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UCL Semi-final: Liverpool Secure First-leg Win at Anfield

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Liverpool took control of their Champions League semi-final with Villarreal with a deserved first-leg win at Anfield.

The Reds got what they deserved, eventually, but it was a fair time coming. And not just on the night.

Believe it or not, they haven’t won a Champions League knock-out tie at Anfield since that astonishing night against Barcelona in 2019, also at the semi-final stage. This most certainly wasn’t that.

Villarreal are no Barcelona, and this was a first leg tie. Technically, it’s half time even if we think we know where the tie is heading. Yet it was, in its own way, no less hard fought. When Liverpool got their breakthrough goals – two in two minutes – they had spent the best part of an hour throwing themselves against a yellow wall of resistance.

Villarreal defended superbly in the first-half and were threatening to do the same again. It took a sizable slab of luck for Liverpool to score and, as often happens, with tails up they took advantage. For all the respect shown to Villarreal, undeniably Manchester City have copped the tougher half of the draw in the Champions League knock-out stages.


The trip to Real Madrid threatens to take considerably more out of them than Liverpool’s second leg in Villarreal – as happened when City played Atletico Madrid in the previous round. The effects were still being felt when they met Liverpool at Wembley that Saturday.

But Liverpool were made to work hard here, have no doubt of that. And without a fortuitous deflection who knows how long it would have taken to get the upper hand? It is hard to feel sorry for Villarreal, mind, when they offered so little. They will have to be more expansive than this if they are to stand the merest chance at home.

The goal that did for them came after 53 minutes. Mo Salah fed the ball to Jordan Henderson – the man of the match, to these eyes – on the overlap, and his cross clipped defender Pervis Estupinan on its way over. The ball flew over the head of goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli, forcing a despairing last fingertip touch that did nothing to change its trajectory. It nestled in the far corner. Anfield erupted in joy and relief.

From the next attack, game over and maybe the tie too. Villarreal don’t seem to have three in them at this level and that is what they now need. It was another fabulous intervention from Salah, defeating two defenders and sliding in Sadio Mane who slipped the ball past the advancing Rulli. Liverpool had the ball in the net twice more, both disallowed, but no complaints. This should be enough. The yellow submarine doesn’t have the firepower to engage in more than a skirmish.

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