Liverpool’s respect for their opponents led to a convincing win which put them in a strong position going into the second leg.
Liverpool 2-0 Villarreal
Champions League semi-final first leg, Anfield
April 27, 2022
Goals: Estupiñán OG 53′, Mane 55′
It was the second game in a row in which Liverpool have had to break down a low block, and break it down they did, again.
Villarreal’s formation wasn’t quite the same as Everton‘s, and Unai Emery’s side at least showed some willingness to string a few passes together, but the end result was the same.
Liverpool pressed any Villarreal attempt to play out from the back, cancelling out the La Liga side’s build-up play that had been praised pre-match. They just couldn’t get anything going.
The Reds ended the game having enjoyed 73% possession and in a strong position in the tie.
Alisson just made his first touch of the ball in almost 20 minutes.
He's touched the ball 11 times so far tonight.
Trent Alexander-Arnold has made 110. pic.twitter.com/ed7tdPbbTO
— Jack Lusby (@LusbyJack) April 27, 2022
Alisson was barely noticeable on our TV screens as the camera shot was mostly focused on one half of the pitch.
A third would have been nice, and given the dominance maybe a third should have been scored but Villarreal, a team we were told were no pushovers, were fairly convincingly pushed over by Liverpool in this Anfield leg.
It feels rare to get a player with such natural flair to this level with the technical ability to go with it.
It’s not necessarily a creativity in the style of a typical number ten, more like an ingenuity on the ball which will naturally lead to chances for himself and others from a starting position on the wing. Like Raheem Sterling but with something extra, physical, technically and creatively.
He’s a throwback to the South American players of years gone by — raw talent and guile, a mischievousness combined with the talent of a top-level footballer.
He almost scored after feinting to play a pass to Fabinho to create space for himself, but his shot deflected wide.
Fabinho grinned as he trotted back to his position, happy to play even a small part in this entertaining show.
And our friends are all aboard
This is the second time Villarreal have appeared in a Champions League semi-final. Their previous journey to this stage, when they were managed by Manuel Pellegrini, saw them knocked out by another English team Arsenal.
Their fans were in Liverpool to enjoy this occasion, regardless of what would happen in the game they were about to watch.
Villarreal fans in Liverpool ?? https://t.co/IUgvmjeiF1
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) April 27, 2022
They gathered in their masses in the city centre, before making their way to Anfield en masse, creating an atmosphere around the game, along with the Liverpool fans who welcomed the team bus, before they’d even got into Anfield.
Yellow Submarine (Villarreal’s nickname) was played over the Anfield PA system prior to the game, The Voice of Anfield, George Sephton, making the visitors feel welcome.
That welcome wasn’t extended to the game itself. On the pitch, Liverpool showed the gulf in football quality, even if their supporters gave Liverpool’s a run for their money.
The best Liverpool team?
“This is the best Liverpool team I have seen,” said Rio Ferdinand on BT Sport, and it’s difficult to disagree.
The one thing that makes you wary of saying it is that, as of now this team, what feels like a second wave Klopp team after the one that won the Premier League and the Champions League, have only a League Cup to their name so far.
But there’s no denying this might be the best Liverpool team to watch, ever.
The addition of Thiago, Diaz, and Ibrahima Konate have added a new core, which can refresh the team and complement the core that remains from previous triumphs.
Watching Liverpool home and away at this moment in time must be one of the most enjoyable things for a football fan to experience, whether on TV or at the ground.
It’s a source of entertainment for us to look forward to each week. It will be even more pleasing, and we will feel even more confident making bold statements about them, if they can add a couple more trophies to the collection.
A much-needed cushion
Klopp isn’t the type of manager to take a 2-0 lead for granted in a two-legged tie, but the scoreline does give Liverpool some slack to focus on other games.
They travel to Newcastle for Saturday’s early kick-off, which isn’t ideal after a Wednesday evening Champions League game, but they might not have to focus too much on the second leg.
For the second game against Villarreal, it will be more of the same, please. There may be opportunities for some rotation, especially as the players who have come in have not let Klopp down this season.
Newcastle is now the big cup game on the horizon, as it feels like each game between now and the end of the season needs to be won if Liverpool are to have even the smallest chance of overtaking City.
Pep Guardiola’s side have the favourable run-in, but by putting themselves in the driving seat in their Champions League semi Liverpool do have an edge on their title rivals in that sense, as City’s semi with Real Madrid is still in the balance.