Imperious performer earns a nine after trademark press gives Villarreal nightmares

Liverpool cruised to a two-goal victory in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final clash with Villarreal, with one Reds ace earning a nine on a night when their press came to the fore.

The Reds were the team in charge throughout a frustrating first half that saw chances come and go. Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara both struck the woodwork, while the finishing of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah was uncharacteristically wayward.

Liverpool kept their heads after the break and broke the deadlock in unlikely fashion through Jordan Henderson. The captain’s attempted cross looped up off Pervis Estupinan’s outstretched boot and lobbed goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli.

One quickly became two when neat interplay with Mohamed Salah saw Sadio Mane prod past Rulli from close range.

That quickfire double did little to change Villarreal’s plans who remained content to soak up pressure and remain in the tie heading back to Spain. But with a two-goal lead, it is Liverpool who are the overwhelming favorites to make their third Champions League final in five years.

Liverpool (4-3-3)

Alison Becker: Practically a bystander in the first half with the ball almost exclusively in Villarreal’s half. He could’ve sipped on a cup of tea in the second half with his biggest issue of how to stay warm. 6/10

Trent Alexander-Arnold: Always forward-thinking with his distribution from right-back and could’ve grabbed an assist if Salah’s finishing was on point. He rarely tested defensively but did what was required when the times came. 7

Ibrahim Konate: Showed his aerial prowess early when nodding down to Mane who spurned a glorious chance from five yards out. Little to do prior to the break but drew a roar from the Anfield crowd when providing too much man for Chukwueze in a duel. He cruised through the second half with his record of never having lost a match when starting for Liverpool still intact. 8

Virgil van Dijk: Typically imposing display in the first half. Marshalled those around him and always in the right place at the right time to extinguish threats. His exemplary reading of the game was later on show when snuffing out a dangerous cut-back after Konate vacated the box to double up on the crosser. 9

Andy Robertson: Always available high up on the left allowing Diaz to take up a more dangerous position slightly in-field. What little he had to do defensively prior to the break he did without fuss. He continued to roam forward in the second half and got through enough work to satisfy two quotas. 8

Jordan Henderson: Solid if not spectacular in the first half but helped smash the stalemate after the break with a deflected cross. Given a breather when replaced by Keita in the 72nd minute. 7

Fabinho: Calm and composed in the engine room. An integral part in helping Liverpool to dominate possession and put his foot in when required. Textbook tackle high up the pitch mid-way through the second half that sparked a chance for Diaz. 8

Thiago Alcantara: Metronomic in midfield without showing his full passing range in the first half beyond one 50-yarder to Salah. What he did do, however, was control the tempo and ensure Liverpool were always in control. He rattled the woodwork on the stroke of half time with a thunderbolt from distance. He oozes class every time he takes to the field. 8

Mohammed Salah: At the heart of most things Liverpool did well in the final third. Wayward finishing prior to the break, though it wasn’t alone in that regard. Quick feet and superb interplay with Mane was the spark for Liverpool’s second with his perfectly weighted pass in a tight area. Villarreal don’t face many threats like him in LaLiga these days. 8

Said Mane: A constant threat with the central role his when Diaz plays. He saw two early chances go begging when failing to control a Konate knock-down and heading a Salah cross wide. He refused to be denied in the second half when prodding past Rulli to score Liverpool’s second in as many minutes. He gave Villarreal’s back-line nightmares with his pressing him and earned a well-deserved break when replaced by Jota late on. 8

Louis Diaz: A livewire in the final third and willing to try different things with Villarreal providing a tough not to crack. Menaced Villarreal’s backline throughout and along with Salah and Mane, gave their defenders milliseconds to make up their minds. Continue to probe before making way for Origi in the final 10 minutes. 7

substitutes:

Naby Keita (On for Henderson, 72m): Bristled with energy and finally looks at home in a Liverpool shirt. 7

Diogo Jota (On for Mane, 72m): Got involved but couldn’t help Liverpool extend their two-goal lead. 6

joe gomez (On for Alexander-Arnold, 81m): N/A

Divock Original (On for Luis Diaz, 81m): N/A

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