Europa League semi-final 2nd leg preview: Liverpool v Villarreal
Adrián López’s late goal at El Madrigal gave Villarreal a narrow lead in their Europa League semi-final against Liverpool, but the Reds will be confident of going through to the final.
A tight match was settled by López’s tap-in when left-back Alberto Moreno was caught out of position, but the tie is finely balanced ahead of Thursday’s decisive second leg at Anfield.
Liverpool will certainly be inspired by the memory of their dramatic victory against Borussia Dortmund in front of their own fans in the last round.
Jürgen Klopp’s men trailed 3-1 but launched a stunning comeback to win 4-3 thanks to late goals from Mamadou Sakho – now suspended by the club after failing a drug test – and his defensive partner Dejan Lovren.
Fantasy football players will be eagerly awaiting this tie – but what should they be looking for when selecting their Europa League fantasy football teams?
Klopp admitted he was surprised at the way Villarreal played in the first leg at El Madrigal.
“If you watch a few more Villarreal games you will see that usually they play completely differently – usually they are much more dominant,” he said.
“You can’t be fourth in the Spanish league without being a really good side that plays football – it’s not all about the counter-attack. There were a few points in the game when you could see this and we had to defend and find stability.”
In return, Marcelino accused Klopp of setting up Liverpool to try and stifle his side to claim a draw.
“We left our opponents with few chances of scoring a goal. They came for a draw,” he said.
“They will be hoping for a different outcome at Anfield. There, they are very intense in attack. For us, I don’t think there will be much difference. We’ll have to defend well and press high.”
The form book
Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 11 matches at Anfield, a run dating back to January, so Klopp’s side have a lot of reasons to be upbeat that they can book a place in the final despite trailing.
The Reds have also won their last four Europa League games at Anfield, although three of those victories were by a single goal, which may not be enough to knock out Villarreal on Thursday.
Liverpool are the 1973, 1976 and 2001 UEFA Cup winners, while Villarreal have never been beyond the semi-final stage of the competition, losing in the last four in 2003/04 to Valencia, then being beaten by FC Porto in 2010/11.
Villarreal have lost their last two away games and have only won twice in their last 12 matches on the road, although a draw at Anfield would be enough to send Marcelino’s men into the final.
The Yellow Submarine are unbeaten in their last five away games in the Europa League and, in fact, they have not lost any of their previous 12 matches in the competition.
Fantasy players to watch: Liverpool
Daniel Sturridge’s Liverpool future appears to be up in the air after the striker was left on the bench for the first leg, with Klopp explaining that he needed to select a line-up that could defend as a team.
Sturridge has regularly drawn criticism from Klopp, who is perhaps trying to motivate the England international, but with Divock Origi injured the 26-year-old will surely start at Anfield. Sturridge has scored 11 goals in just 21 appearances in yet another injury-affected season for the striker, but he can be picked up at $4,700 on DraftKings in their latest round of King of the Pitch satellites.
Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana, James Milner and Origi are tied with just two goals as Liverpool’s top goalscorers in the competition, while Milner’s three assists has him top of the pile. Sakho’s suspension could mean Lucas Leiva is asked to fill in alongside Lovren in the back line.
Fantasy players to watch: Villarreal
Villarreal defender Víctor Ruiz is one of only two players to have played every minute of this season’s Europa League from the group stage – the other is Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Denis Suárez is top of the assists rankings in this year’s Europa League with seven assists, while Cédric Bakambu has hit nine goals in the competition so far.
Former Tottenham striker Roberto Soldado may have flopped badly at White Hart Lane, but he is a valuable player for Villarreal and a fine foil for Bakambu, scoring two goals and providing three assists so far in this season’s Europa League.