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Leagues: UEFA Champions League

Top 5 best and worst players from Liverpool-Villarreal match

best and worst Liverpool Villarreal

On paper, Liverpool holds a clear advantage over Villarreal. After all, Liverpool is the historically dominant side and is contention for the Premier League title. Meanwhile, Villarreal is on the outside looking in for European qualification out of LaLiga. Even their finances are different questions entirely. Liverpool’s wage bill exceeds $180 million, and Villarreal pays its players less than a third of that.

However, both teams fully earned their right to be in the Champions League semifinal.

Liverpool’s 2-0 win could be a result that both teams are satisfied with. It is not out of reach for Villarreal as they return home. However, Liverpool is not exactly the type of side to throw away a lead after a first-leg win.

By the same token, Villarreal likely hoped for just one goal or even a shutout. Yet, Liverpool could very well have scored even more goals at Anfield.

Best players in the first leg almost all in red

Thiago

The Spaniard dominated in the midfield in the first half. He highlighted the opening 45 minutes by slamming the outside of the post from 30 yards out. He managed to pick out seemingly every pass he attempted, as he seemed to pop up all over the pitch.

His body feint on a pass from Andy Robertson provided the impetus for the move that provided Liverpool’s opener.

Luis Diaz

A tenacious force against Villarreal’s back line, Luis Diaz was unlucky to not join Mané on the scoresheet. He forced Rulli into a number of saves and had a couple of shots deflected.

However, the thing that allowed Diaz to stick out was his pressure against Villarreal’s center backs. Not only could Pau Torres and Raul Albiol fail to get comfortable on the ball throughout the 90 minutes. The ball seemed to never exit Liverpool’s attacking half. Credit some of that to Diaz.

Trent Alexander-Arnold

While he may not have been directly involved in the two Liverpool goals, all three came on the side of the field TAA patrols. He also provided a peach of a ball into Andy Robertson, but VAR ruled out the goal for offside.

There are still some defensive liabilities in Alexander-Arnold’s game. Yet, with Villarreal playing so deep and players like Ibrahima Konate and Virgil Van Dijk playing safety, the right-back can have some offensive freedom.

Giovanni Lo Celso

Something of a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating evening for the yellow submarine, Lo Celso did well to keep Liverpool’s left side in check.

Lo Celso was perhaps Villarreal’s only player to make something happen both offensively and defensively. He had a number of crucial challenges and tackles throughout the field. Moreover, he at least forced Liverpool’s back line to play some defense.

Jordan Henderson

In his postgame interview with CBS, Henderson wanted to claim the own goal. While that was never going to happen, Henderson played an instrumental role throughout Liverpool’s attacks.

Henderson led the emotions of Liverpool in a rowdy Anfield. Then, with his actual play on the ball, he picked out passes and helped Liverpool dictate the pace of the game.

Disappointing players from Villarreal

Francis Coquelin

Unai Emery’s 4-4-2 never suited up well to what is effectively a left midfielder. Coquelin, traditionally a defensive midfielder, looked out of sorts against Liverpool.

To be fair, most defensive midfielders deployed out wide would struggle against the likes of Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane. However, all the ball chasing forced Coquelin to an early exit with a nagging injury just after Liverpool scored its second.

Dani Parejo

Fabinho, Thiago and Jordan Henderson were relentless against Villarreal’s midfield. With passes splitting and dissecting Dani Parejo, Coquelin and Etienne Capoue, Villarreal could only do so much against the more-talented Reds.

However, Parejo, likely the main factor in springing a counter-attack, seemed unable to connect a meaningful pass. Upon losing possession, Parejo opted for a clearance. Not necessarily the wrong option, as sometimes Villarreal needed a chance to breathe, especially after two goals in a three-minute span.

The hopeful return of Gerard Moreno should answer some of the questions in the attacking half for Villarreal.

Geronimo Rulli

With a team like Liverpool, goalkeepers play a certain role in slowing the game down. Just look at the three-minute span where Liverpool scored its two goals. Liverpool can pick apart a side when it smells blood.

The Sadio Mane goal is not necessarily Rulli’s fault. However, his preference to swat and bat the ball away came back to haunt the Argentine in the game-opening goal. The top keepers in the world catch Jordan Henderson’s deflected cross, but Rulli attempted to bat it away.

Liverpool had a number of other opportunities coming off of deflected shots. These are not direct rebounds, but Liverpool’s ability to quickly reset upon regaining possession.

Arnaut Danjuma

Despite scoring a crucial goal in the first leg in the last round of the Champions League, Danjuma was non-existent at Anfield. Accredit that to the possession statistics of Liverpool and the simple size of Liverpool’s center backs.

Danjuma failed to provide any real threat in the game, something of a microcosm for Villarreal. His substitution late on showed that Unai Emery likely accepted the scoreline, rather than pushing for something.

Pervis Estupiñán

The own goal was not exactly Estupiñán’s fault. An unfortunate deflection off of Jordan Henderson’s cross popped up and over Rulli. Villarreal always looked like they were under threat from both flanks. However, Thiago and Trent Alexander-Arnold picked apart Estupiñán and Coquelin enough to see off the Yellow Submarine.

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