Liverpool will be aiming to book a place in the final of the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League when they face Villarreal in Spain this week.
As we enter the final month of the 2021/22 season of European football, Liverpool have kept their hopes of an unprecedented quadruple alive and kicking. The Reds have already won the Carabao Cup and will be facing Chelsea in the FA Cup final later this month. They are very much in the picture for the Premier League title, with just one point separating Jurgen Klopp’s brigade from Manchester City.
Moving to the UEFA Champions League, Liverpool already have a foot through the door to the finals. The Merseyside giants secured a hard-fought 2-0 victory over surprise package Villarreal in the first leg of their semi-final tie last week to all but confirm their progression. They must now avoid complacency and get the job done in a professional manner when they visit Estadio de la Ceramica this Tuesday night.
Liverpool have not lost a game in any competition since their Round of 16 second-leg defeat to Inter Milan in the Champions League. Currently on a 12-game unbeaten streak, Klopp’s men head into Tuesday’s clash on the back of a 1-0 victory over Newcastle United in the Premier League.
Following the first leg loss at Anfield, Villarreal suffered another defeat, losing 2-1 to Deportivo Alaves in La Liga. However, Unai Emery’s men have shown that they cannot be taken lightly, having eliminated Bayern Munich in the previous round. Currently on a 12-game unbeaten run at home in all competitions, the Yellow Submarine have the wherewithal to put up a strong fight and make things difficult for Liverpool.
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“We need to find excellence in our play. We need to do something that no-one has done this year: beat Liverpool by more than two goals. We need to find more weaknesses than other teams have done."#UCL
— Villarreal CF English (@VillarrealCFen) May 2, 2022
Former Liverpool defender Alberto Moreno will be unavailable for Villarreal for the midweek clash. But there is some good news, as Unai Emery expects key forward Gerard Moreno to be available for selection. Raul Albiol and Francis Coquelin have also returned to training and are in contention, but Yeremi Pino and Arnaut Danjuma are doubts after missing training on Monday.
The home team will line up in their 4-4-2 formation, with two blocks of four sitting in front of the goalkeeper. While the La Liga giants are usually known to take a pragmatic approach, it will be interesting to see how they go about things as they look to overturn their two-goal deficit at El Madrigal.
Geronimo Rulli will man the goal for Villarreal, who will be protected by the centre-back pairing of Albiol and Pau Torres. Juan Foyth and Pervis Estupinan ought to be the two full-backs who will likely have a more attacking outlook than usual.
Dani Parejo will don the creative hat in the centre of the park, with Etienne Capoue holding down the fort and looking to provide added protection to the defence. The major threat, though, will likely come from the wide areas where Samu Chukwueze and Danjuma, if fit, will look to exploit the spaces left behind by the Liverpool full-backs.
If Danjuma is not fit enough, Manu Trigueros could find himself slotting in on the left. Instead of a traditional two-pronged strikeforce, Emery could deploy Giovani Lo Celso in a free role behind main striker Moreno. Boulaye Dia and Paco Alcacer are options from the bench at Emery’s disposal.
Probable Lineup (4-4-1-1): Rulli; Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Estupinan; Chukwueze, Capoue, Parejo, Danjuma; Lo Celso; Moreno
Roberto Firmino has been ruled out of the clash by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, even though the Brazilian has travelled to Spain. Divock Origi is back in contention after recovering from an illness. Having rested some of his players for the weekend clash against Newcastle United, Klopp is expected to field his strongest XI at El Madrigal.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 2, 2022
Alisson Becker is a guaranteed starter between the sticks, while Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ibrahima Konate should start in place of Joe Gomez and Joel Matip. Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson should complete the Liverpool backline that will aim to keep Villarreal at bay on Tuesday night.
Fabinho ought to return to the starting lineup, slotting in at the base of the midfield from where he will look to thwart the hosts’ attacks. He is likely to have support from Naby Keita, who should start after an impressive display at the weekend, while Thiago Alcantara should return after being benched for the weekend. Jordan Henderson ought to drop out of the lineup.
Mohamed Salah is certain to be reinstated to the starting XI. The Egyptian ought to take up the right flank while Sadio Mane should occupy a central role against the Yellow Submarine. January signing Luis Diaz, who continues to impress, should hold on to his place in the side. Diogo Jota will be an option from the bench.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konate, van Dijk, Robertson; Keita, Fabinho, Thiago; Salah, Mane, Diaz
- Following their 2-0 victory in the first leg at Anfield, Liverpool could win both legs of a knockout stage tie against Spanish opposition in the European Cup/UEFA Champions League for only the second time after 2008/09 (vs Real Madrid).
- Villarreal have lost two of their three meetings with Liverpool in European competitions. However, they did defeat the Reds in their only home game against the Premier League giants.
- Liverpool are aiming to reach their tenth European Cup/Champions League final. It would see them become only the fourth side to reach double figures for final appearances after Real Madrid (16), Bayern Munich (11) and AC Milan (11).
- Villarreal are unbeaten at home in the UEFA Champions League knockout stages, although they have won only two of their seven such matches (D5).
- Liverpool have won all five of their away games in the Champions League this season. They have scored 15 goals in those games while letting in only five.
Player to Watch
Gabby Agbonlahor on the Ballon d’Or:
"We will probably look at Benzema and Lewandowski, but I’m looking at Sadio Mane. He’s won the AFCON, got a chance of winning the Premier League, has won the Carabao Cup and could win the FA Cup and Champions League." #awlive [talksport] pic.twitter.com/N1T5LES0rW
— Anfield Watch (@AnfieldWatch) April 27, 2022
The Senegalese speedster is enjoying a fine season with Liverpool. In 45 matches in all competitions, Sadio Mane has scored 20 goals and set up three more. The 30-year-old has netted four times in the Champions League, including once in the first leg against Villarreal.
In total, Mane has scored 14 goals for Liverpool in the knockout stages of the Champions League so far. He is just one shy of equalling Frank Lampard’s record for most goals scored for an English club in the knockout stages of the competition (15 for Chelsea).
With the chances of a quadruple alive and him leading Senegal to the Africa Cup of Nations triumph earlier in 2022, Mane finds himself in the conversations for the Ballon d’Or this season. He will be hoping to further his chances by leading Liverpool to the finals of the Champions League.
Villarreal 0-2 Liverpool
Villarreal are a formidable team, especially at home, where they have not lost even once in their last 12 games across all competitions. However, they will be coming up against a Liverpool team, gunning for glory on all fronts and are showing that they have what it takes to go all the way.
Villarreal will make things difficult for Liverpool, but given that they are chasing the game, there could be spaces open at the back, which Jurgen Klopp’s men should pounce upon. The Hard Tackle predicts another 2-0 win for the Reds, setting up a final date with either Manchester City or Real Madrid.