VILLARREAL 2-3 LIVERPOOL: MATCH REVIEW
Liverpool completed a comeback victory last night to beat Villarreal 3-2 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate. The home side had gone 2-0 up on the night to pull level in the tie before a stunning second half sealed the Reds’ place in the final. Here’s a review of the victory at Estadio de la Ceramica.
You can find player ratings from the match here.
° Lineup. Jürgen Klopp made five changes to the side that beat Newcastle, recalling the five players he rested on Saturday. Alexander-Arnold and Konaté returned to the defence ahead of Gomez and Matip, whilst Fabinho, Thiago and Salah returned further up the pitch with Henderson, Milner and Diaz making way.
Unai Emery made two changes to the side he fielded in the first leg. The influential Gerard Moreno was back fit and started ahead of Chukwueze. They had suffered another injury blow with topscorer Danjuma ruled out. Boulaye Dia started in his place.
° Worst possible start. Liverpool must have expected a fast start from the hosts. The plan must have been to weather that early storm and then pick them off as the game wore on. That went completely out the window when Dia opened the scoring after just three minutes.
Estupinan’s cross to the backpost picked out Capoue who inadvertently squared it for Dia to tap home. Robertson had no idea what was behind him and the hosts capitalised to halve the deficit. That gave the whole stadium a shot in the arm. They all believed now if they didn’t before. The ‘remontada’ was on.
° Sloppy display. Liverpool could barely string five passes together first half as the intense Villarreal press forced so many turnovers. To a man the Reds were sloppy. Keita kept giving it away, Mané lost every duel to Albiol, Robertson was below par, even the usually reliable Thiago was getting caught on it.
° Coquelin makes it 2-0. The Reds had been warned when Keita’s backpass straight to Moreno saw Lo Celso slipped in on goal. Alisson came up trumps but Villarreal would come again, and this time Coquelin headed Capoue’s cross home. The game had a ‘Barca 4-0’ feel to it with Coquelin’s header eerily similar to Gini’s in 2019.
Robertson once again was too easily beaten by Capoue (that was clearly a plan) who crossed for his second assist. Trent was also guilty of not attacking the ball as Coquelin showed more desire to steam in ahead of him and head into the top corner. Villarreal were in dreamland, Liverpool were stunned.
° Much needed break. Klopp had a huge halftime team talk to give. As a collective, his charges didn’t deal anywhere near well enough with the press. When they won the ball back, they went too long, too soon in an attempt to spring one of the forwards in behind. The manager earned his corn with whatever he said at the break.
° Key half time sub. He could have made 10 changes at the break, he settled for the one as Diaz came on for Jota. Diogo was unfortunate to be the one to go off as it could very well have been any outfielder. Diaz’s introduction changed the whole complexion of the tie.
° Promising signs after the break. The first 15 minutes of the second period was already an improvement on the 45 that had gone on before. Liverpool were no longer rushed in their passing. They started playing football and created a few openings.
Trent saw a deflected strike hit the crossbar before Diaz went for an overhead kick after a brilliant Mané pickout. The Colombian had already made an impact with his direct running style pinning Foyth back and causing Albiol to move over to back his teammate up, freeing up space in the middle.
° Fabinho finds the breakthrough. Another neat move down the right hand side saw Salah slip Fabinho through after the Brazilian had made a strong run forward. He looked up and realised Mané had strayed offside for a cross, so he decided to leather it goalwards instead.
The ball went straight through Rulli to swing the tie back in Liverpool’s favour. Rulli had looked suspect in the first leg, spilling several shots into dangerous areas so it wasn’t a shock to see him fail to keep out Fabinho’s piledriver. What a time to net your first UCL goal for the club!
° Dazzling Diaz. The January signing was absolutely electric when he came on. He went on yet another mazy dribble and saw his shot deflected just wide of the post. He’s had a few of those since he joined. He underlined his impact when he headed Trent’s cross through Rulli’s legs to hand the Reds their two goal advantage back.
Luis Diaz vs Villarreal:
• 100% long ball accuracy
• 90% pass accuracy
• 36 touches
• 20 passes attempted
• 18 passes completed
• 4 shots (1st)
• 4 dribbles attempted (=1st)
• 4 dribbles completed (=1st)
• 4 duels won
• 3 ball recoveries
• 2 blocks
• 1 goal
° Villareal legs fall off. The hosts gave it their all first half and ran themselves ragged in the end. They had no energy to offer a response when the Reds got a goal back. They had punched themselves out. Liverpool have played at that intensity for almost seven years so it was easy for them to maintain it to the very end.
° Mané seals it. It was great to see Klopp’s side not just settle after the first goal. They didn’t stop after the second either. They kept going and were rewarded with the winner when Keita played a delightful first time ball to release Mané in behind. Sadio rounded Rulli and then Foyth before slotting home.
Sadio Mané has now scored 15 goals for Liverpool in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League. Nobody has ever scored more for an English club (level with Frank Lampard for Chelsea).
Raft of changes. Both sides made a number of substitutions late on with Klopp sending on Henderson, Tsimikas, Jones and then Milner for Keita, Robertson, Thiago and Fabinho respectively. Liverpool ended the game with a whole new midfield trio and could have scored more with Jones and Salah going close late on.
Liverpool never do easy. This was not the straightforward night most supporters were expecting as they were put through the wringer. This belongs right up there with the dramatic semi final victories over Villarreal (3-1 on aggregate in 2016/17), AS Roma (7-6 on aggregate in 2017/18) and Barcelona (4-3 on aggregate in 2018/19).
° Another final. Liverpool are now through to a 10th European Cup/Champions League final. That three of those have come under Jürgen Klopp sums up the job the German has done. Real Madrid/Manchester City await in Paris on 28th May. Number 7 awaits.
° What next? There’s no time to celebrate as Antonio Conte’s top four chasing Spurs visit Anfield on Saturday. The Reds at least have an extra day to prepare as they seek to wrestle the Premier League title away from Manchester City. Four league games and two huge finals left in this season of seasons.