, I don’t know. That makes it more exciting so congratulations, but hopefully it won’t stop.”
Porto coach Sergio Conceicao felt his side allowed the game to get away from them at 2-0 when they still had a chance to claw something back.
“We started the game on an even keel. We even had a great chance through Otavio in the first 20 minutes,” he said.
“On one occasion we sought to break out quickly from the back in a move that started with our goalkeeper but we lost possession and conceded the first.
“We made a few more mistakes which cost us dearly, especially against a team with that kind of firepower.
“We reacted well to going behind but then went two down because we were too passive. From there, it becomes even more difficult.”