Liverpool are through to their third Champions League final in five years after Jurgen Klopp’s side staged a second half recovery to beat a spirited Villarreal side 3-2 in Spain tonight.
The Reds went into the game 2-0 up after the first-leg at Anfield and the general consensus was that if Unai Emery’s Villarreal side were to stand any chance of securing their passage to the final they would need to score early. Much to the home crowds delight, the Yellow Submarine would do just that after three minutes, with Senegal international Boulaye Dia firing home from close-range after Etienne Capoue miscued shot landed at his feet.
Liverpool looked far from the well-oiled winning machine we see week in, week out in the Premier League and five minutes before the break a Villarreal side – unrecognisable from the opening leg – would draw the tie level on aggregate. Once again Capoue was involved, the French midfielder standing up a cross to the back post that was headed home by former Arsenal man Francis Coquelin.
However, a combination of Jurgen Klopp’s team talk and the introduction of Luis Diaz spurned Liverpool into the life and just after the hour mark they regained their aggregate lead. Brazilian midfielder Fabinho hit a rather tame effort at goal from an angle and the erratic Villarreal ‘keeper Gerónimo Rulli somehow allowed the ball to squirm between his legs and into the net.
After that it was all one way traffic and five minutes later the impressive Diaz headed home a delightful left footed cross by Trent Alexander-Arnold. On 74 minutes Sadio Mane raced clear to take advantage of more questionable Rulli goalkeeping and finished calmly to put the tie beyond doubt.
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Liverpool will now face the winners of Real Madrid and Man City in club football’s most prestigious event, and speaking afterwards Reds boss Klopp was delighted to see his side come through adversity and qualify for the final in Paris later this month.
“It is outstanding,” he told BT Sport. “We made it pretty tricky for ourselves. We knew before that these kind of things can happen. In life it is always about how you react when things don’t go your way.
”A goal conceded after two or three minutes is obviously the opposite of what you wanted. Momentum on their side. Respect to Villarreal, the team, the coach, it is unbelievable what they set up. They put us under pressure, man for man all over the pitch. We did not play football at all.
”I told the boys ‘they have momentum but they don’t own it, we can get it back’. We had to play in the spaces and force our way into a game that did not start well. All of a sudden, when we broke the lines and found spaces and were more flexible and not fixed on positions, all of a sudden we were in the game. We scored goals and made it happen.
“The thing at half-time is that we knew what was wrong, it was obvious, but we did not have a situation to show when it was right. We were calm. If Villarreal play the second half like they play the first and we do the same they will be in the final. But we are still here so I think we could give it a try. This is what we did.
“Yes I will watch it [the other semi-final]. Whoever it will be it will be massive. Whoever wins tomorrow will enjoy it and then face each other in Paris.”