With a 2–0 win over Villarreal in the Champions League semifinal first leg, Liverpool took another step toward a historic quadruple.
Villarreal should never be counted out after eliminating European giants Juventus and Bayern Munich from the competition in the previous knockout rounds with strong second-leg performances, but Liverpool was utterly dominant Tuesday at Anfield.
The Yellow Submarine proved to be difficult to crack for Jürgen Klopp’s well-oiled machine, which was held goalless in the first half. But the floodgates opened just after the start of the second half with Sadio Mané following up a Pervis Estupiñán own goal in the 53rd minute with Liverpool’s second goal of the evening.
From the very beginning, Liverpool showed that it wasn’t going to be the next titan to be shocked by Villarreal. The Reds came out of the gates riding the energy at Anfield, creating a couple of chances in the first 10 minutes but not managing anything concrete. It came closest in the ninth minute when Mohamed Salah’s header off a Trent Alexander-Arnold cross flew over the crossbar.
Mané followed that up in the 12th minute with a seemingly perfect chance. Salah’s cross into the area found Mané wide open in space right in front of goal, but the Senegalese winger couldn’t manage to turn his effort toward goal.
In the 22nd minute, Jordan Henderson took a stellar pass from Thiago and sent his shot off of the outside of the post in what Liverpool’s best chance in the first 25 minutes of the match.
Ten minutes later, Mané came up with another close chance with a half-volley that appeared destined for the back of the net if it wasn’t for a well-timed block from Raúl Albiol to keep things scoreless.
Keeping in his spectacular run of form as of late, Thiago mesmerized the Villarreal defense with his strike in the 42nd minute. All the Yellow Submarine could do was watch as the Spanish midfielder’s shot ripped through the air and smashed off the top of the post.
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While the first half remained goalless, Liverpool outshot Villarreal, 12–1. Still, Unai Emery’s side held on, only conceding a couple of serious chances through the first 45.
In the 50th minute, Liverpool seemed to take the lead with a Fabinho goal that was then disallowed for a Virgil van Dijk offside.
But the Reds wouldn’t have to wait long for the opener when Henderson’s cross was tipped into the net by Villarreal keeper Gerónimo Rulli after it deflected off Estupiñán, who was credited with the own goal.
Just two minutes later, Liverpool would double its lead thanks to Mané and Salah. The Egyptian star slipped a perfectly weighted passed through the Villarreal defense as Mané deftly poked it past Rulli for the 2–0 lead.
Liverpool followed up with another pair of solid chances in the 68th minute. First, van Dijk sent a rocket of a shot from distance that stunned Rulli as the keeper could barely stop the shot with his palms. On the subsequent chance, Díaz saw his low curling shot deflected just wide.
In the end, Villarreal couldn’t manage to record a shot on target. Its best chance appeared to come in the 87th minute courtesy of Boulaye Dia, but his shot was easily saved by Alisson before being called offside.
The two sides will now head to Spain for the second leg on Tuesday with a spot in the Paris final on the line against either Manchester City or Real Madrid, which put together an entertaining first leg yesterday with a 4–3 scoreline in favor of City.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism