Real reason for Liverpool’s astonishing success

Liverpool has one foot in the Champions League final after a typically clinical 2-0 win over Villarreal in the first leg of their semi-final at a heaving Anfield on Thursday (AEST).

Jurgen Klopp’s Reds were unable to break the well-drilled Spaniards in a scoreless first half.

But a Pervis Estupinan own goal was followed by a Sadio Mane strike in a devastating two minute burst early in the second half that virtually killed the tie.

Star-studded Liverpool are capable of playing all the pretty stuff but former Socceroos captain Craig Foster lauded a different aspect of their game on Stan Sport.

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“The key to the game – and we always watch the ball, everyone’s watching the goals and the beautiful passes and the beautiful shots, the mistakes and the little bit of fortune from the cross that goes in and over the keeper,” Foster said.

“But the key to this game is actually their work without the ball. Their ball recovery in this game was as good as you’ll ever see anywhere. Because Villarreal, so many times this year when we’ve watched them, group stage and beyond, we have talked about how fantastic they are on the ball, particularly when they re-win it.

“And they’re able to get out of tight situations as well as any team in Europe. They’re very calm on the ball, Manchester United, in the group stage for instance, virtually couldn’t get the ball off them…

“Liverpool are as good, they’re probably the best team, I would say they’re arguably better than Manchester City, because they’re so aggressive and you’ve got (Andy) Robertson and (Trent) Alexander-Arnold there getting the ball back.”

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If Liverpool do progress it will be their third Champions League final in five years as they continue their hunt for an unprecedented quadruple of major trophies.

“I thought (Roberto) Firmino was brilliant tonight, Thiago (Alcantara) was outstanding,” Foster said.

“We knew Thiago was a phenomenal footballer but I was never sure if he could or was willing to work this hard. Their ball recovery was unbelievable and ultimately they have enough good players in attacking positions, they know what they’re doing, that they ‘re eventually going to break them down.”

Villarreal had enjoyed a fairytale run to the semi-finals.

A team sitting in seventh place in Spain’s La Liga and filled with players who failed to make it in the Premier League somehow managed to eliminate European royalty in Juventus and Bayern Munich in the knockout stage.

“Sadly for Villarreal, the tie is over now, that is the reality, because even if they score one at home, they’re not going to stop Liverpool scoring one or two more,” Foster said.

“They (Liverpool) are favorites to win it now. They’re incredible in every department.”

The first goal came in the 53rd minute when Jordan Henderson’s cross from the right deflected off the outstretched boot of Estupinan and looped over goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli, who flapped at the ball and could only turn it into the net.

The power of Anfield on European nights tends to turn one goal quickly into two, and that’s what transpired again.

Alexander-Arnold fed a pass inside to Mohamed Salah and his slide rule ball in behind the defense was latched onto by Mane, who toe poked past Rulli with a sliding finish.

The second leg takes place on Wednesday and only a major surprise will prevent Villarreal from bowing out at the semi-finals stage, just like in 2006.

Liverpool is looking to win Europe’s biggest prize for the second time in four years, having also reached the final in 2018 under manager Klopp.

City will carry a 4-3 lead over Real Madrid into the second leg of their semifinal in Spain next Thursday.

A sea of ​​5000 yellow clad Villarreal fans — almost 10 per cent of the population of the town in eastern Spain — swarmed its way from Liverpool’s city center to Anfield ahead of the game.

And a rendition of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine was well received before kickoff.

That was as warm as the welcome got.

Liverpool snapped into tackles and pressed high from the first whistle, meaning Villarreal’s players hardly got out of their half all match.

Yet, with Unai Emery setting up his team with his back four screened by a deep lying and narrow midfield four, Liverpool was initially starved of space in what quickly became tantamount to an attack versus defense exercise.

There were plenty of half-chances — Mane headed wide off his face, Salah curled over then volleyed over, and Thiago smashed a long range shot off the outside of the post — but Villarreal held out until halftime.

Then it all went wrong.

The two goals came in between two disallowed efforts, by Fabinho then Robertson, and it was only Liverpool’s players taking their foot off the gas that stopped an even bigger victory.

Klopp used the opportunity to take a number of key players off early, with a potentially tough Premier League game against Newcastle on Sunday sandwiched between the six day turnaround for the Villarreal games.

Liverpool is a point behind City in the title race, having reached the FA Cup final and already won the League Cup.

The quadruple charge is heading deep into May.

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