Liverpool are on the verge of their third Champions League final in five seasons after defeating Villarreal 2-0 in the first leg of their semi-final on Wednesday at Anfield.
Villarreal manager Unai Emery’s defensive game strategy was undone by two goals in two minutes, as Pervis Estupinan deflected Jordan Henderson’s cross into his own net before Sadio Mane added a second.
The Reds are still on track to complete a historic quadruple of Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup, and League Cup.
And, barring a spectacular shock when the teams meet again in southern Spain in six days, Liverpool’s season will end on May 28 in Paris.
The population of Villarreal could fit inside Anfield, but the 3,000 visiting fans tried their best to keep up with the home fans early on.
In sharp contrast to Manchester City’s free-flowing delights in the other semi-final on Tuesday, Emery’s players used the same technique that got them through Juventus and Bayern Munich by retiring behind the ball.
The Yellow Submarine, on the other hand, could scarcely lay a finger on Jurgen Klopp’s players, as Liverpool just had to wait their turn to make their dominance count.
The Reds have already scored 135 goals this season but were shut out in the opening 45 minutes.
With the greatest chance, Mane headed wide Mohamed Salah’s perfect cross.
The Senegalese also had a deflected attempt go just wide, while Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli escaped with a clean sheet despite some clumsy handling from a number of speculative shots.
Thiago Alcantara’s beautiful shot brushed the post and was the closest Liverpool got to breaking the stalemate before the interval.
The six-time European winners opened the second half at a faster pace and immediately began to poke gaps in Villarreal’s defense.
In the build-up, Fabinho’s goal was called out for offside against Virgil van Dijk.
Anfield exploded moments later as the error-prone Rulli eventually cost the Spaniards with a poor effort to parry Henderson’s deflected cross.
The last thing the visitors wanted was for the floodgates to open, but they were helpless to halt the onslaught of Liverpool assaults.
On the 55 minute, Salah was the architect, with a brilliantly weighted ball for Mane to prod past Rulli.
Once again, the offside flag came to Villarreal’s rescue, ruling out Andy Robertson’s score.
Klopp dubbed Emery the “King of the Cups” for his illustrious Europa League record, with one of his four victories coming as Sevilla manager against the German during his first season at Liverpool in 2016.
Six years on, Liverpool is a different beast, and the limits of a team sitting seventh in La Liga were exposed as they failed to produce any form of reaction after falling behind.
As Liverpool tried to end the tie with a third goal, Luis Diaz crashed across the face of the goal.
The English giants had to settle for a two-goal lead, but they have yet to lose by more than two goals in 55 games this season.