Liverpool braced for Villarreal storm
In his press conference yesterday, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp joked that a younger version of himself would have been furious just to be asked whether this semi-final tie is already over.
He has seen too much, both he and Liverpool involved in too many comebacks – usually as perpetrator – from more perilous positions than the one Villarreal find themselves in, to entertain that kind of talk.
Still, Klopp’s team selection for Saturday’s trip to Newcastle suggested that beneath the obligatory lip service, cliched chatter of it being “only half-time”, he genuinely feels the job is not done, with Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara all rotated for what was a must-win game.
Click here for Malik Ouzia’s full pre-match preview…
It wasn’t particularly pretty, but Liverpool got the job done at Anfield last week.
A 2-0 lead on aggregate puts them in complete control and means Villarreal, at some point at least, will have to really go for it.
Would be a surprise if that happened right from the off though…
Villarreal’s gameplan totally failed at Anfield, with no shots on target, barely any possession and next to no opportunities to hit on the break.
Untroubled Liverpool were entirely comfortable and should unquestionably have won by more as they serenely controlled and dominated proceedings.
The wily Emery will have to make big tactical changes for the second leg as they need to put Liverpool under far more pressure from the outset.
However, their chances of breaching a mean defence that have now kept four successive clean sheets across all competitions appear slim.
Villarreal need to push on and take the initiative in front of their own fans, which will inevitably leave plenty of space in behind for the likes of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Luis Diaz to exploit.
Liverpool to win, 2-0.
Liverpool team news
Liverpool will remain without Roberto Firmino tonight, though the Brazilian forward is now back running after nursing a foot issue and is set to travel to Spain with his team-mates.
Divock Origi will be assessed after missing the win over Newcastle through non-Covid illness, though Curtis Jones and Kostas Tsimikas are available again.
Klopp made five changes in total at St James’ Park, with Mohamed Salah, Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ibrahima Konate all moving to the bench.
That quintet should return to the starting lineup against Villarreal, though it’s a difficult juggling act with Tottenham visiting Anfield on Saturday evening and the FA Cup Final against Chelsea now less than two weeks away.
Klopp is not expecting any players to miss out with a stomach bug that has been in camp of late.
Predicted Liverpool XI: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Konate, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Thiago; Mane, Salah, Diaz
Villarreal team news
Villarreal boss Emery made eight changes against Alaves over the weekend, with only Samuel Chukwueze, Dani Parejo and Pau Torres retaining their starting berths from Anfield.
Former Liverpool full-back Alberto Moreno remains sidelined with a long-term knee injury, but a major boost should come with the return of key striker Gerard Moreno, who sat out the first leg with a hamstring complaint.
Raul Albiol and ex-Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin have both shaken off knocks, though Arnaut Danjuma is now struggling with a foot problem after missing training on Monday.
Predicted Villarreal XI: Rulli, Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Estupinan, Parejo, Capoue, Coquelin, Lo Celso, Chukwueze, Gerard
How to watch Villarreal vs Liverpool
TV channel: In the UK, the semi-final second leg will be televised live on BT Sport 2 and BT Sport Ultimate, with coverage beginning at 7pm.
Live stream: Subscribers will also be able to watch the match online via the BT Sport website or app.
Live blog: You can also follow all the action tonight right here with us!
Hello and welcome to Standard Sport’s LIVE coverage of Villarreal vs Liverpool in the Champions League!
It’s the second leg of the semi-final tie, with Liverpool taking a 2-0 lead to Spain after last week’s comfortable win at Anfield.
Villarreal will have to be much improved tonight – Unai Emery has vowed that the Reds will ‘suffer’. We’ll see!
We’ll have all the latest updates and team news ahead of kick-off, which comes at 8pm BST from the Estadio de la Ceramica.