Liverpool beat Villarreal 2-0 ahead of Estadio de la Cerámica 2nd-leg trip
Liverpool are in the driving seat of their Champions League semi-final against Villarreal after a 2-0 win at Anfield on Wednesday.
A game that was never likely to match the excitement of Tuesday’s seven-goal thriller between Manchester City and Real Madrid finally came to life in the second half as an own goal from Pervis Estupinan and a Sadio Mane strike sealed a strong first-leg advantage for the Reds.
Unai Emery’s side defended resolutely for much of the game, managing to get to half-time goalless, but they were ultimately undone by some typically fast attacking from Jurgen Klopp’s team in the second half.
This was Liverpool’s 12th European Cup or Champions League semi-final, with no English side playing in the final four more often (level with Manchester United), and was also the first time the Reds have played in the semi-finals of the EFL Cup, FA Cup and European Cup in the same campaign, and it was that experience of the big occasion that ultimately shone through.
It was a tentative start from the home side, though Mane will have expected to do better with a header when found by a neat cross from Mohamed Salah early on with the Senegalese forward directing his effort wide.
Thiago Alcantara came as close as anyone to breaking the deadlock in the first half with a shot from almost 30 yards that crashed against the left-hand post, but the visitors did a good job of frustrating the Premier League side in the opening 45 minutes.
An electric beginning to the second half from Klopp’s side finally saw them take the lead in the 53rd minute, with Jordan Henderson’s cross from the right taking a fortunate deflection off the foot of Estupinan and flying past Rulli at his near post.
Another arrived just two minutes later as a good passing move ended with Salah sliding a ball through to Mane, who prodded under the goalkeeper to make it 2-0 to the Reds.
The Yellow Submarine avoided further damage but have it all to do when the two meet again in the second leg at the El Madrigal next Tuesday.
What does it mean? Liverpool show patience to breakthrough, again
Liverpool finally overcame a determined Everton in the Merseyside derby on Sunday, it was said to be perfect preparation for Villarreal, who were always going to come to Anfield to frustrate in the first leg.
That proved to be the case as, like with the Toffees, Villarreal kept Liverpool at bay in the first half, running down the clock, blocking all attacks, and keeping their net unbothered.
However, the relentless Reds again managed to force a couple of second-half goals, having had 19 shots in all, facing just one solitary effort from the visitors.
Thiago once again shines in the middle
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich midfielder has been purring in Liverpool’s midfield in recent games, and he was on form again here as he helped to dissect a stubborn opposition.
Thiago completed 99 of 103 passes (96.1 percent), enjoying a fantastic pass completion percentage in the opposition’s half of 94.1 from 68 attempts. He also made more interceptions than anyone (five) and gained possession 10 times in all.
More English misery for Yellow Submarine
Emery’s men put up a brave fight but eventually succumbed to a strong and determined Liverpool team, and it maintained a poor record for Villarreal in England.
Since a 2-1 victory on Merseyside against Everton in August 2005, Villarreal have not managed to win any of their last nine away games in England in all competitions (drawn three, lost six), having also tasted defeat at Manchester United in the group stages earlier this season.
Key Opta facts
– Liverpool have won the first leg of a Champions League knockout stage tie for the 15th time; they have gone on to progress in each of the previous 13 instances since being eliminated by Bayer Leverkusen in 2001-02 (1-0 win in the first leg, 4-2 loss in the second).
– The Reds have won nine matches in the Champions League this season, the most games they have ever won in a single campaign in European competition (excluding qualifiers).
– Villarreal attempted just one shot in this match, with that shot missing the target. It is the joint-fewest by any side in a Champions League semi-final since this data is available (2003-04), along with Inter vs Barcelona in 2009-10 (one shot, none on target).
– Klopp has won all four of his Champions League semi-final matches as a manager on home soil with Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool, seeing his teams score 15 times while conceding only three goals in return. It is the joint-best such record of any manager in the competition in terms of winning percentage, alongside Marcello Lippi and Ottmar Hitzfeld (also four out of four).
– Salah’s assist for Mane’s goal to put Liverpool two ahead was the seventh time the pair have combined for a goal in the Champions League, the joint-most of any duo for English teams in the competition, equalling Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs and Salah and Roberto Firmino.
– Mane scored his 14th goal in the knockout stages of the Champions League, the joint-most such goals of any African player along with Didier Drogba. Since his first campaign in the competition (2017-18), only Karim Benzema (16) has more knockout stage goals than Mane.
Liverpool travel to Newcastle United on Saturday as they resume their title chase in the Premier League, while Villarreal are away to Deportivo Alaves on the same day.