Sadio Mane hands Reds responsibility for Champions League semi-final after dominant display

(Reuters)

Liverpool took control of their Champions League semi-final with a dominating 2-0 victory over Villarreal at Anfield.

The Reds never seemed to have any problems in the first leg, the only danger for them was that frustration would grow as the Spanish side held them at bay in the first half.

But Jordan Henderson’s cross found the back of the net through a deflection from Pervis Estunpinan and less than two minutes later Sadio Mane had doubled the lead with a clever finish.

Villarreal will have the home advantage in next week’s second leg, but that shouldn’t stop Liverpool from sealing a third Champions League final appearance under Jurgen Klopp.

Unai Emery’s side made their intentions very clear in the space of two minutes, when goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli took 30 seconds from a goal kick much to the chagrin of the Kop behind him.

Liverpool’s first chance of the game fell on Sadio Mane when he came on the end of a Mohamed Salah cross, but he was unable to direct his header with the ball slightly behind him.

Jordan Henderson’s cross nearly made its way to the near post, before Luis Diaz saved a few shots from range. Giovani Lo Celso, on loan from Tottenham, made a brilliant block to deny Salah and the Egyptian then shone an effort over the bar from close range as Liverpool increased the pressure.

They closed in on the first goal minutes before the break when Thiago tried his luck from 30 yards out, only to see his brilliant shot hit the outside of the post.

Liverpool had the ball in the back of the net shortly after the second half as Fabinho finished from close range, but the linesman’s flag was quickly raised with Virgil van Dijk offside in the build-up.

    (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

(Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

A brilliant two-minute spell was enough for the Reds to take full control of the encounter. The ball was worked at Henderson as Liverpool found scarce space, his cross blasted Estupinan and floated past the goalkeeper into the far corner.

Emery didn’t have time to consider a change of approach before the lead was quickly doubled. There was nothing lucky about this one, with Salah playing an excellent pass to Mane and he pushed the finish past Rulli at the near post.

It was almost three midway through the second half, as Andy Robertson headed home after a brilliant cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold, but once again the offside flag was quickly raised as that he was coasting off to celebrate.

Villarreal have not threatened to find a way back into the game, managing just one shot in 90 minutes, and they will need to produce an almost miraculous comeback at home next Tuesday if they are to turn the tide and reach the League final Champions.

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