Sadio Mane, Liverpool Grab 2-0 Win over Villarreal in 1st Leg of UCL SemifinalApril 27, 2022
Liverpool secured a 2-0 victory over Villarreal in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals on Wednesday at Anfield.
Villarreal played the role of spoiler in the round of 16 and quarterfinals, first knocking out Juventus and then stifling Bayern Munich for a 2-1 aggregate win.
There was no chance Liverpool would take Villarreal lightly, with manager Jurgen Klopp saying in the buildup it was "a very difficult opponent" and "made for this competition."
"There might have been a little advantage in the last two games, maybe Juve or Bayern underestimated them, but that will never happen to us," Klopp told reporters. "There is no chance, so this little advantage might have gone."
Because of how Villarreal would approach the fixture, there was also little chance of replicating the seven-goal frenzy in Manchester City's win over Real Madrid on Tuesday.
The first half ended as many expected. Liverpool had 63 percent of possession, completing 258 passes to 95 for its opponents. The Reds were unable to do much with all of their time on the ball, though. They had 13 shots but only two on target.
Villarreal was defending resolutely and successfully mucking things up in its own half.
Liverpool's closest scoring opportunity came in the 42nd minute, fittingly on a shot from distance. Thiago unleashed a thunderous effort that hit off the post.
The hosts saw a goal by Fabinho ruled out for offside in the 50th minute, which seemingly set the stage for another nervy half. Then the match—and perhaps the tie as a whole—was drastically altered in a two-minute span.
In the 53rd minute, a cross by Jordan Henderson was deflected by Pervis Estupinan into the path of the goal. Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli got a hand to the ball and perhaps should've done more to prevent what was an own goal credited to Estupinan.
Sadio Mane doubled Liverpool's lead in the 55th minute, poking home a pass from Mohamed Salah.
Conceding the second goal could be a backbreaker for Villarreal.
Going behind 1-0 meant the Yellow Submarine wouldn't need to significantly alter their game plan while searching for an equalizer. With one lethal counterattack, they could bring the semifinals back to square one.
Mane's goal forces Unai Emery's squad to come out of its defensive shell. Based on Wednesday night, that might be easier said than done.
The more Villarreal attempts to press the tempo, the more it'll leave itself exposed to Liverpool's venomous attacking trio of Mane, Salah and Luis Diaz, too.
Even without the away goals rule, Liverpool finding the back of the net early in the second leg could end any remaining drama about this matchup. Benfica had to approach the second leg of the quarterfinals with the same mindset and wound up drawing 3-3 to lose 6-4 to Liverpool on aggregate.
Villarreal will host the return fixture at Estadio de la Ceramica on Tuesday. Time might be running out for the last remaining underdog in this year's Champions League.