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Liverpool smash through Villarreal’s yellow wall to put one foot in Champions League final



LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – APRIL 27: Etienne Capoue of Villarreal and Thiago Alcantara of Liverpool during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Leg One match between Liverpool and Villarreal at Anfield on April 27, 2022 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)

Liverpool put one foot in their third Champions League final in five seasons after a 2-0 victory over the least-fancied team in the last four Villarreal. An own goal from Pervis Estupinan and Sadio Mane’s 20th of the season in a three-minute second-half spell did the damage and the only criticism which could be leveled at Jurgen Klopp’s side was that they should have scored more.

European Cup semi-finals are not supposed to be easy but this was about as comfortable as it gets – arguably less trouble than the 5-2 first-leg victory over Roma at Anfield which set them on the way to a 2018 final defeat against Real Madrid. Under Unai Emery, the visitors had lost just one of 12 away games in Europe, 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 but were outclassed by the Reds, who take a comfortable advantage to Spain next week.

Villarreal have enjoyed a remarkable run in the knockout stages of this year’s competition — they stunned giants Juventus and Bayern Munich in the previous two rounds — but Jurgen Klopp’s team were rarely troubled as they dispatched the Spanish side to take a major step towards the final.

Liverpool, who won the competition in 2019, are attempting to reach their third Champions League final in five years.

“They are a very organised team and we knew they would make it difficult. It was just important that we kept going and believed that we would eventually break them down. We did that with two good goals,” Henderson said afterward.

“Majority of the game, our counter-press was really good. It made it difficult for them. But the game is still alive and it will be tough in Villarreal.”

Mane enjoyed the best chance in an uneventful first half played mostly in Villarreal’s half. The 30-year-old forward darted into the penalty area as Mohamed Salah delivered a floated cross toward the six-yard box, but Mane could not find the right contact to guide a header towards goal.

Liverpool thought they had broken the deadlock on 50 minutes when Fabinho put the ball in the back of the net, but defender Virgil van Dijk was ruled to be offside when he headed to set up the midfielder.

Klopp’s side remained in control and were dutifully rewarded as Henderson created the breakthrough on 53 minutes. The midfielder struck what looked to be across from near the right corner flag, seeing it take a fortunate deflection off Estupinan before looping into the back of the net.

Mane doubled the lead just two minutes later with a prodded finish after Salah rolled the ball into his path inside the box.

Villarreal did not manage a single shot on target as they struggled to make their mark.

“I have to admit, it could have been much worse,” Villarreal manager Unai Emery told Movistar Plus.

“We have tried to attack, to pass, to construct but they did not let us do anything and our last resort was to resist defensively in order to survive for the second match.

“We didn’t do enough to lament about anything. We have to be humble and try to make the second leg a totally different game. We have to play with more intensity like we are used to.”

The two sides will meet again in the return leg at the Estadio de la Ceramica on May 3.

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