The quality of Sadio Mane was yet again witnessed on one of the biggest stages in world football as the Senegalese produced the moment that decided Liverpool’s quest for a seventh UEFA Champions League title.
Mane scored the winner in a keenly contested second-leg game against Villarreal at the Estadio de la Ceramica on Tuesday night and that’s to add to all his game winning moments since the turn of the year.
In a game of two halves, Villarreal showed spirit and guile in the first 45 minutes, stunning the 2019 champions with two goals to tie the aggregate score.
First it was Senegal’s Boulaye Dia who beat Alisson Becker, the assist from French man Etienne Capoue as early as the third minute.
Villarreal were aggressive, determined and ruthless and before the break, Capoue once again the provider for Francis Coquelin to double the lead in minute 41.
Unai Emery must have been proud of his players but the Spaniard is too experienced to think in that moment that Liverpool were dead and buried.
It whatever he told his players in the locker room did very little to improve their chances in the night or Liverpool were just simply too good.
So, whoever predicted a Liverpool resurgence in the second half couldn’t have been disappointed as the Reds came out a different animal.
All season Jurgen Klopp’s men have shown they are perhaps the most consistent team in the world right now and they showed Villarreal why.
Several moments after the restart, Fabinho restored Liverpool’s aggregate lead (3-2).
His goal in the 62nd minute was assisted by Mohamed Salah.
The Egyptian himself has endured a lacklustre spell in front of goal lately, but he still was a big asset on the night for the Reds.
Barely five minutes after the Red’s first of the night, Trent Alexander-Arnold was behind the ball with another fine delivery to find Luis Diaz and the Colombian made no mistake to beat Rulli for Liverpool’s second and stretch their aggregate lead.
To kill the contest off, it required an African connection and this time Naby Keita got in on the action as he picked out Mane, whose run was inch perfect but his finish flawless and there was no way back from that for Villarreal, who had thrown on Samuel Chukwueze and all the Arsenal on their bench.
Villarreal had been the Cinderella team of this season’s competition, but the story couldn’t have ended without a little twist and it was the hero for the side, Capoue who got himself sent off for a second booking.
— Villarreal CF English (@VillarrealCFen) May 3, 2022
They had done it in regulation time and Liverpool marched into their third UCL final since 2018 – the 10th overall – with a 5-2 aggregate win.
But more importantly they also keep their hopes of a quadruple, this season, alive.
They’ve won the EFL Cup, are in contention to win the EPL and are in the final of both the UCL and FA Cup; the latter they’ll face Chelsea.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 3, 2022
However, they’ll have to wait for their opponent in the UCL final, from the second leg of another epic fixture between Real Madrid and Manchester City on Wednesday.
— KingFut.com (@King_Fut) May 3, 2022