- Liverpool defeated Villarreal 2-0 in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final at Anfield on Wednesday night
- In form, Sadio Mane was on target once again as Villarreal’s Estupinan scored an own goal
- Both teams will see off again in Spain next week on Tuesday for the second leg
Liverpool are in the lead in their Champions League semi-final against Villarreal after a 2-0 win at Anfield on Wednesday night.
A game that was never likely to match the thriller 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 has it all to do when the two meet again in the second leg at the El Madrigal next Tuesday.
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.
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 per cent), 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.
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 has 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.
Liverpool travels to Newcastle United on Saturday as they resume their title chase in the Premier League, while Villarreal will be away to Deportivo Alaves on the same day.