Villarreal remain alive but with plenty of work to do after Liverpool defeat

Liverpool 2-0 Villarreal

There is a particular scowl that Unai Emery wears as he contemplates his next chess move. Quite often he looks deeply pained by his job and for this evening at least, that deep discomfort was entirely justified.

Villarreal were not overwhelmed by Liverpool nor were they outmatched by Liverpool’s firepower, but the discomfort comes from the feeling of powerlessness that Jurgen Klopp’s side inflicted upon them.

The first half went without too much incident, with Liverpool creating decent but not glaring chances and coming close. Thiago’s effort from range fizzed past the post in the closest call, but Villarreal would have been content with their showing over 45 minutes.

Emery would have sent his side out to do similar in the second half and although there wasn’t much change from Liverpool either, the slightest of differences can lead to chasms.

It was a light touch that Pervis Estupinan got on Jordan Henderson’s cross but enough to loop it into the far corner of the net – Geronimo Rulli only managed enough of a touch to bid the 0-0 goodbye. Just two minutes later Liverpool continued to attack with intent, Mohamed Salah wriggling between defenders up to the edge of the box. Faced with the familiar yellow line, he came back and gathered momentum again before slipping Sadio Mane in, who was a toe faster than Rulli.

For a several minutes the tempo continued to look worryingly fast for Villarreal. The defence was more scrambled and the clearances more desperate.

The section on Villarreal’s attack up to this point has been conspicuous by its absence, but that in itself reflects the reality of the match. A singular shot off target was all they had to show for their rare forays forward.

Jurgen Klopp’s suffocating press was exemplified towards the end of the match, even if they did look content to see out a 2-0 victory for the final stages. Giovani Lo Celso executed a Cruyff turn on the half-way line before nutmegging his opponent to break free of the press. Just as he was about to let a pass in behind the defence go, the long leg of the possession law enforcement (Fabinho) slid in and took the ball from him. Lo Celso beat the ground in frustration, a perfect image of Villarreal’s impotency.

That will be the key puzzle for Emery to work out before the second leg. Villarreal are not out of the tie but neither were they in the game this evening. Forced into a passive exercise of defending, Liverpool made it impossible for them to concede. Your move, grandmaster Emery.

Tags Champions League Liverpool Villarreal
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