Dominant Liverpool take comfortable 2-0 win over Villarreal
LIVERPOOL — Liverpool beat Villarreal 2-0 in a dominant first leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinals at Anfield in Liverpool on Wednesday to keep the dream of an unprecedented quadruple alive.
Liverpool entered Wednesday’s game as clear favorites and left it the exact same way, although it wasn’t until the second half that they managed to take the lead with two goals in quick succession.
Villarreal approached the semifinal with the same technique they’d used to great effect earlier in the tournament: Frustrate a team that has the potential to outclass you until they get annoyed and make a sloppy mistake.
That method kept Liverpool from scoring throughout the first half, but it didn’t manage to knock the Reds off their game. The Premier League club stuck to their plan and it paid off very quickly after the break — first with a Jordan Henderson cross that deflected off Pervis Estupiñán for an own goal in the 53rd minute and then Sadio Mané extended that lead two minutes later.
The Mané goal was Liverpool at its best. Trent Alexander-Arnold to Mohamed Salah in midfield, catching Villarreal flat footed after the own goal. Salah slotted the ball between a defender’s legs to Mané in the box, where the Senegalese international stretched out to slot it into the net before anyone had a chance to reach him.
That goal secured Liverpool’s 2-0 win, sending the Premier League into the second leg next week with a comfortable cushion and a very good chance of advancing to the Champions League final.
Villarreal should also head home happy. They may not have come close to beating Liverpool, but they were able to hold them off and prevent a more convincing defeat.
This was David vs. Goliath football, pitching a team that have only ever won one major tournament — last year’s Europa League — against one of the top clubs in Europe. You could fit the entire population of Villarreal in Anfield and still have room for 3,000 Liverpool fans, yet the Spanish club still held their own for all but five minutes of the game.
The two clubs will face off again in the second leg on Tuesday, with Manchester City and Real Madrid playing their second leg on Wednesday. The final will be played on May 28.
With Wednesday’s win, Liverpool keep their chance of becoming the first club ever to win the quadruple alive.
Seven clubs — Manchester United, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, Celtic, Ajax and PSV — have won the European treble of European Cup, league title and domestic cup.
But Liverpool, who are one point behind City in second place in the Premier League with five games left to play and will face Chelsea in the FA Cup final on May 14, have already won the Carabao Cup, giving them an outside chance at going the distance for a historic quadruple.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]