Rio Ferdinand hails Liverpool after they had to ‘struggle’ to earn Champions League win

Rio Ferdinand hailed Liverpool’s ‘character’ as they were made to ‘struggle’ to take a crucial 2-0 win back to Anfield in the last-16 of the Champions League. 

Liverpool showed they are a serious contender to lift the trophy in Saint Petersburg on May 28 as they shut out Italian champions Inter Milan on their own patch, before striking twice in eight minutes in a smash-and-grab win.

Ferdinand called out Manchester United’s stars this week for lacking ‘balls’ in big moments and Liverpool’s display in Milan provided a reminder of the current gulf between the sides at this moment. 

‘It’s not about performing, you can’t be 10/10 every game but there has to be moments in games where you struggle, suffer, and it’s about getting through that,’ he told BT Sport on Wednesday. 

‘It’s about that character and these players have got that.’ 

Liverpool’s ‘character’ drew plenty of praise from Rio Ferdinand after their win over Inter Milan

Ferdinand was scathing of Manchester United this week but hailed Liverpool's will to win

 Ferdinand was scathing of Manchester United this week but hailed Liverpool’s will to win

His comments on Liverpool’s character sparked a reminder of his scathing remarks of United prior to their 2-0 win over Brighton on Tuesday. 

Ferdinand said on his Five with Vibe podcast: ‘In every game you get a five minute spell or whatever it is, where the other team get hold of the game and you get penned back a little bit whether you like it or not.

‘It’s about having the balls to be able to get through that, the knowhow and I think a big part of that is discipline – I think that’s where we lack compared to top teams.’

For long periods Liverpool looked set to be returning to Anfield with a goalless draw to show for their efforts in Milan – until Roberto Firmino intervened.

The Brazilian got himself onto the end of Andrew Robertson’s corner to nod his side in front in the 75th minute before Mohamed Salah’s deflected strike made it 2-0 eight minutes later to seal the win.   

Liverpool were not at their free-flowing best but have been credited for 'finding a way to win'

 Liverpool were not at their free-flowing best but have been credited for ‘finding a way to win’

Former Inter Milan wing-back Ashley Young, who is currently at Aston Villa, was also left impressed with Liverpool’s demonstration of their tournament-winning credentials in Italy. 

‘Inter had to come out attacking more in the second half and they did. Whether it was the last pass or last cross it wasn’t there and they couldn’t score,’ Young told BBC Radio 5Live.

‘Good teams always find a way to win and Liverpool did that. 

‘From the first goal they controlled the game. They’re definitely one of the contenders to win the tournament.’ 

Former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler has seen far slicker displays from his old side but the win in Milan proved their qualities on the biggest stage. 

‘That’s the sign of a great team. Not being brilliant, seen some performances of late in league where not great but get result,’ Fowler added to BT Sport

Ferdinand earlier this week accused Manchester United's squad of lacking 'balls' in matches

Ferdinand earlier this week accused Manchester United’s squad of lacking ‘balls’ in matches

‘All that matters is the result and Liverpool have done that.’ 

Liverpool often win plaudits for their free-flowing attacking football but it was their defensive solidity that stood out for pundits of the game in Milan. 

Ex-Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko almost put Inter ahead in the first half, were it not for a vital challenge by Virgil van Dijk, who was captaining the Reds in place of Jordan Henderson.

Ivan Perisic’s whipped cross later caused concern, only to see Lautaro Martinez fluff his lines.  

Returning to Anfield with two unanswered goals makes Liverpool overwhelming favourites to progress but Jurgen Klopp is wary of counting his chickens before they hatch. 

‘It is still dangerous,’ Klopp said. ‘It is only half-time. We don’t feel like we are halfway through. We will have to be ready for it. 

Jurgen Klopp has warned Liverpool's players that there is still much work to be done in the tie

Jurgen Klopp has warned Liverpool’s players that there is still much work to be done in the tie

‘They are good – really good! 2-0 feels like a proper half-time. I don’t say “job done, put your legs on the table.” Why should I think different about it now?

‘We defended really well – the way that we like to win the ball. You have to defend with passion and organisation. 

‘It was really strong challenge (from Inter) but it would be silly if you didn’t defend well. It means a lot to us, this competition, and we want to do well in it.

‘This is a difficult place to come. They are a very, very confident opponent. They played real smart balls, they have this deep last line and in the beginning we did very well. I was not surprised – they are good. We know that. We have to be ready for the second half.’ 

Victory in Milan means Liverpool have now won seven matches in a row in all competitions.