FROM the glorious unpredictability of the Etihad to the blatant bleeding at Anfield.
Liverpool They practically sealed their passage to a third Champions League final in five years – and they will surely be in Paris now on May 28 to face off against both Manchester City or Real Madrid.
Jurgen Klopp’s quadruple hunters have a sense of doom and a sense of inevitability for those fearful of ‘The Unbearables’ claiming a clean victory over trophies.
City are certainly the only side that can prevent that – in the Premier League or in Europe – as this relentlessly brilliant Liverpool outfit would surely overwhelm Madrid’s handsome side if they made it to the showpiece at the Stade de France next month.
That semi-final first leg was as one-sided a disparity as Tyson Fury’s defeat by Dillian Whyte – although Klopp’s men had to be patient for 53 minutes before a lucky own goal finally broke the Unai Emery outsider’s stubborn resolve.
Sadio Mane added a second shortly after and the shot count ended 19-1 in favor of the absolutely dominant Merseysiders.
The entire Villarreal starting line-up cost less than Virgil Van Dijk and the class difference was unmistakable. They were only marginally more ambitious than Everton during Sunday’s Merseyside derby.
Klopp was even able to rest Mane in the final 20 minutes as he prepared for the trip to Newcastle on Saturday, with Liverpool needing to claw back just a point to overtake Pep Guardiola’s champions in a title run.
It was a colorful occasion – red pyrotechnics as the team bus arrived, Spain’s yellow submarine in the Beatles’ hometown and sweet silver songs from the Scouse Larks on The Kop.
No one in Manchester was expecting a repeat of last night’s thriller – especially with Villarreal being so steadfast in defense and so meager in attack.
But for all the talk of Villarreal’s English ‘defiants’ – including three players Tottenham didn’t want in the starting XI – they had carved out a European heritage of their own.
Villarreal had beaten Manchester United in last season’s Europa League final, as well as Juventus and Bayern Munich to arrive at Anfield.
They’re the kind of above-average small-town club that made Liverpool’s American owners and their cronies shit their pants and attempt a Super League breakaway last year.
And Emery has four Europa League trophies to his name, including a recent triumph over Klopp’s Liverpool in 2016.
Liverpool have won 12 straight Premier League home games – but haven’t actually won at Anfield since their famous comeback against Barcelona in the 2019 Champions League knockout semi-finals.
That four-game-in-three-season winless streak never seemed to be extended this one, however.
Mane missed two early chances – first the Senegalese couldn’t put a shot away after Ibrahima Konate won a header from a corner, and then, six yards from goal, he headed in a Mo Salah cross.
Liverpool pushed up like a pack of hungry dogs, messing up their opponents. And while Villarreal keeper Geronimo Rulli has a first name that suggests some urgency, it took him ages to execute every goal kick, which infuriated locals.
A cross from Jordan Henderson rattled the near post, then Salah sliced in and deflected a shot just over the bar.
The dangerous Luis Diaz had blocked a shot from Rulli and Villarreal’s clever defensive veteran Raul Albiol blocked a critical block from a Salah center and Mane deflected a shot wide.
As the first half ebbed, Salah Trent deflected Alexander-Arnold’s artful volley over the bar and then Thiago Alcantara hit the top of the post with a powerful long-range shot.
Liverpool had two-thirds of the ball and overtook the Spaniards 12-1, but they couldn’t find a way before half-time.
Van Dijk was booked for a body check by Samuel Chukwueze as Emery’s men attempted a rare break, but this was largely an extended attack-versus-defense drill.
After the break, Pervis Estupinan pulled Salah back from the edge of the box but Albiol – a defender in love with his art – plowed away another header.
Fabinho had the ball in the net but his attempt was ruled out for an offside flag against Van Dijk and Diaz missed a great header chance from an Alexander Arnold centre.
But when the breakthrough came, it was crazy.
A crossfield move ended with a Henderson cross from the right, but a big deflection from Estupinan staggered Rulli, who could only help him into his own net with full force.
The second came just two minutes later, Salah hit Pau Torres with a through ball and Mane poked past Rulli and narrowly survived a narrow VAR check for offside.
Andy Robertson scored shortly after, but his attempt was thwarted by an offside flag.
But Liverpool kept raining shots at Villarreal’s goal and the only shock was that they kept the tie beyond doubt.
https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/18396201/liverpool-villarreal-champions-league-match-report/ The Reds put one foot into the Champions League final when a quick double ended the visitors’ stubborn resistance