Playing the kind of measured, controlled game that’s now atypical of Liverpool’s usual frenzied style, the Reds were literally seconds away from securing a well-earned goalless draw with Villarreal CF in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final tie with the Spanish side only to have disaster strike deep in to injury time.
A quick counter-attack ended with Adrian Lopez snagging a winner for the Yellow Submarine and they’ll visit Anfield tomorrow knowing that if they can grab an away goal, a spot in the final is pretty much assured — or, is it? Even before he arrived on Merseyside back in October, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp had a reputation for drilling a never say die attitude into his teams and we saw that mentality on display to the fullest extent when their memorable fight back in the previous round knocked tournament favorites Borussia Dortmund out of the competition.
The Reds could have midfield engine Emre Can back in the squad tomorrow after the influential German’s ankle ligament damage healed much quicker than expected. The trio of James Milner, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino, who were all rested in the 3-1 loss to Swansea City on Sunday, are nailed on starters barring any unforeseen problems, but the question of whether or not Daniel Sturridge will be given the nod went unanswered in Klopp’s pre-match presser.
Speaking to the press following the loss at the El Madrigal Stadium just under a week ago, the charismatic manager said that his side will go full bore in an attempt to seal a spot in the final and there was no change in the bullish mood when he addressed the media yesterday at Melwood.
“I never lost against a Spanish team in a semi-final,” said Klopp with a sly grin. “Spanish football as a package is quite impressive,” continued the German boss with a backhanded compliment ready to fly. “They are clever enough, dirty enough. Experienced, that is how they are,” he explained matter-of-factly before adding, “I know how difficult it is but I feel more the chance than I am afraid of something – so let’s try.”
Needing at least one goal to keep this tie alive, the Anfield outfit will be looking to for it from the get-go, but after being stung on the counter-attack late in the game, they’ll need to be wary of the pace and purpose Marcelino Garcia Toral’s side possess. Denis Suarez, who set-up Lopez for the winner, is almost certain to start and he should be joined by striker Cédric Bakambu in attack, though forward Leo Baptistao could be considered after shaking off a knock to rejoin training.
Having already qualified for the Champions League after securing a fourth place finish in La Liga over the weekend, the Yellow Submarine will be looking for a shiny piece of silver to cap off what’s been a hugely successful season. Compact and organized in the first leg, Marcelino’s side are going to have to be extra vigilant on Merseyside; their hosts aren’t going to sit back and let them play their game this time.
Playing in their fourth European semi-final, Villarreal will be looking to make it to the big show for the first time in the club’s history, but if Anfield has anything to say about it, they’re going to be leaving Merseyside disappointed. Discount the influence of the Kop at your own peril; Dortmund showed it the respect it deserved and they still fell by the wayside. This is a city that knows all about Yellow Submarines – including how to sink them.