Liverpool look to overturn the deficit at Anfield and qualify for the Europa League final and reach one step closer to a trophy in Jurgen Klopp’s first season in-charge. The second tier European competition carries more attraction with it now as the winner gets to qualify for the next season’s Champions League. While Villarreal have secured a Champions League berth, Liverpool’s chances are slim.
Klopp’s strategy seemed to be a 0-0 score in the first leg in Spain. However, an injury time goal for the Yellow Submarines left Liverpool embarrassed. Of course, the Reds, who miraculously won against Borussia Dortmund, do have the potential to overturn the one goal deficit, but their recent form in the league has not been encouraging.
After the win against Bournemouth, the Reds lost a 2-0 lead at home to Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle side who scored two goals in the second half to take away a vital point from Anfield for their relegation battle. This was followed by the defeat at El Madrigal but the bigger disappointment came the following weekend where Liverpool lost to Swansea 3-1 in an embarrassing fashion. Granted, Klopp had set out a weak(er) team and the Reds have no incentive left in the Premier League, but considering that is the last game they play before hoping to make a European comeback at Anfield, things are a little worrying.
Here are three things Liverpool need to do to extract a result
Be patient and disciplined at the back
After Mamadou Sakho’s ban, Liverpool have struggled at the back. The Frenchman formed a good partnership with Dejan Lovren and things finally looked settled at the back for the Reds. His absence means either Kolo Toure or Lucas will start at the back, with Skrtel being pushed down the pecking order.
Breaking a mean Villarreal defence will also be tough, but if Liverpool are mean in defence themselves, they have a chance. While the visitors have an impressive defensive side to them — they’re compact and solid at the back and have conceded just 31 goals, third best after Atletico and Barcelona — they also suffer from frugality up-front. They have only scored 44 league goals.
Liverpool need to ensure Villarreal can’t get a crucial away goal and while they must play to their strengths of pressing and high intensity football and not sit back, being solid and organised in defence is of utmost importance. The full-backs can’t be lost positionally and must track back at any hint of danger. If they can imitate the quality of their opponents when defending, they’ll have a chance to progress.
Start Daniel Sturridge
Klopp has been careful with Sturridge and has been fielding him with caution. While this doesn’t come as a shock given the England international’s injury record, the fact that he didn’t use him at all in a European semi-final but featured him for 90 minutes in a dead rubber against Swansea was difficult to comprehend. Klopp has been coy about whether Sturridge will start in the second leg.
If Divock Origi was fit and running, it would make sense for the German to field the 26-year-old on the bench and use Origi in attack. However, the Belgian’s injury means Liverpool only have the out-of-form Christian Benteke as a proper striker. Roberto Firmino hasn’t been in great touch recently and doesn’t inspire confidence. Sturridge’s goal scoring skills are second to none. In a must win tie, Liverpool need their most prolific man playing a key part.
Klopp must get his midfield right
Emre Can’s return well ahead of schedule comes as a massive relief as Liverpool’s midfield had been ran over way too many times in recent weeks. James Milner can’t do as well in the central midfield role and his impact comes from the flanks. Sakho’s ban means Lucas could be deployed at the back and Allen alone isn’t enough to be the transitioning link for the Merseysiders.
Can’s return is extremely vital in this respect. The German has said that his compatriot is fit to be in the squad but whether he would start him or not remains up for question. Obviously rushing Can might be dangerous and Liverpool do have three, possibly four, games left in the season. Besides, Can also needs to be ready to participate in the coming Euros so a lot rides on his fitness.
For Liverpool to succeed on the night, their midfield needs to be set right and dominate the heart of the pitch. How he does that will show Klopp’s managerial skills.