“Villarreal were swamped by the Liverpool press and barely coped,” says Tim Stappard. “Unai Emery is extremely good but he can’t give his team more time. Benfica troubled them more, and it’s a weak Benfica too.”
That second sentence is great, and so neatly put. I knew Manchester United should have appointed Neo as their new manager.
Presented without comment On BT Sport, Michael Owen has just announced that Virgil van Dijk is the greatest centre-half of all time.
“I will unavoidably miss the first half tonight,” writes our resident Liverpool supporter Matt Dony, “so I’ll get all my groaning negativity in early doors. It all seems a little ‘too’ comfortable. Villarreal are a very good side (they’re in the semi-finals of the Champions League, for goodness sake!), and 2-0 isn’t exactly the world’s most astonishingly comprehensive lead.
“Yes, Liverpool should go through. But the level of confidence in certain areas of social media is hubristic and fool hardy. The abolishment of the away goals rule is absolutely a good thing. But I’d quite like to bring it back in tonight. Who do I need to speak to?”
I’ve been trying to make sense of this as well. I’ll be honest, I’m expecting a quiet night in the MBM dungeon, and I think that’s due to the manner of the first leg rather than the scoreline. It reminds me of that old line about album reviews: “Sure, they gave you 6/10, but it reads like an 8.”
The first leg was a 2-0 that read like a 4-0, which is why most of us think Liverpool will progress comfortably. That and because they are formidably good. But as a neutral I would love extra-time, penalties, the whole shebang.
The weather in Villarreal has been atrocious for the last 48 hours, which could make life interesting for the goalkeepers. The pitch is sodden but apparently there’s no danger of the game being abandoned.
The excellent Gerard Moreno returns to the Villarreal side, but they are without the injured Arnaut Danjuma. That’s a big blow. Moreno for Danjuma is one of two changes from the first leg at Anfield. The other is also up front, where Boulaye Dia is in for Samuel Chukwueze.
Jurgen Klopp also makes two changes from last week’s first leg: Naby Keita and Diogo Jota replace Jordan Henderson and Luis Diaz.
Villarreal (4-4-2) Rulli; Foyth, Albiol, Pau Torres, Estupinan; Lo Celso, Capoue, Parejo, Coquelin; Moreno, Dia.
Substitutes: Asenjo, Jorgensen, Mario Gaspar, Alcacer, Iborra, Chukwueze, Trigueros, Pena, Mandi, Moi Gomez, Pedraza, Aurier.
Liverpool (4-3-3) Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konate, van Dijk, Robertson; Keita, Fabinho, Thiago; Salah, Jota, Mane.
Substitutes: Kelleher, Milner, Gomez, Henderson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jones, Minamino, Tsimikas, Diaz, Origi, Matip, Elliott.
Referee Danny Makkelie (Netherlands)
A year is a long time in association football. On 3 May 2021, Liverpool were seventh in the Premier League and seven points off Champions League qualification. Now they are two games away from a seventh European Cup and could be seven games (plus one Manchester City drawfeat) from an historic quadruple.
Football is a never-ending tale of the unexpected, a thought that will sustain Villarreal ahead of tonight’s match at El Madrigal. The first leg was so one-sided – a 2-0 that felt like a 4-0 – that most neutrals think Liverpool are as good as in the final already. It’s not a view that will be shared in the away dressing-room or the away end. Liverpool’s legend has been built on glorious European comebacks, from Juventus in 1965 to Barcelona in 2019, so they know all about the madness of the second leg.
If Liverpool get the first goal, it’s over. If Villarreal score it, all bets are off.
Kick off 8pm.