Liverpool trade Champions League chaos for calm and control to keep four-time offer on track

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Urgen Klopp will always be synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll football, but as his Liverpool side took another giant leap towards what would be the greatest achievement of his managerial career – almost, it was control and calm in which he found most satisfaction.

In beating Villarreal 2-0 at Anfield last night, the Reds did a lot to ensure their four-time offer will, at the very least, go to the wire and did so without stepping out of third gear, with the home crowd leaving having suffered nothing. like the emotional exhaustion that knockout European ties on this ground are notorious for delivering.

Their team had savored three-quarters of ball possession, barely been exposed at the break and only allowed one shot, off target. Alisson in the home goal didn’t make a save before falling on a tame strike three minutes from time as the linesman raised his offside flag anyway.

“We wanted to score a third, but from a specific moment it makes sense that you control the game, and that’s what we did,” Klopp said.

Not only against the basketball game at the Etihad 24 hours earlier was the contrast stark, but also against the Reds’ two previous semi-finals under the German, the frantic 7-6 aggregate win over Roma in 2018 and the famous 4-3 comeback against Barcelona 12 months later.

Klopp was asked if any lessons could be learned from the former of those ties, with the Reds leading 5-2 after the first leg at home before almost blasting him as the Italians rallied at Roma, but looked really puzzled as to relevance.

It’s a different team, in terms of personnel and style, characterized by the presence of Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho in midfield, who play each game as if they’ve seen it before, like two men watching their sitcom favorite for the thousandth. time, aware of what is going to happen long before it happens.

In any other season, given this club’s relationship with the European Cup, a Champions League run that now looks all but certain to end in next month’s final would be front and center. But such serene progress through the towers made this one feel like it was happening almost in the background, sailing smoothly as all eyes were on a domestic struggle with Manchester City.

The Premier League still seems the most problematic element of this pursuit of four trophies, but when big games happen every three or four days, it certainly helps deal with smooth rides rather than roller coasters, and how quickly Liverpool have taken command of each of their knockout ties to date have surely played a part in sustaining a quadruple push for so long.

Liverpool have one foot in the Champions League final after 2-0 win over Villarreal at Anfield

/ Liverpool F.C. via Getty Images

Klopp’s side enjoyed a draw, yes (although it didn’t look like that in the group stage one), but there were hardly any moments of danger except maybe to be within 120 seconds between Lautaro Martinez’s goal and Alexis Sanchez’s red card in the second leg of the Round of 16 against Inter Milan. There’s also been no need for Divock Origi-esque moments of legendary heroism.

In fact, the last time Liverpool’s future participation in this competition seemed in serious doubt was when Trent Alexander-Arnold prepared to bag a corner kick off Alisson’s header at the Hawthorns last May, before they didn’t qualify in the first place.

The caveat in all of this is that Villarreal were mediocre, a side that clearly earned their place at this stage of the competition but failed to produce a performance worthy of it.

Two nights of semi-finals confirmed suspicions that the Premier League’s two best teams are also the best in Europe

Unai Emery has received praise for building a team far greater than the sum of its parts, but last night the gap between the teams was the size you would expect if you looked at the team sheets without knowing. that the Spaniards had already taken care of Bayern. Munich and Juve.

Two nights of semi-finals confirmed suspicions that the Premier League’s two best teams are also the best in Europe. If it hadn’t been for the presence of the best player in the world in opposition to the Etihad on Tuesday, and the haunting air of inevitability that lingers around the Champions League death star that is the Bernabeu, we could already be making preparations for an all-English final in Paris. With little ado, Liverpool are almost there.


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