Jürgen Klopp will be hoping to conjure another Anfield miracle when his Liverpool side entertain Villarreal in the second leg of the Europa League semi final on Thursday night.
Adrian Lopez’s injury time strike gave Villarreal a narrow 1-0 win over Liverpool in the first leg of the Europa League semi final at El Madrigal. The Yellow Submarines will be in buoyant spirits after Sunday’s 2-0 win over Valencia guaranteed them a place in next year’s UEFA Champions League qualifying draw.
Liverpool, on the other hand, endured a torrid Sunday afternoon in South Wales as they were comprehensively beaten by Swansea City. An exit from Europe at the hands of Villarreal on Thursday will bring the curtains down on a frustrating campaign for Jürgen Klopp and his Liverpool side, who lost to Manchester City in the final of the League Cup and currently occupy 8th place in the league table.
Klopp heads into Thursday night’s season defining clash at Anfield with a spate of injuries and suspensions to contend with. Divock Origi, Jordan Henderson and Joe Gomez are ruled out for the season while Emre Can and Danny Ings have returned to light training. French centre-back Mamadou Sakho has been banned for 30 days from all competitions after failing UEFA’s drug test in the aftermath of Liverpool’s win over Manchester United in the Round of 16 of the Europa League a couple of months ago.
Daniel Sturridge, who played 90 minutes at the weekend against Swansea, is likely to join fellow striker Christian Benteke on the bench with Jurgen Klopp likely to deploy Roberto Firmino up top against Villarreal. Kolo Toure will continue at centre-back alongside Dejan Lovren in the absence of Sakho, with Alberto Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne occupying the full back berths. Joe Allen and Lucas will protect the back four behind Coutinho, Milner and Lallana in attacking midfield positions.
Possible Starting XI (4-3-2-1): Mignolet; Clyne, Toure, Lovren, Moreno; Allen, Lucas; Coutinho, Lallana, Milner; Firmino.
Marcelino’s Villarreal outfit have conceded more than twice only six times in 53 matches this season and haven’t lost in Europe since 17th September, 2015. Unlike Klopp, Marcelino has a fully fit squad to choose from after the club revealed that Eric Bailly and Leo Baptistao have recovered from their injuries that kept them out of the first leg.
Marcelino had the liberty to rest several first team players such as Mario Gaspar Pérez, Victor Ruiz, Denis Suarez, Bruno Soriano and Cedric Bakambu during the weekend. All of them are expected to make the starting XI against Liverpool at Anfield on Thursday.
Possible Starting XI (4-3-2-1): Areola; Mario, Bailly, Ruiz, Costa; Santos, Soriano, Suarez, Trigueros; Soldado, Bakambu.
Players to watch out for
While the Brazilian duo of Coutinho and Firmino have made the headlines in recent weeks, the excellent performances put in by English midfielder Adam Lallana have gone relatively unnoticed. Lallana is an essential cog in Jurgen’s Klopp’s midfield. He has the ability to regulate possession, make runs into the box from midfield and find defence-splitting through balls. He also has the knack of scoring crucial goals for his side when needed. The Villarreal midfield will do well to keep tabs on Lallana on Thursday.
With all eyes on Europa League top scorer Cedric Bakambu in the first leg clash between the two sides, it was his team mate Denis Suarez who stole the show at El Madrigal last week. Suarez put in a fantastic performance throughout the match as he dictated the pace of play from the middle of the park. His industry and vision were instrumental in handing Villarreal the all important goal against Liverpool at home. His final pass set up the Adrian Lopez winner deep into injury time. Liverpool and Klopp will surely be making special preparations to keep the Spanish midfielder in check during the 2nd leg.
Liverpool 2-1 Villarreal*
Buoyed by their remarkable come-from-behind win against Borussia Dortmund in the previous round, Liverpool will be favourites to edge past Villarreal at Anfield. However, the Merseysiders have found it increasingly difficult to keep a clean sheet at home in recent encounters. Although the Yellow Submarine are hardly prolific in front of goal, they will be confident of breaching Liverpool’s porous back-line at least once on the night, especially without the presence of Sakho in central defence. Liverpool will manage to win on the night, but Villarreal’s away goal will shatter Jurgen Klopp’s hopes of winning a European trophy in his first season at the club.