Liverpool have one foot in the Champions League final after beating Villarreal on Wednesday in their semifinal first leg, 2-0. Similar to their Merseyside derby victory over Everton last weekend, the Reds had the chances to take command early but were just a tad off, coming to life in the second half. Fans at Anfield had to wait for nearly an hour of play to see the first goal, but it finally came via an own goal from Pervis Estupinan off a cross from Jordan Henderson in the 53rd minute. Sadio Mane made it 2-0 just two minutes later thanks to his quick finish off a naughty nutmeg assist from Mohamed Salah.
Unai Emery's side did not threaten once, failing to record a shot on goal while finishing with just one shot overall. The Yellow Submarine, using the gameplan of prioritizing defending and aiming to then attack on the counter, could not repeat the performances we saw against Bayern Munich and Juventus which got them to this point.
As a result, Liverpool can now go to Spain next week and even advance with a one-goal defeat. Villarreal need a two-goal win to force extra time, and anything superior would see them pull off an all-time shocker.
Here's what to know:
With the result Liverpool will feel ...
Confident. It was not an outstanding performance, but they really had next to nothing to worry about in defense and could largely focus on trying to achieve a comfortable margin. The Reds did produce an xG of 1.52 on 19 shots, and while a less comfortable result looked likely early in the second half, the chances were still there for it to be a bigger win. Thiago hit the post from 30 meters, Andrew Robertson had a goal called off due to offside and more. But Jurgen Klopp won't be greedy. He'll be content with the position his team is in, knowing they are on the verge of advancing to their third UCL final in the last five seasons.
With the result Villarreal will feel ...
Discouraged. They know that they weathered the storm for the first 50 minutes. It was always going to be hard to do something in attack with the injury to Gerard Moreno, because his hold-up play and connection with speedier attackers is so crucial. But with a one-goal defeat they would have probably been fairly satisfied, in truth. A result like this obligates them to be the first to score in the second leg, and they will have to score multiple times. Liverpool meanwhile have scored in 11 straight games.
Game-changing moment: The own goal
Villarreal had done plenty right in defense up until the game-changing moment, and that is when Henderson's cross took a wicked deflection off Estupinan and caught Geronimo Rulli off guard. Here is the play:
Unfortunate for Villarreal and a bit lucky for Liverpool. The visitors were in a decent spot defensively as the Reds knocked on the door, and this little deflection was the first big blow that really opened up things for the victors.
Man of the match: Thiago Alcantara
The Spanish maestro was superb on the night, pulling strings in the middle, showing off his elite technical ability, and he provided some superb passes. He nearly scored after rocketing a shot off the corner of the goal in the first half.
He finished the match having completed an outstanding 96.1 percent of his passes, while also intercepting the ball a team-high five times.
Top musical performance
Go on, Jamie Carragher. The Liverpool legend sang along on our pre-game show, giving an extra special touch to "You'll Never Walk Alone."
Not bad, but he definitely chose the right path following his soccer career.