Dominant Liverpool show Villarreal that there are levels for Champions League football

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After 45 minutes of this Champions League semi-final first match, the traveling Villarreal fans had every reason to believe they could witness another miracle.

Their team had managed to break into Anfield’s pot after holding the score 0-0, and they had also – at times – made a four-time chasing Liverpool look flawed out of ideas.

As such, thoughts will no doubt have turned to the recent shock victories over Juventus and Bayern Munich and the possibility of taking another big scalp back to Castellon.

Unfortunately, any supporter in yellow thoughts in that direction had not taken into account that even among Europe’s elite clubs there are levels.

And while Manchester City may have a strong case to be ranked alongside them, Liverpool are otherwise alone at the summit.

It did not look like much in an opening period that ended with the hosts having taken 12 shots, mostly in a Champions League semi-final in the first half without scoring, since such data was first collected in 2003-04.

This was largely due to Villarreal’s outright refusal to offer quality chances, with the midfield and defense working beautifully together to deny all space.

The art of dark was also implemented in an impressive way, goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli took as much time as possible over goal kick, while cheap errors were bought from frustrated opponents.

But as he proved during Sunday’s Merseyside derby victory over Everton, Jurgen Klopp is never better than when he got a break to solve.

And it already looked from the first whistle of the second period that the German had repeated the trick once more.

Suddenly, there was an extra zipper for Liverpool’s play, and their guests’ previously solid form began to look porous as the players were pulled out against their will.

Granted, there was an element of luck to the Reds’ opener, Pervis Estupinan’s attempt to block over a stranded Rulli and into the net.

But it had been earned through a quick pass from left to right that opened up space for Jordan Henderson to cross – the kind of move that had been lacking in the first half.

From there, Liverpool smelled blood, and just two minutes later, they had put together another sleek pattern to leave a rattling Villarreal two.

It was a whirlwind offensive storm that so few teams can produce, one that will have given Klopp confidence that a third Champions League final appearance with this club awaits.

As impressive as their route to this phase of the tournament has been, Villarreal have never been behind either Juventus or Bayern by more than a single goal at any point in these ties.

And it’s hard to imagine how they can close that deficit in Spain next week without opening too much against such deadly opponents.

Strange things have happened, of course, but the likelihood that a meeting with a Liverpool team looking at the history books will prove to be a step too far for Villarreal.



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