Two goals in two minutes thwarted Villarreal manager Unai Emery’s defensive plan as Pervis Estupinan deflected a Jordan Henderson cross into his own net before Sadio Mane scored a second.
How it happened: Liverpool vs Villarreal
The Reds remain on course for an unprecedented quadruple from Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup.
And barring a big surprise when the sides meet again in southern Spain in six days’ time, Liverpool’s season ends in Paris on 28 May.
Villarreal’s population would fit at Anfield but the 3,000 traveling support did their best to offset the noise of home support early on.
In stark contrast to the overwhelming excitement of Manchester City’s 4-3 win over Real Madrid in Tuesday’s other semi-final, Emery’s men followed the same tactic they used to pass Juventus and Bayern Munich by retreating behind the ball.
⏰ RESULT ⏰ Liverpool under control. 🔴 Estupiñán own goal and Mané effort secure home win🟡 Villarreal suffer first… https://t.co/A4nxOcYeRI
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) 1651093175000
However, the Yellow Sub could hardly give Jurgen Klopp’s men a gauntlet as Liverpool only had to wait and see to bring their dominance to fruition.
The Reds have now scored 135 goals this season but remained goalless in a frustrating first 45 minutes.
Mane headed Mohamed Salah’s spot-on cross wide with the best opening.
The Senegalese also saw a deflected shot go just wide of the target and Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli escaped with impunity with careless handling from a series of speculative attempts.
🔴 Top scorers in knockout round for Liverpool (UCL era only):⚽️1⃣4⃣ Sadio Mané⚽️1⃣1⃣ Mohamed Salah⚽️1⃣0⃣ R… https://t.co/A9dALqnj7M
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) 1651092040000
Another long-range shot was the closest Liverpool got close to breaking the deadlock before the break when Thiago Alcantara’s sweet strike grazed the post.
The six-time European champions started the second half at a faster pace and quickly began punching holes in Villarreal’s rearguard.
Fabinho’s goal was ruled out for offside against Virgil van Dijk.
Anfield erupted moments later when the error-prone Rulli finally cost the Spaniards with a feeble attempt to save Henderson’s deflected cross.
The last thing the visitors could afford was the floodgates open, but they were powerless to stop Liverpool’s onslaught.
Salah was the architect with a perfectly weighted pass for Mane to overtake Rulli in the 55th minute.
The offside flag came to Villarreal’s aid again to rule out an Andy Robertson goal.
Emery was hailed as the ‘king of trophies’ by Klopp for his stunning Europa League record. One of his four triumphs in this competition came as the Sevilla boss against the German in his first season at Liverpool in 2016.
Six years later, however, Liverpool are a different beast and the limitations of a side seventh in La Liga became apparent as they struggled to even react to falling behind.
Luis Diaz slammed over goal as Liverpool threatened to end the tie with a third.
The English giants have had to settle for a two-goal advantage, but they are yet to lose by a two-goal margin in 55 games this season.
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