A deflected effort from Jordan Henderson and a strike from Sadio Mane helped Liverpool to a dominating 2-0 win over Villarreal in the Champions League semi-final first leg at Anfield on Wednesday.
The Spanish side were resolute in the first half but unraveled in the second as Henderson’s deflected cross rose above goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli – later headed an own goal from Pervis Estupinan – before Mane returned home shortly after.
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Villarreal have enjoyed a remarkable run in the round of 16 of this year’s competition – they have stunned giants Juventus and Bayern Munich in the previous two rounds – but Jurgen Klopp’s side have rarely been troubled as it sent the Spanish team to take a big step towards the final.
Liverpool, who won the competition in 2019, are trying to reach their third Champions League final in five years.
“They’re a very organized team and we knew they would make it tough. It was just important that we keep going and think we’ll break them down eventually. We did that with two good goals,” said Henderson afterwards.
“Most of the game our counter-press was really good. It made it difficult for them. But the game is still alive and it will be difficult at Villarreal.”
Mane enjoyed the better chance in an uneventful first half played mostly in Villarreal’s half. The 30-year-old striker rushed into the penalty area as Mohamed Salah delivered a floating cross towards the penalty area from six yards out, but Mane couldn’t find the right contact to guide a header towards goal .
Liverpool thought they had broken the deadlock in the 50th minute when Fabinho put the ball in the back of the net, but defender Virgil van Dijk was ruled offside when he headed into midfield.
Klopp’s side remained in control and were dutifully rewarded as Henderson created the breakthrough in the 53rd minute. The midfielder struck what appeared to be a cross near the flag from the right corner, seeing him take a lucky deflection off Estupinan before curling into the back of the net.
Mane doubled the lead just two minutes later with a pushing finish after Salah rolled the ball on its way inside the box.
Villarreal failed to manage a single shot on target as they struggled to make their mark.
“I have to admit it could have been much worse,” Villarreal manager Unai Emery told Movistar Plus.
“We tried to attack, pass, build but they wouldn’t let us do anything and our last resort was to resist defensively in order to survive for the second game.
“We didn’t do enough to complain about anything. We have to be humble and try to make the second leg a totally different game. We have to play with more intensity, like we are used to. “
The two teams will meet again in the second leg at the Estadio de la Ceramica on May 3.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.