A Pervis Estupinan own goal and a Sadio Mane finish 133 seconds later give Liverpool a comfortable 2-0 win against Villarreal in their Champions League semi-final first leg tie.
After a cagey first half, Liverpool grabbed two goals in rapid succession early in the second to ensure Jurgen Klopp’s side head to the second leg at Estadio de la Ceramica on May 3 with a healthy and deserved lead.
Villarreal’s tactic to defend deep to neutralise the hosts paid off in the first half. Mane squandered a great chance in the 11th minute when he nodded a free header wide from close range.
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Liverpool continued to push forward and fired more warning shots. Firstly there was an unintentional shot from Jordan Henderson in the 21st minute which came off the post before Mohamed Salah curled a left-footed strike narrowly over the bar six minutes later.
Thiago Alcantara arguably came the closest to scoring shortly before the end of the first half. In the 41st minute, the Spain international arrowed a shot on goal from 25-yards out which cracked off the post.
Villarreal’s steady resistance was broken early in the second half with two goals in less than two minutes. Henderson helped Liverpool into the lead when his cross deflected off Estupinan into the net, moments before Mane poked the ball beyond Geronimo Rulli into the bottom corner to further extend the Merseyside club's advantage.
Liverpool’s relentless pressure continued even with their two-goal cushion. Andy Robertson had a goal ruled out for offside and a vicious Virgil van Dijk strike was parried away by Rulli before Luis Diaz dragged a driven shot wide.
After making three substitutes in the 72nd minute, Villarreal pushed higher up the pitch but could not fashion any dangerous goalscoring opportunities and registered zero shots on target, leaving the Europa League champions with plenty of work to do at home on Tuesday.
TALKING POINT – What do Villarreal do now?
Unai Emery has rightly been praised for tactically masterminding victories over Juventus and Bayern Munich to reach the semi-finals, but his side looked nervous in attack against Liverpool in front of a typically boisterous Anfield crowd.
The former Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla boss will have to come up with a far more attacking approach next week to get the likes of Arnaut Danjuma and Giovani Lo Celso firing shots on goal and somehow navigate the tie, despite knowing Liverpool’s formidable front three could punish them further on the counter-attack.
MAN OF THE MATCH – Thiago Alcantara
Liverpool's midfield dominated the match and Thiago once again was at the forefront of it, showcasing his passing ability, and he came very close to scoring with a brilliant shot in the first half.
His initial pass to set up the own goal was a moment of genuine quality and Villarreal simply struggled to get the ball off the 31-year-old throughout the game.
Liverpool: Alisson (6), Alexander-Arnold (7), Konate (7), Van Dijk (7), Robertson (7), Henderson (8), Fabinho (8), Thiago (8), Diaz (7), Salah (7), Mane (7)
Subs: Keita (6), Jota (6), Gomez (N/A, Origi (N/A)
Villarreal: Rulli (7), Foyth (7), Albiol (7), Torres (5), Estupinan (5), Coquelin (5), Capoue (5), Parejo (5), Chukwueze (5), Danjuma (5), Lo Celso (5)
Subs: Pedraza (5), Aurier (5), Trigueros (5), Dia (5)
11' - HUGE CHANCE FOR MANE!! The best chance of the match so far! Salah's cross from the right finds Mane and he has a free header on goal, but the ball is just behind him. He gets his head on it anyway but the contact is awkward and he nods wide! That was great opportunity for the Senegal international to hand the hosts the lead!
27' - OVER THE BAR FROM SALAH! Mane lays the ball off in the box to the onrushing Salah and he attempts to curl a left-footed strike into the top corner but it flies just over!
41' - THIAGO HITS THE POST! Thiago arrows a shot on goal from outside the box and it barely moves in the air before it smashes off the post! That was a wonderful strike from the Spaniard.
53' - GOAL! LIVERPOOL LEAD THROUGH AN OWN GOAL! Henderson's cross form the right takes a big deflection off Estupinan! Rulli gets a hand to it but he cannot get it away and ends up helping it into the net! It's not beautiful but Liverpool fans won't care! The hosts are in front in this Champions League semi-final!
55' - ANOTHER LIVERPOOL GOAL! MANE SCORES! Two goals in two minutes for Liverpool and Mane gives the hosts daylight in the semi-final! Salah's pass finds Mane and he pokes his shot beyond Rulli into the bottom corner! Was Mane offside? VAR is checking it... the goal stands!
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