The 30-year-old midfielder completed the match with a passing accuracy of 96%, misplacing just four of his 103 passes.
Liverpool defeated Villareal 2-0 in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final fixture on Tuesday and midfielder Thiago Alcantara delivered a man of the match performance as he played a key role in opening up one of the best defences in the tournament at the moment. The Reds outplayed Villarreal to move one step closer to the continental title. Jurgen Klopp’s side registered 68% ball possession and attempted as many as 20 shots at Anfield. The opening goal arrived eight minutes into the second half, when Jordan Henderson’s attempted cross deflected off Pervis Estupinan, looped over Geronimo Rulli and went into the back of the net. Mane doubled the lead two minutes later from Mohamed Salah’s assist.
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As expected, Villarreal sat deep and waited for their opportunity to hit the opposition on the counter, but the chance never arrived. The Yellow Submarine failed to register even a single effort on target and only one shot was recorded. The Reds were simply superb with their passing and circulated the ball smoothly. Alcantara was the fulcrum of their game. The 30-year-old completed the match with a passing accuracy of 96%, misplacing just four of his 103 passes. He was simply superb with his short passing game and at the same time, was precise with the long passes. Liverpool completed a total of 645 passes, with Villarreal making just 182.
Alcantara even got close to getting on the score-sheet on 41 minutes, when his long-range shot rattled the crossbar, that was the closest Liverpool got to scoring in the first half. The opening goal of the game came after a trademark drop of the shoulder from the playmaker. Thiago eluded the marker, quickening the attack, the goal followed. Henderson’s attempted cross from the right deflected over Ruli and into the far post. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Salah and Mane combined to score the second goal of the night. Alexander-Arnold played the ball to Salah on the edge of the box. The Egyptian dribbled forward, drawing the defenders towards him and then slid the ball through for Mane to poke in past an advancing Rulli.
The second goal almost killed the game as Villarreal found themselves in an uncomfortable situation. Unai Emery’s side was set up so defensively that they now had to get out of their comfort zone and somehow find a goal against a strong Liverpool team, who were not willing to take their foot off the pedal and continued to dominate the ball possession. Villarreal have overachieved this season by reaching the final-four of the competition for only the second time in their history. The Europa League champions overcame the likes of Juventus and Bayern Munich in the previous rounds to get this far.
The La Liga side displayed a stupendous defensive game to get the better of 2020 champions Bayern in the quarters. But Liverpool had something which the Bavarians had sold to Anfield in following the triumph, Alcantara. The Brazilian played a crucial role in the German side’s Champions League triumph before making the move to England. Bayern struggled to find a way past Villarreal’s solid defence, and clearly lacked the presence of a quality playmaker in their ranks. However, Bayern’s loss was Liverpool’s gain as the Reds now just need to avoid a defeat by a margin of two goals at El Madrigal next week to advance to final of the competition