Liverpool defeated Spanish side Villarreal 2-0 last night to put one foot in the Champions League final. The Reds dominated from start to finish but needed a second half Estupinan own goal to break the deadlock before Mané added a quick second. Here’s a review of the match.

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° Lineup. Jürgen Klopp made three alterations to the side that beat Everton on Sunday as he continued his rotation policy. Joel Matip, Naby Keita and Diogo Jota dropped out as Ibrahima Konaté, Jordan Henderson and Luis Diaz came in from the start.

Unai Emery’s lineup reflected how Villarreal would approach the game. It was a flat 4-4-2 with four hardworking midfielders across the middle of the pitch. Chukwueze and Danjuma started to offer pace on the break.

° Tactical setup. It was clear early on just how conservative Villarreal were going to be. They kept numbers behind the ball and asked Liverpool to break them down. They slowed the game down at every opportunity and set up to frustrate the home side.

° Early flurry. The Reds sought to find a way through by playing quick exchanges. Salah and Mané combined well in the 13th minute but Sadio mistimed his jump and a big chance went begging. Diaz then tested Rulli from range before Henderson’s volleyed cross hit the post.

° Liverpool continue to probe. There was only one team trying to score first half with the Reds camped in the Villarreal half. Salah fired over after more good interplay with Sadio. Diaz went close next as he cut in from the right once again and fired at goal. Rulli was equal to it.

° Villarreal hold firm. Unai Emery’s men showed their resilience in that first half as they repelled all of Liverpool’s attacks. Mané’s shot on the turn was deflected just wide by Albiol before Salah volleyed over after incredible play by Robbo and Trent.

° Luckless first half. The Reds played really well but just couldn’t get the goal their play merited. Thiago smacked the post with a terrific strike from range on the stroke of halftime. There were several instances where Rulli parried into the danger area but the ball just didn’t fall the Reds way.

Jürgen Klopp’s side not only bossed possession and created chances, they pressed well and nullified any Villarreal threat on the counter. 12 shots to 1 summed up the dominance at the break. It was goalless but there was belief around Anfield that the goals would come.

° Reds straight back to work. The second half saw Liverpool go straight on the offensive. Five minutes into it, Fabinho swept home after Van Dijk’s knockdown in the box. The Dutchman had strayed offside though so the goal was chalked off. The Reds were getting closer.

° Finally the breakthrough. Three minutes after the disallowed goal, the Reds went infront. Henderson’s cross deflected off Estupinan and wrongfooted Rulli in goal as it flew in. It was a huge slice of luck, the kind that was missing first half and the kind you need against deep lying defences.

° Quickfire double. Barely two minutes after the opener, the hosts made it 2-0. Salah weaved past a number of yellow shirts before slipping it through for Mané who poked it into the bottom corner. Mo’s creativity and Sadio’s resurgence as a striker merged perfectly for that goal.

Since making his debut in the competition back in 2017/18, Sadio Mané has scored 14 goals in the knockout stages of the Champions League, only Karim Benzema has more in that period (16).

° Reds push for a third. With the game finally open, the hosts sensed a chance to all but finish the tie by grabbing a third. There was another disallowed goal when Robertson tapped home another wicked Trent delivery in the 64th minute.

Van Dijk then took aim from over 30 yards and saw his stinging shot pushed away unconvincingly by Rulli. Diaz went close again when his curling effort was deflected just past the far post. The Colombian would have another chance to find the net but could only shoot wide from a tight angle.

° Reds settle for two. Diaz’s shot from the angle was Liverpool’s only real chance of note in the final twenty minutes. They settled for the 2-0 win and managed the game expertly. Villarreal were content with 2-0 as well and didn’t overexert themselves to try and get a goal. The Reds kept possession and rested on the ball.

Having just come off a week where they played City, United and Everton, it was understandable to see the players take the sting out of the game in the final stages. There was no real need to expand energy chasing a third, especially with an early kickoff at rejuvenated Newcastle on Saturday (in another must win game).

° Running out of superlatives for Thiago. The maestro was at it again last night as he ran the game from midfield. He was unlucky not to score and kick-started the move for the opening goal. He’s an artist at the peak of his powers.

Thiago for Liverpool against Villarreal:

• 118 touches (=1st)
• 103 passes attempted (2nd)
• 99 passes completed (2nd)
• 100% long ball accuracy
• 100% tackle success rate
• 96% pass accuracy (2nd)
• 11 ball recoveries
• 9 long balls attempted (=1st)
• 9 long balls completed (1st)
4 interceptions (2nd)
3 duels won
• 1 successful dribble
• 1 tackle won
• 1 shot
10.93km covered (1st)

° Klopp rests legs. The manager used his substitutions to give some of his players a breather. Mané and Hendo were taken off after 70 minutes, with Jota and Keita on in their place. Diaz and Trent were also taken off for the final ten minutes with Origi and Gomez coming on.

° Impressive conditioning. Having played a whopping 54 matches already before last night, the Reds still look refreshed. The pressing last night and indeed over the past few matches has been intense. It’s credit to the conditioning that goes on behind the scenes and the way the gaffer has rotated his charges all season.

Unlike back in 2015/16 and 2017/18 when legs seemed to fall off in the second half of the Europa League and Champions League finals, the Reds look to be peaking physically. They have had almost a fully fit squad for a while now and it’s allowed changes to be made to share the workload around.

° State of the tie. A 2-0 first leg lead is more than a decent advantage going into the return leg at the Estadio de la Ceramica. You would back this team to get the job done in Spain, especially as Villarreal will have to open up and attack to try and get back into the tie.

° What next? The Premier League title race is back on the agenda on Saturday. Liverpool somehow received the slot for the early kickoff away at Newcastle, with City who played on Tuesday getting the late kickoff. The scheduling rarely makes sense but it can’t be used as an excuse. We go again.



  1. Outstanding performance, they played with much finesse and experience.
    The team has reached that level of play that they can squeeze out goals even from the most compact teams, class everywhere in the peach.
    Thiago is on a different world.
    A lot to talk about, why not?, They are the best!

    Liked by 1 person

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