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Liverpool dominated Villarreal but Klopp’s side are fully aware Champions League comebacks can happen

LIVERPOOL, England — Don’t be fooled by the narrow margin of the score. Liverpool’s 2-0 victory over Villarreal at Anfield was the most one-sided semi-final you will see and could and should have been so much more for the six-time European champions.

But 2-0 may well be more than enough to keep alive Liverpool’s dream of winning four major trophies in one season. Unai Emery’s side still have 90 minutes in next Tuesday’s second leg to salvage that tie and reach the Champions League final in Paris on May 28, but it would be contrary to all logic and statistical evidence to believe that Liverpool will succumb to what seems an unthinkable Villarreal. to defend oneself.

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“It’s 2-0 at halftime. [in the tie]”, Jurgen Klopp said. “It’s the best example of a score when you have to be on full alert. We will have to be 100% in good spirits and play the second leg exactly the same way we played the first. The score is good, but we haven’t finished.”

This competition has certainly given us many remarkable return matches in recent years, not least Liverpool overturning a 3-0 deficit against Barcelona to win 4-0 in the second leg. If Villarreal manage to eliminate Klopp’s side at the Estadio de la Ceramica, it will be in the same shock category as that unforgettable night at Anfield in May 2019.

But Liverpool’s inability to translate their dominance into a more game-defining margin of victory means Villarreal, winners of the Europa League last season, still have a glimmer of hope in the second leg. The ‘Yellow Submarine’ ended the European ambitions of Arsenal, Manchester United, Juventus and Bayern Munich over the past 12 months, so Liverpool won’t take them lightly, but the reason the Klopp was so in control in the first leg precisely because Liverpool did not underestimate Villarreal.

Juventus and Bayern failed to recognize Villarreal’s danger in the counterattack and paid a heavy price, but Liverpool made no such mistake and their defensive focus was as important as their attacking flair. By the end of the match, Liverpool had recorded 20 attempts on goal against Villarreal’s. According to official UEFA statistics, Liverpool made 93 attacks (Villarreal only managed 15) and completed 645 assists compared to 182 for Emery’s side. In terms of possession, Liverpool enjoyed 68% over the 90 minutes.

That they only won 2-0 was down to missed chances as well as Villarreal’s organization and defensive discipline. In the first half, the Spanish side gave a masterclass in defusing the atmosphere, slowing play, wasting time and depriving Liverpool of the space to play at their usual breathtaking pace. Villarreal’s approach frustrated the home side and calmed the crowd – a feat in itself at Anfield on a Champions League night – but there was always a feeling the barrage would break if Liverpool kept pushing.

It was all about game management and patience, which was helped by the presence of Thiago Alcantara in Liverpool’s midfield, with the former Barcelona and Bayern player ensuring that no one in the red shirt panics in the face of the Villarreal’s attempts to smother the game. But once Fabinho had a goal ruled out for offside at 50 minutes, it was clear Liverpool were ready to step up a gear in pursuit of a first goal, which came three minutes later when the keeper crossed of Jordan Henderson beat goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli after being deflected towards goal. by Pervis Estupinan.

The goal brought relief and greater urgency, and Sadio Mane doubled Liverpool’s lead two minutes later when he pushed the ball under Rulli after being cleared by Mohamed Salah. In the blink of an eye, Villarreal had gone from being firmly attached to having to cling on at their fingertips. Andy Robertson then had a goal ruled out for offside and Virgil van Dijk and Luis Diaz both came close to adding to the scoreline, but Villarreal resisted losing by just two clear goals.

This Liverpool side are too good to concede a two-goal advantage in the Champions League semi-finals, despite conceding a total of seven goals in Liverpool’s last two away semi-finals under Klopp, in 2018 and 2019. With Premier League rivals Manchester City set to defend a one-goal lead against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu next Wednesday following their 4-3 first leg victory, Liverpool’s challenge is no is nothing more than a routine.

Klopp will remind his players of that night against Barcelona, ​​when no one gave Liverpool a chance, and urge them to be wary of Villarreal achieving their own miraculous comeback.

“I watched Villarreal and the way they were organized was a lesson for me,” Klopp said. “But we must not forget that we are good too. It will be difficult, but the best way to manage a 2-0 lead is to ignore it and start again at 0-0.”

For Villarreal and Emery, however, there is always the challenge and the belief that they can cause a shock.

“[Liverpool] will suffer more than tonight at Villarreal,” Emery said after the game.

That might turn out to be the case, but the reality is that Liverpool and their fans may start making plans for Paris.


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