Liverpool will be up against Villarreal in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final at the Anfield Stadium on the 28th of April. Liverpool are six-time winners of the Champions League while Villarreal forced an upset against Bayern Munich in the previous tie and are in search of their maiden Champions League crown.
Jurgen Klopp may have unnerved several Liverpool fans when he decided to rotate heavily in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal against Benfica at Anfield. All eyes were on Benfica’s talismanic striker Darwin Nunez during the trip to Merseyside.
The in-demand Uruguayan striker delivered on the occasion with a goal, but Liverpool also found a way to carve through the Portuguese side’s backline of Jan Vertonghen and Nicolas Otamendi with the scoreline ending in a 3-3 stalemate with Ibrahima Konate and Roberto Firmino’s brace helping the hosts avoid defeat at home.
That was enough to secure Liverpool’s passage to the next round of the competition, as they had earlier secured a 1-3 victory in Portugal. Ibrahima Konate, Sadio Mane, and Luis Diaz had found the back of the net for Klopp’s team on that occasion.
With just a month to go before the curtains are drawn on the 2021-2022 European campaign, Liverpool are still in the hunt for an unprecedented quadruple achievement. They could add up to 4 trophies to their already glittering trophy cabinet under Jurgen Klopp. Liverpool trail Manchester City by a single point in the Premier League title race and it is the only competition in which their fate remains out of their hands for now.
Divock Origi, who is expected to leave Liverpool this summer, had one last hurrah when he came off the bench and scored against Everton in the Merseyside Derby. Full-back Andy Robertson had earlier broken the deadlock while Origi headed home late to secure all three points as Liverpool remain within touching distance of City at the top of the table.
For the first time in their history, Liverpool are taking part in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League, the FA Cup as well as the EFL Cup in a single season. While there might be some necessity for caution to the fact that Liverpool had failed to defeat both Benfica and Inter Milan during the knockout legs at the Anfield Stadium, Klopp’s men have been fantastic on the road and have got the job done in the away legs.
The first leg against Villarreal at the Anfield will be Liverpool’s eighth game in a hectic month of April, where they’ve had to rotate heavily in order to deal with fatigue and exhaustion. However, Klopp’s men have managed to score at least two goals in every single game since the beginning of the month. With that being said, they will be wary of the threat of Villarreal, who are now being labelled as the giant-killers after they caused a massive upset against Bayern Munich in the previous round.
Villarreal manager Unai Emery is well aware of trips to England, having served a year and a half as Arsenal head coach. This time around, however, he will be arriving while commanding plenty of respect in contrast to his tenure with the Gunners which didn’t quite work out as planned.
Emery has taken Villarreal to new heights after taking charge of the club in 2020. They won the 2020/21 Europa League after beating Manchester United 11-10 in a penalty shootout in the final after a 1-1 draw. Villarreal, ranked seventh in La Liga, have slain several European giants in the Champions League this season.
The Yellow Submarine breezed their way past Italian heavyweights Juventus with a 1-4 aggregate scoreline, which included a 0-3 win in Turin. They then secured a 1-0 first-leg win against Bayern Munich at home, where the margin of victory could well have been greater. Unai Emery’s side then held the fort at the Allianz Arena and left with a 2-1 aggregate success after Samuel Chukwueze scored in the 88th minute in response to Robert Lewandowski’s opening strike.
There will be no shortage of confidence in the Villarreal camp as, despite being labelled as the underdogs in their previous two rounds of the Champions League, they have come out on top with flying colours. They will travel to Merseyside with plenty of optimism about their chances of securing a positive result. Villarreal will also back themselves to get the job done at home in the return leg. The Yellow Submarine are also building some consistency in La Liga with consecutive wins over Getafe and Valencia recently.
Villarreal have won three and drawn one of their four Champions League games away from home since losing to Manchester United back in September last year. Unai Emery’s men have also found the back of the net in all of those encounters on the road.
However, their previous semi-final appearance in the Champions League, was in the 2005-06 season which ended in a defeat to English opponents Arsenal. The Spanish club have also met Liverpool twice before in the semi-finals of the Europa League. They had secured a 1-0 win at La Ceramica before getting bundled out 3-0 at Anfield in the away leg.
LIV vs VIL, UEFA Champions League 2021/22
Date: 28th April, 2022
Time: 12:30 AM IST
Venue: Anfield Stadium, Liverpool
Liverpool UEFA Champions League form:
Liverpool form (all competitions):
Villarreal UEFA Champions League form:
Villarreal form (all competitions):
Liverpool wins: 1
Villarreal wins: 1
Liverpool Team News: Jurgen Klopp’s rotations have worked immensely well and despite a hectic schedule, the Liverpool squad looks in tip-top shape unlike last season. Roberto Firmino is, perhaps, the lone doubt for the home side after he missed the all-important Merseyside derby with a foot injury.
Besides this, Klopp has a full-strength squad available and has plenty of options to choose from for his starting XI. He might be tempted to start with Ibrahima Konate in central defence after he found the back of the net in both legs of the quarter-finals against Benfica. Konate was also on the scoresheet against Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final.
Although Jordan Henderson and Luis Diaz started on the bench against Everton this weekend, they might be restored to the starting XI as well. Klopp might be tempted to not go all-out against Villarreal in the home leg and continue to rotate his players.
Meanwhile, Mohamed Salah, who will lead the frontline once again, needs just four more goals in the Champions League to set a new record for English clubs in the competition. Only Sergio Aguero and Didier Drogba (36 goals each) have scored more than the Egyptian’s 33 in this competition.
Villarreal Team News: Former Liverpool left-back Alberto Moreno will not have the chance to feature against some of his old teammates as he continues to recover and recuperate from a ruptured cruciate ligament. Star striker Gerard Moreno, who has proven to be the respite for the Yellow Submarine on several occasions, is also set to miss this clash in a potentially fatal blow to the side.
There’s a chance that he might return for the second leg of the contest in Spain but has been ruled out of this trip to Merseyside. Meanwhile, Francis Coquelin has been regaining fitness after training with the group and might be reinstated back into the XI.
Unai Emery might have a headache trying to figure out his frontline in the absence of Gerard Moreno. The likes of Samuel Chukwueze, Yeremi Pino, and Manu Trigueros will all be battling to take up places alongside Arnaut Danjuma, who has been linked with Liverpool in recent months.
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Thiago; Salah, Mane, Diaz
Villarreal possible starting lineup:
Rulli; Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Estupinan; Parejo, Coquelin, Capoue; Lo Celso; Chukwueze, Danjuma
If recent history is anything to go by, there is no way that Liverpool can take Villarreal lightly despite the apparent gulf in quality between the two squads. Juventus were thumped in their own ground by the Yellow Submarine while Bayern Munich failed to get past them convincingly at the Allianz Arena and Klopp’s men cannot make the same mistake.
With that being said, Gerard Moreno’s scoring instincts, holdup play as well as playmaking qualities will be a huge miss for Villarreal, especially in the final third of the pitch where they will need to be ruthless in order to get past the likes of Van Dijk and Konate. It won’t be surprising to see Liverpool get the better of the visitors, but they must remain patient and take their chances well.