Champions League - UEFASoccer News


Liverpool took a huge step towards qualifying for a third UEFA Champions League (UCL) final in five years after a comfortable 2-0 win over Villarreal. The six-times European champions have progressed from nine of their previous 11 semi-finals in this competition, and a dominant first-leg display puts them in pole position to improve on that return.

It’s not often you come across a David and Goliath meeting in a UCL semi-final, but Villarreal’s entire population could fit inside Anfield with seats to spare, which laid bare the task that lay in front of them. One thing they did have going for them was the presence of Unai Emery, who had advanced from 31 of his last 37 knockout ties. His tactical excellence guided the ‘Yellow Submarine’ past Juventus and Bayern Munich, and his fingerprints were all over the opening stages, as the visitors looked to sit deep and take the sting out of the electric atmosphere on Merseyside.

Patience would be required for Jürgen Klopp’s men, who were largely restricted to half-chances in a frustrating first half. Sadio Mané missed narrowly with an effort deflected by Raúl Albiol, while Luis Díaz stung the palms of Gerónimo Rulli on a couple of occasions. Those were the ‘Reds’ only efforts on target before the interval, although Thiago Alcântara did see his long-range strike cannon off the post.

Deprived of the usual advantage of kicking towards the Kop in the second half, Liverpool looked to capitalise on their dominance after the restart. Fabinho had the ball in the net moments later, only for celebrations to be curtailed by the offside flag. Anfield would soon erupt though, as Jordan Henderson’s cross was too much for Rulli to deal with after an unfortunate deflection off Pervis Estupiñán.

The first goal may have arrived in fortuitous circumstances, but the second which followed just two minutes later, owed to some glorious build-up play. Mohamed Salah’s precise through ball gave Mané just enough time to accelerate onto the ball before poking it past the goalkeeper. The composed finish marked the Senegal internationals’ 14th goal in the UCL knockout stages, tying Didier Drogba’s record for the most by an African in competition history.

Despite the constant onslaught continuing, Liverpool failed to add a third, but head to Spain with a huge advantage as they pursue a seventh European crown in what could be a truly historic season.

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