By Daniel Ghorbal
Travelling to Spain with a healthy advantage, Liverpool know that by avoiding defeat or even losing by one, they will be a European finalist once again. Throughout Klopp’s tenure, complacency has never been an issue for a group of players that have the best mentality possible, and for a game of this magnitude those standards won’t drop tonight. It would be easy for Jurgen to look at the opposition and think ahead to Saturday’s crunch premier league game against Tottenham, but a man of his prestige and respect will understand that this will be no easy ride and the reds have a job to do tonight.
In the first-leg, to say there was a huge gap between the two sides would be an understatement. Villarreal, understandably so, reserved any attacking intentions in order to keep things tight, and by losing just 2-0 they give themselves a fighting chance in the home-leg. On the night, Liverpool were superb and played free-flowing football, taking the game away from the visitors with a strong second half flurry.
The only disappointment Klopp will have on the night is that his side didn’t go for the jugular, but such reservations of energy paid dividends as Liverpool went to Newcastle and overcame a potential banana skin with a high tempo display. Coming into this second-leg, the likes of Fabinho, Thiago, Alexander-Arnold and Salah will have fresh legs and against a side with some injury issues as of late, the rest against Newcastle could help set the tone tonight. One massive advantage Liverpool have on top of the score line is the amount of experience they have within the ranks of these types of nights, Villarreal will understandably bring an energy to the early stages, backed by a raucous crowd in a tightly compact stadium.
Liverpool’s current squad have bags of nous and understanding of how to deal with the big occasions, so remaining professional and not getting sucked into the atmosphere should not be an issue.
With regards to personnel, Villarreal have a couple of injury concerns with key-men Raul Albiol and Arnaut Danjuma doubts to make this one. Both suffered recent knocks and are touch and go for the biggest game in the clubs’ history, but Emery has confirmed that they will be assessed on the day of the game.
Although Danjuma was unable to really hurt Liverpool at Anfield, he undoubtedly has the technical ability to produce a moment of magic, and in games of this significance sometimes that is all it takes. Likewise, Lo Celso was busy in the first-leg and if he can produce the qualities that saw him make a big move to Tottenham Hotspur, then he can certainly unlock the door and get the Yellow Submarine on the scoresheet.
Most importantly for Emery, a key cog and talisman Gerard Moreno could potentially be passed fit for the hosts which would be a massive bonus for their attacking output. He is far and away Villarreal’s most prominent goal scorer across the past few seasons, and has impressed admirers across Europe. Operating on either flank or down the middle, his instincts in the box are second to none and he tends to capitalise on any lapses of concentration. With such high stakes, Liverpool need to ensure that their awareness of the aforementioned Villarreal forwards is maintained throughout.
Fortunately for the Spanish side, away goals do not count and therefore if they are to concede to Liverpool early on it is important they don’t drop their heads and throw the towel in. Emery should remind the group of how far they have come to get to this point, getting there through patience, tactical efficiency and hard-work.
It would be uncharacteristic of them to lose all structure in an attempt to stage a remarkable comeback, and therefore the game plan will probably remain as look to contain Liverpool and hit them on the counter-attack. With Dani Parejo and Ettiene Capoue fine passers of the ball, he will be making sure they are always on the look out for forward runners to try and break the lines. On a couple of occasions at Anfield, if it wasn’t for the precision of a Van Dijk organised high-line then they could definitely break the trap and present themselves with some opportunities on goal.
Overall, this is an occasion for Villarreal that they will want to keep engrained in their memories forever. Even if they are to lose the tie, doing themselves justice and potentially picking up a positive result on the night will be the absolute minimum that Emery demands.
Liverpool have the ability to take games away from any club in the world, so the fact that the team 7th in La Liga are still in the tie is a credit to them and how far they have come. The stadium will be rocking ahead of kick-off, and the unpredictable nature of football ensures that this will be a thrilling European tie regardless of the circumstances.
Predicted Villarreal team: Rulli, Foyth, Torres, Albiol, Pedraza, Capoue, Parejo, Danjuma, Chukwueze, Moreno, Dia