London, April 28: Liverpool are one step closer to a third UEFA Champions League final in five seasons after a 2-0 victory against Villarreal in the first leg of their semi-final at Anfield, here on Wednesday.
Liverpool scored twice in three second-half minutes to take control of their UEFA Champions League semi-final against Villarreal. An own goal from Pervis Estupinan and Sadio Mane’s 20th of the season in a three-minute second half did the damage and the only criticism that could be leveled at Jurgen Klopp’s side was that they should have scored more.
First, Sadio Mane headed wide for 12 minutes in a characteristically dominant display. Jordan Henderson hit a post with a cross and Mohamed Salah missed twice before a thunderous shot from Thiago Alcantara deflected the crossbar.
If they didn’t dominate enough in the opening period, the six-time winners moved up a gear after the interval. Fabinho’s header was ruled out for offside in the build-up, but three minutes later the hosts were ahead when Henderson’s cross dug into the net through a Pervis Estupinan deflection and a Geronimo Rulli punch.
Liverpool threatened to break loose when Mane latched onto Salah’s pass before passing to Rulli, but Villarreal managed to limit the damage.
Mane, whose combination with Mohamed Salah showed his best moment again, had three attempts, Salah himself had a couple, while Luis Diaz cut from the left to launch a right-footed shot to Geronimo Rulli, who unconvincingly claimed on the second try.
Villarreal achieved what they set out to do in the first half: defend in numbers, slow down and frustrate Jurgen Klopp’s men. It worked wonders until the visitors were hit by a quick brace in the opening stages of the second half, putting Liverpool firmly in the driving seat ahead of the second leg in Spain. It will take a staggering comeback from the Yellow Submarine to deny the Reds.
Under Unai Emery, the visitors had lost just one of 12 European away games, in stoppage time at Old Trafford last September, and had beaten Juventus and Bayern Munich to reach their first Champions League semi-final since 2006.