Liverpool counter-attack perfectly suited for Champions League football

Champions League football clearly agrees with Liverpool.

Jurgen Klopp's side completely dismantled FC Porto on Wednesday night and, although the Reds' boss is far too professional to declare the tie over, not even the most wildly optimistic Porto fan would give their side any hope of overcoming a 5-0 deficit at Anfield in three weeks' time.

Liverpool are now the top scorers in the competition, having overtaken PSG: in seven games they have plundered 28 goals. They score plenty domestically too, but they've gone goal crazy in Europe where the more open nature of the games suits their counter-pressing and counter-attacking style.

Swansea manager Carlos Carvalhal colourfully explained recently how his side pulled off a shock victory over the Reds just one week after Klopp's men had ended Manchester City's unbeaten start to the season. "If you put a Formula 1 car in London in 4 p.m. traffic, the car will not run very fast," he said. "And that is exactly what we had to do against Liverpool. Put them to play the way they don't like."

In football terms that translates to sitting deep in numbers and denying Liverpool's lightning quick attackers room to run into. It doesn't always work, but it's the best chance most sides have of achieving any success against Klopp's team.

Most sides in the bottom half of the table play that way against superior opposition and Liverpool often have great difficulty with it. Europe is different, however, and the Champions League especially so. While many of the teams in the competition are nowhere near the level of Liverpool and the other top English sides, they are the best their own country has to offer and are therefore unused to playing in the defensive manner that works best against the Reds.

Porto are currently the best team in Portugal and they have a rich and proud European pedigree, so there was simply no way they were going to completely abandon how they play and try to copy what Swansea did.

Playing that way when you're bottom of the Premier League is common practice but teams in the Champions League are accustomed to dominating the opposition and therefore tend to play much more on the front foot. Even if they wanted to "park the bus," Porto probably wouldn't know how to as it would be completely alien to what they do each week in their own league.

It's the same throughout the Champions League and it plays right into Liverpool's hands. Group opponents Maribor and Spartak Moscow are successful sides in their own domestic leagues and are used to playing football a certain way. If you play like that against Liverpool though it usually doesn't end well. Both were hit for seven goals by Klopp's team.

Porto didn't seem to know whether to stick or twist on Wednesday night. They didn't press Liverpool but they didn't sit deep and try to frustrate them either. They were barely able to pose any threat to the Liverpool goal and any time they tried to get numbers forward in attack they were ruthlessly exposed on the break.

No surprise there; this is what Klopp's team do. Porto will have been well aware of that too, but they will also have been hoping to expose Liverpool's often vulnerable defence. For all their goalscoring exploits, the Reds were held to three draws in the group stages due to defensive lapses.

Liverpool's defending was outstanding against Porto though, and goalkeeper Loris Karius had virtually nothing to do. Virgil van Dijk swaggered his way through the contest, marshalling his backline and spraying the ball about from side to side with the kind accuracy usually associated with midfield playmakers. The rest of the defensive unit all caught the eye too, while the midfield three were excellent both with and without the ball. It was a close-to-perfect all-round team performance but understandably it was the front three who again dominated the headlines afterwards.

For once it was not the name of Mohamed Salah on everybody's lips though. The Egyptian recorded his 30th goal of the season with an impudent finish that (not for the first time this month) drew comparisons with Lionel Messi, but he will no doubt have been delighted to see his good friend Sadio Mane take the spotlight after bagging a much needed hat trick.

Salah is on course to possibly have the greatest goalscoring campaign in Liverpool history, while Roberto Firmino is finally earning the recognition and plaudits he deserves. But the only discussion about Mane in recent weeks has centred around his indifferent form. It has been a struggle for him and hopefully this can be a turning point.

Some caution is required as spectacular goals against Burnley and Manchester City failed to spark a return to his best form, but it was noticeable after his second goal in Porto that Mane looked much more like his old self. His play in the build up to the fourth goal was exceptional, as was the emphatic finish to complete his hat trick.

Klopp declared afterwards that the Senegal winger was now "back." That remains to be seen, but if he is indeed about to show his best form then you can be sure that Porto will not be the last team to be taken apart by this Liverpool side before this season is out.