Jurgen Klopp will always be synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll football, but as his Liverpool team took another giant leap towards what would be the greatest achievement of his - or almost any - managerial career, it was control and calm in which he found most satisfaction.
In beating Villarreal 2-0 at Anfield last night, the Reds went a long way to ensuring their quadruple bid will, at the very least, go to the wire and did so without coming out of third gear, the home crowd departing having suffered nothing like the emotional exhaustion that knockout European ties at this ground are renowned for delivering.
Their side had enjoyed three-quarters of the possession, barely once been exposed on the break and allowed just one shot, off target. Alisson in the home goal did not make a save until falling on a tame strike three minutes from time as the linesman raised his offside flag anyway.
“We wanted to score a third, but from a specific moment on it makes sense that you control the game, and that is what we did,” Klopp said.
Not only against the basketball match at the Etihad 24 hours earlier was the contrast stark, but also compared with the Reds’ two previous semi-finals under the German, the frantic 7-6 aggregate win over Roma in 2018 and the famous 4-3 comeback against Barcelona 12 months later.
Klopp was asked whether lessons could be learned from the former of those ties, the Reds having been 5-2 up after the first leg at home before almost blowing it as the Italians rallied in Rome, but looked genuinely perplexed as to the relevance.
This is a different team, in terms of both personnel and style, typified by the conducting presence of Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho in midfield, who play each game as if they’ve seen it before, like two men watching their favourite sitcom for the thousandth time, aware of what’s about to happen long before it does.
In any other season, given this club’s relationship with the European Cup, a Champions League run that now looks almost certain to end in next month’s final would be front and centre. But such serene progress through the rounds has made this one feel as if it has been going on almost in the background, cruising along untroubled while all eyes have been on a domestic tussle with Manchester City.
The Premier League still looks the most problematic element of this four-trophy pursuit, but when big games come every three or four days it certainly helps to deal in smooth rides rather than rollercoasters, and the swiftness with which Liverpool have seized command of each of their knockout ties to date has surely played some part in sustaining a quadruple push for so long.
Klopp’s side have benefited from a kind draw, yes (though it did not look like that when the one for the group stage was made), but there have been virtually no moments of jeopardy, except perhaps in the 120 seconds between Lautaro Martinez’s goal and Alexis Sanchez’s red card in the last-16 second leg against Inter Milan. There has been no need for moments of Divock Origi-esque, legend-making heroism, either.
In fact, the last time Liverpool’s future participation in this competition looked in serious doubt was as Trent Alexander-Arnold was preparing to land a corner on Alisson's head at The Hawthorns last May, before they had qualified for it in the first place.
The caveat in all of this is that Villarreal were poor, a team who have clearly earned their spot at this stage of the competition but did not produce a performance worthy of it.
Two nights of semi-finals have confirmed suspicions that the Premier League’s two best sides are also the best in Europe
Unai Emery has won praise for assembling a team far greater than the sum of its parts but last night the gulf between the sides was of the size you’d expect if glancing at the teamsheets without the knowledge that the Spaniards had already taken care of Bayern Munich and Juventus.
Two nights of semi-finals have confirmed suspicions that the Premier League’s two best sides are also the best in Europe. Had it not been for the presence of the world’s best player in opposition at the Etihad on Tuesday, and the nagging air of inevitability that lingers around the Champions League Death Star that is the Bernabeu, we might already be making preparations for an all-English final in Paris. With little fuss, Liverpool are almost there.