Liverpool have put a foot in the UEFA Champions League final after a dominant 2-0 win over Villarreal at Anfield on Wednesday night.
On the evidence of the first half, Villarreal were comfortable in holding Liverpool off and the best attempt to break the deadlock came from a long-distance shot from Thiago Alcantara, which glanced off the crossbar.
But two goals in a three-minute spell in the second half-an own goal from Pedro Estupinan and Sadio Mane meant Liverpool finally made their dominance count.
This was Liverpool’s ninth win in 11 UCL matches this season and it broke a spell of goals from centre-back Ibrahima Konate. Konate had scored in his last three starting lineups.
Villarreal goalkeeper, Geronimo Rulli, bore the brunt of early groans from the Anfield crowd as he took his time over goal kicks.
The first chance fell to Mane, and it was from a corner kick that Konate headed into his path but the Senegalese was tackled quickly for another corner which Mohamed Salah headed over.
It was Mane again, who got the next chance from a delightful lob from Salah but his header went wide. Next up was Luis Diaz to fizz a shot straight at Rulli. Salah tried his luck from inside the box but his effort was high and wide.
Trent Alexander-Arnold hit a free-kick straight at Pau Torres’ head in the 28th minute as the Yellow Submarine held firm.
Virgil Van Dijk was shown the first yellow card of the match for a blatant body charge on Samuel Chukwueze to relieve the pressure on the Spanish side.
Mane’s shot took a deflection off Raul Albiol as Liverpool pressed higher and Salah should have done better with a cross from Alexander-Arnold in the 35th minute but on his weaker right foot, he blasted over.
Thiago then hit the junction of pole and crossbar in the 40th minute as Liverpool got closer to the opener.
The second half was just like the first-played majorly in the Villarreal half of the pitch. Fabinho thought he broke the deadlock on 50 minutes but Van Dijk was offside when he headed the ball to the Brazilian.
The breakthrough came in the 53rd minute and it was all down to hard running and endeavour from Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson. His cross took a huge deflection off Estupinan and looped over Rulli, despite getting a hand to the ball.
Three minutes later Liverpool doubled their lead. Salah sent a precise pass to the onrushing Mane to poke past Rulli and Liverpool were in a confident mood.
There was a penalty appeal on the hour when Salah went down from a challenge by Juan Foyth but the referee waved play on. Andy Robertson’s goal was chalked off in the 65th minute as Villarreal found it hard to move past the centre of the pitch.
Unai Emery sent on Serge Aurier, Manu Trigueros, Boulaye Dia for Dani Parejo, Chukwueze, and Estupinan respectively in the 71st minute but there was no respite from the Liverpool pressure who held on to take a 2-0 lead to Spain next Tuesday with one leg in the final.
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