LIVERPOOL 2-0 VILLARREAL: Jurgen Klopp’s side, for the second time in a matter of days, came up against stubborn opposition but earned a win which puts them on the verge of the Champions League final
Across the two Champions League semi finals, the level of talent on show illustrated perfectly the beauty of this magnificent game.
De Bruyne and Benzema, Liverpool’s quicksilver front three with their sublime movement and seamless interaction. It is an artform in all its wondrous glory. Yet there is an ugly truth too, because for every act of creation, there is one of destruction, as Villarreal illustrated almost perfectly for almost an hour here at Anfield. And at times like that, it sometimes takes something more than artistry to make the difference.
Step forward Jordan Henderson. In Liverpool’s pantheon of stars, he is so often overlooked, occasionally decried. For years, he has fought against his artisan label di lui, branded unfairly a water carrier.
The captain is so much more than that. He is a leader, pure and simple, as great a captain as the best they’ve seen here… ranking alongside Emlyn Hughes, Graeme Souness, Alan Hansen for the influence he has. And here, on a night when his side di lui required that leadership more than ever, he was there, cajoling and urging, screaming at the referee, his own team-mates and anyone who would listen.
He was everywhere, piling so much pressure on Villarreal that you could see the panic spreading throughout their side. Even in the first half, as they remained resolute and organized in the face of a Liverpool onslaught, there was a look of shock amongst some defenders at the sheer intensity of it all.
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Henderson was almost given a free role to create havoc by pressing with abandon, and he did it magnificently, never letting the visitors breathe. But he is more than that too, creating chances with his intelligent movement di lui, and crisp passing.
So it was fitting that he was behind the opening goal which finally prized open this determined Spanish side, who gave the Reds a sense of deja vu from Everton’s visit at the weekend. Yes, it was an own goal, but without Henderson’s running by him, without his willingness by him to keep his energy levels so high, keep the intensity at such insane levels, the goal would not have come.
It opened the floodgates, and we saw next the sheer beauty of Liverpool’s front three, with Mane again illustrating that as a number nine, he actually has few peers with his movement. They needed Henderson though, to force that opening, just as Liverpool, for all their stars, need him, as a true leader of men.