Liverpool treated Villarreal with the utmost respect and dispatched them with consummate brilliance. Jurgen Klopp has them laser-focused.
All of the pre-match talk was courteous. Liverpool were not going to underestimate Villarreal. The Spaniards had just beaten Juventus and Bayern Munich and the Germans were hardly on the charm offensive before or after being dumped out. Dani Parejo reminded them that if you spit in the wind, it can fly back in your face. Don’t depth charge this yellow submarine with insults.
Emery acknowledged that his semi-final opponents were far better at etiquette than Bayern: “What we have heard from Liverpool, the things they have said have been very intelligent, the respect they have shown – they know us, they know that it will be hard, the potential we have. They’re favourites but with respect.”
When he arrived in L4, Emery went into magnetic detail about how Liverpool are an improvement and an upgrade on the version he played before as Arsenal boss – and they were “magnificent” even back then. He was only telling the truth but there was absolutely no way his opponents were falling for that supersize dessert of praise. These Reds work harder than hard. It’s the only way in Klopp’s kingdom, which has now extended its reign by popular demand.
Liverpool set traps for other teams but they rarely fall into a pothole of their own making. They are a crack professional unit with all pistons in sync. There’s no complacency and no careless talk, no prodding of the hornet’s nest to give other teams more reasons to beat them. There’s lots of counter-press though. Lots.
“They are munching…they are eating people,” exclaimed Rio Ferdinand. Peter Crouch said “they are making chances off the counterpress”. Des Kelly added: “The press was relentless all night.” It was depressing for Villarreal. Sucked the life out of them.
Giovani Lo Celso should have stayed on the floor a bit longer to recover from that ball in the face. Etienne Capoue knew what was coming, clearly remembering the battering Klopp’s 2018 version handed out at Anfield to Watford: “They have this ability to transcend themselves, to cause you nothing but problems, all the time, in any part of the field. They never stop, they rush you all the time, they only want to score goals, and even when they score, they carry on. They want to knock you out. They just want to kill everyone and that’s it.”
“Étienne, you said [before tha game] that it was like hell coming to Anfield. What was it like tonight?”
Étienne Capoue: “Did I lie?” pic.twitter.com/J20uXCZFC5
— Issam (@betterthanfigo) April 28, 2022
Gosh. It’s a raw explanation but it was so pure. These Reds are marching through April with all that they have, as Klopp might say. Good things come to an end but there’s nothing to suggest that the peak of the mountain is ever in view with this level of bloody-mindedness. The hunger and (legal) harassment on the field keeps rolling in waves. There’s a visceral power and beauty about the sheer brutality to commit fully to everything.
Here’s the thing: Liverpool used to do the basketball games back and forth. In contrast to Manchester City’s manic 4-3 win over Real, the Reds were a calm and composed ruthless machine. It was City that did the histrionics and pinball with Pep Guardiola bouncing on the touchline like an exploding firework.
In the last few weeks, the Reds have stepped down hard on the accelerator. Villarreal’s yellow flags might as well have been a signal to bring the safety car out to clear the pitch from projectile travel sickness. It was Lionel Messi who warned Barcelona’s exhausted players after a 3-0 first-leg win over the Reds three years ago that he couldn’t play at that pace again. He was right.
Liverpool suffocated their prey on that famous night at Anfield three years ago, just as they had at Wembley a few weeks ago against City. The reset has already happened for Newcastle and next Tuesday. “Nothing has happened yet,” Klopp said. “It’s 2-0 at half-time and we have to be completely on alert and 100% in the right mood. We have to play the second half like the first half, as though there is nothing to defend.”
You believe him when he says it.
There is a desperation for other teams to try and resist the force and play on their terms. Even the thoughtful Emery was reduced to making knee-jerk promises he probably can’t keep, suggesting that events will be fine-tuned by the Spanish accordion next week. Good luck with that. Klopp didn’t even do the fist pumps on Wednesday. There is work to be done. Liverpool are in the mood to chase the prizes down anytime, anyplace, anywhere.