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Liverpool dominates Villarreal to take step toward Champions League final

Jurgen Klopp said Liverpool has to remain “on alert” despite putting one foot in the Champions League final with a dominant 2-0 win over Villarreal in the the first leg of their semifinal at Anfield on Wednesday.

Two goals in two minutes undid Villarreal boss Unai Emery’s defensive gameplan, as Pervis Estupinan deflected Jordan Henderson’s cross into his own net before Sadio Mane slotted in a second.

The Reds remain on course for an unprecedented quadruple of the Champions League, Premier League, F.A. Cup and League Cup titles.

Barring a huge upset when the sides meet again in southern Spain in six days, Liverpool’s season will finish with a third Champions League final in five seasons in Paris on May 28.

“It is 2-0 at halftime,” Klopp said. “You have to be completely on alert, 100% in the right moment and play the second half like we played the first. We know it will be a tricky atmosphere for us.”

In stark contrast to the free-flowing thrills of Manchester City’s 4-3 win over Real Madrid in the other semifinal on Tuesday, Emery’s men followed the same tactic that moved them past Juventus and Bayern Munich by retreating behind the ball.

The Yellow Submarine, however, could barely lay a glove on Klopp’s men, as Liverpool just had to bide its time to make its dominance count.

“The 2-0 is a clear, deserved result,” Emery said. “It could have been even worse but we still have a chance.

“I want to show we are capable of playing a different game at home.”

The Reds have now scored 135 goals this season, but were held scoreless in a frustrating first 45 minutes.

Mane headed Mohamed Salah’s pinpoint cross wide and also saw a deflected effort fly just wide, while Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli was able to escape unscathed after some sloppy handling of a number of speculative efforts.

Another long-range strike was the closest Liverpool came to breaking the deadlock before the break as Thiago Alcantara’s sweet strike clipped the post.

The six-time European champion started the second half at a higher tempo and quickly began to punch holes in Villarreal’s rearguard.

Fabinho’s goal was ruled out for offside against Virgil van Dijk in the build-up. Moments later, Anfield erupted as the error-prone Rulli finally cost the Spaniards with a feeble attempt at parrying Henderson’s deflected cross.

The last thing the visitors could afford was the floodgates opening, but they were powerless to stop the waves of Liverpool attacks.

Salah was the architect with a perfectly weighted pass for Mane to prod past Rulli on 55 minutes.

The offside flag came to Villarreal’s rescue once more to rule out Andy Robertson’s strike.

Emery was hailed as the “King of the Cups” by Klopp for his stunning Europa League record, with one of his four triumphs in that competition coming as Sevilla boss against the German during his first season at Liverpool in 2016.

Liverpool is a different beast now and the limitations of a side sitting seventh in La Liga were put on display as Villarreal struggled to mount any sort of response after going behind.

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PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)


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