This post has been read 5451 times!
LIVERPOOL, England, April 28, (AP): Liverpool look like being one European giants too many for Villarreal. Wins in the Champions League semifinals are rarely as routine as Liverpool’s 2-0 first-leg victory over the Spanish underdogs, which appear to have finally come unstuck on a fairytale run that has already accounted for European football royalty in Juventus and Bayern Munich. Liverpool, still on course for an unprecedented quadruple of major trophies, proved to be a bigger test.
The six-time European champions slowly dismantled the limited challenge of Villarreal on another night when they were swept along by the power of Anfield. The goals came early in the second half – and within 133 seconds of each other – as Villarreal left back Pervis Estupinan unwittingly defl ected a cross by Jordan Henderson into his own net in the 53rd minute, with goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli only managing to tip a looping ball into his own net. One goal can quickly turn into two in these energy-charged European nights at Anfield and that’s what transpired again, with Villarreal still shaken up from conceding the opener when Sadio Mane ran onto Mohamed Salah’s through-ball and toe-poked a low finish beyond Rulli.
The second leg takes place at Estadio de la Cerámica on Tuesday and only a major surprise will prevent Villarreal – a team only in seventh place in the Spanish league and filled with players who failed to make it in England – from bowing out, just like in 2006 in their only other appearance in the semifinals. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp struck a cautious note despite the onesided nature of the first leg.
Klopp has built a formidable winning machine that looks even more complete than the team which won the Champions League in 2019, a year after also reaching the final and losing to Real Madrid under the German coach. As his players did a lap of honor inside Anfield after the final whistle, Klopp waved to the crowd and tapped the club crest on the front of his thick coat. Another win. Likely another Champions League final. And, amazingly, the quadruple is still on for a team that have already won the English League Cup, are into the FA Cup final and are only a point behind Manchester City in the Premier League title race. It could yet be a Champions League final between the two northwest rivals, with City taking a 4-3 lead over Real Madrid into the second leg of their semifinal in Spain next Wednesday. A sea of yellow-clad Villarreal fans – at around 5,000, they amounted to almost 10% of the population of the town in eastern Spain – swarmed their way from Liverpool city center to Anfield ahead of the game. A rendition of The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” which is the nickname of visitors, was well-received by the lively away contingent before kickoff.