Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp urged his players to stay focused by citing the fact that Villarreal talisman Gerard Moreno is likely to return for their Champions League semi-final second leg. The Reds will head to Spain with a 2-0 lead after a professional performance at Anfield, and only a major trip-up stands between them and a major European final.
Klopp and co had a tough act to follow after Manchester City beat Real Madrid 4-3 in a thrilling contest on Tuesday evening. While Wednesday’s encounter was not quite as gripping, it was effective enough for Liverpool who are edging closer to the Champions League final.
Villarreal, who are recognisable as a defensive side under former Arsenal boss Unai Emery, failed to notch a single shot on target on Merseyside. But things could be different when 30-year-old striker Moreno returns for the second leg. Emery hinted in the build-up that he was close to featuring but the frontman, who has bagged nine goals in 17 appearances this season, narrowly missed out.
After the final whistle, Klopp said: “It was a brilliant game to be honest. We kept them quiet which was important due to the counter-attacking threat. We tried to be direct and mix it up, play through the lines and between the lines.
“We had a lot of good moments. Both of our goals were outstanding. In football, you show respect to the opponent by the way you defend them. The counter-press was outstanding and the boys were in the game from the first to the last second.
“For the next leg, Gerard Moreno will be back and maybe another player, so this is not over.”
Moreno is a full Spanish international who scored a whopping 23 league goals last campaign, and 18 the season before that. His return will naturally be welcomed by Emery, who has a mountain to climb after Sadio Mane and a Pervis Estupinan own-goal opened up a two-goal deficit at Anfield.
Assuming the Reds see out the job in Spain, it remains to be seen who they would meet in the final with City and Los Blancos finely poised. The Sky Blues were widely regarded as the better team on Tuesday, however, and a solid performance at the Bernabeu could set up a mouth-watering all-English Champions League final that would present City with the opportunity to avenge last season’s defeat against Chelsea, and Liverpool the chance to claim a seventh crown.
Victory over the ‘Yellow Submarine’ keeps Liverpool’s quadruple hopes well and truly alive. Klopp and co have already pocketed the Carabao Cup after beating Chelsea in February, and they face the same opponents in the FA Cup final next month. There is only a one-point gap between Liverpool and City in the Premier League too, with the latter team holding a slim advantage.
Klopp certainly has the fire power to keep things moving in the right direction, and he touched on goal-scorer Mane’s capabilities up top on Wednesday night. “He’s world class for us,” raved the German, “He played on the right, that goal against Arsenal in 2016, he’s just outstanding. I love Bobby [Firmino] and Diogo [Jota] down the middle too. Sadio has the skill set for it.”