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Liverpool 2-0 Villarreal: Reds' second-half surge puts them in control of Champions League semi-final

Liverpool scored twice in three second-half minutes to assume control of their UEFA Champions League semi-final against Villarreal.

UCL 2021/22 - Highlight - Medium
Highlights: Liverpool 2-0 Villarreal

Liverpool are one step closer to a third UEFA Champions League final in five seasons after a 2-0 win against Villarreal in the first leg of their semi-final tie at Anfield.

Key moments

12' Henderson's cross-shot strikes post
42' Thunderous Thiago shot hits crossbar
53'
Henderson cross deflects in off Estupiñán
55' Mané prods Salah through ball past Rulli

Match in brief: Reds up the tempo after half-time

Jordan Henderson enjoys his role in Liverpool's opener
Jordan Henderson enjoys his role in Liverpool's openerDeFodi Images via Getty Images

Liverpool could so easily have been out of sight even before half-time, Sadio Mané heading wide 12 minutes into a characteristically dominant display. Jordan Henderson hit a post with a cross-shot and Mohamed Salah twice missed the target before a thunderous Thiago Alcântara effort came back off the crossbar.

If not dominant enough in the opening period, the six-time winners went up a gear after the interval. Fabinho's header was ruled out for an offside in the build-up, but three minutes later the hosts were in front when Henderson's cross ballooned into the net via a deflection off Pervis Estupiñán and a Gerónimo Rulli fist.

Liverpool threatened to cut loose when Mané latched on to Salah's cute through ball before poking past Rulli, but Villarreal managed to limit the damage.

PlayStation® Player of the Match: Thiago Alcântara (Liverpool)

Player of the Match: Thiago Alcántara highlights and reaction
Player of the Match: Thiago Alcántara highlights and reaction

"Thiago showed vision and precision with his passing. On the ball he was able to get clear of his opponents and when needed made crucial challenges. For 90 minutes, the pitch was like his playground."
UEFA Technical Observer panel

As it happened: Liverpool 2-0 Villarreal



Matthew Howarth, Liverpool reporter

Villarreal achieved what they set out to achieve in the first half – defend in numbers, slow the pace down and frustrate Jürgen Klopp's players. It worked a treat until the visitors were hit by a quickfire double 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 an astonishing comeback from the Yellow Submarine to deny the Reds.

Graham Hunter, Villarreal reporter

Thiago, Serge Aurier and Mohamed Salah after the final whistle
Thiago, Serge Aurier and Mohamed Salah after the final whistleAFP via Getty Images

It would be wrong to deny credit to Liverpool for the remorseless nature of their performance and, ultimately, their win, but any seasoned Villarreal watcher will tell you that Unai Emery's team were not themselves. Jittery in what little possession they had – wobbly under pressure when, in Turin and Munich, they had thrived on backs-against-the-wall football – they also lacked precision and too often failed to track the Reds' runners. Surgery is required before the second leg.

When is the Champions League final?


Reaction
 

Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool manager: "We had really good legs in the first half. We really had to stay positive and keep the same mindset. All is good so far. We have to travel to Villarreal and we'll try to qualify for he final. You have to be completely alert and 100% in the right mood to play the second leg as the first."

Rio Ferdinand, BT Sport

"This is the best Liverpool team I've ever seen; they're relentless. The way they press teams – the energy, the application – you sit here and just marvel at it."

Jordan Henderson, Liverpool captain: "You need a bit of luck when a team plays with a low block. We got that and it lifted the crowd. For the majority of the game, the counter-press was really good. It made it difficult for them, but the game is still alive."

Henderson: 'The next goal is a big one'
Henderson: 'The next goal is a big one'

Unai Emery, Villarreal coach: "The first half was defensively good, but we didn't achieve many counterattacking options in attack. The second half was the same and they deserved to score. It's not a good result for us but we will dream of doing something different at home."

Key stats

  • Mané has moved level alongside Didier Drogba (both 14) as the leading African goalscorer in the knockout phase of the UEFA Champions League.
  • Fourteen of Mané's last 20 goals in the competition have come in the knockouts.
  • Liverpool have never lost at Anfield in the semi-finals of the European Cup, winning ten and drawing two of their 12 matches and conceding only four goals.
  • Liverpool's record in UEFA club competition semi-finals at Anfield is W16 D3 L0.
  • The Reds' opener against Villarreal was their 250th goal in the UEFA Champions League era, group stage to final. They have also now scored 450 in European Cup history, qualifying included.
  • Klopp's side have scored two or more in ten of their 11 UEFA Champions League games this season.
  • Villarreal have won only one of their ten away matches against English clubs in UEFA club competition (D3 L6).
  • The Yellow Submarine failed to muster a shot on target.

Fantasy star performers

Sadio Mané – 8
Trent Alexander-Arnold – 8
Ibrahima Konaté – 8
Thiago Alcántara – 8

Line-ups

Liverpool: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold (Gomez 81), Konaté, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson (Keïta 72), Fabinho, Thiago Alcántara; Salah, Mané (Jota 72), Luis Díaz (Origi 81)

Villarreal: Rulli; Foyth, Albiol, Pau Torres, Estupiñán (Trigueros 72); Lo Celso, Parejo (Aurier 72), Capoue, Coquelin (Pedraza 57); Chukwueze (Dia 72), Danjuma (Paco Alcácer 86)