By Daniel Ghorbal
Champions League semi finals are special occasions for team time, but for Villarreal, nights such as this and ties of this magnitude are to be cherished in their ever growing history. After dramatically beating Manchester United in last season’s Europa League final on penalties, this season has been the clubs first ever in the Champions League and they have defied the odds by reaching the final four and really stamping their authority as a top side.
Many people disrespected them going into the last 16 tie with Juventus, and likewise Bayern Munich who they managed to knock out of the quarter finals. Now, an enticing semi-final with Liverpool awaits them and one thing is for certain, Jurgen Klopp and his players will be more than aware of the huge threat that the Spanish visitors pose.
If you were to look at the Villarreal squad on paper, although some quality names stand out such as Pau Torres, Gerard Moreno and Arnaut Danjuma, the real mastermind behind this extensive Champions League campaign is Unai Emery, a man who is seen as somewhat of a joke amongst English fans after his tenure at Arsenal. Emery is a shrewd tactician who approaches every game with a different game plan as opposed to keeping his side play the same way each time.
They like to get on the ball and make things happen in positive areas, but as we saw against Bayern Munich they can also mix things up and play on the counter-attack. By doing this, they were able to score a quite sensational goal in the Allianz Arena which won them the quarter final tie.
Neat and tidy midfielders such as Capoue, Parejo and Lo Celso provide the team with real balance and composure and on such an emotional night for the club and at a world famous ground, keeping cool heads and not getting carried away by the occasion will be vital. Neutral fans see this as a straightforward Liverpool victory, but an appreciation of what has been a remarkable campaign is necessary and as this is just the first leg, a clear game plan to frustrate Liverpool will be operated with the aim to take things back to the second leg next Tuesday.
On many an occasion, teams come to Anfield and completely capitulate before they even get a chance to have a positive return leg, but Emery’s composure as a coach will reflect onto the team and this will be a tricky tie for Liverpool to navigate.
Going forward, Villarreal aren’t exactly free-flowing but do have several attacking players that have the quality to turn up on the big decision. Just 12 months ago, Arnaut Danjuma was scoring in a championship play-off semi final, and now he is about to line up in the semi-final of the Champions League and as one of the key men in helping the Yellow Submarine achieve such greatness. Danjuma typically operates on the left-wing/ through the middle and has been linked to Liverpool repeatedly over the last 18 months.
Known his pace and trickery, with the high-line in operation, the timing of his runs will be crucial to the overall outcome of the game. Although away goals are not in operation, getting on the scoresheet will provide Villarreal with real encouragement in the overall picture of the tie.
Overall, Villarreal reaching the semi-finals of Europe’s elite competition is an achievement that will be engraved into their history, but now they are here they will mean business and will want to show the world exactly what they’re about. Already, players of the club have spoken out about how they feel being disrespected helped them win, with potential complacency standing in the way of both Juventus and Bayern Munich, but they know that Liverpool is a completely different kettle of fish and this will be a real test of their nous.
Keeping things tight in the first half and giving themselves a genuine shot of making it a second-leg to remember will be the main goal of Emery, whilst also looking for inventive and smart ways of breaking the lines. Anfield will be vibrant for yet another massive european night, and the atmosphere between the two sets of fans will be cracking for a special occasion.