Jurgen Klopp’s side showed once again why they are easily one of the best teams in football today when they beat Villarreal 2-0 at Anfield in their Champions League semi-final first leg.
Going away to Liverpool right now is a daunting task for anyone, let alone a club with less spending power than Burnley.
However, despite losing the first leg, the Yellow Submarine are by no means out of this tie.
How exactly will Unai Emery hope to turn things around in the return leg in Spain?
The reigning Europa League champions and their big game coach have plenty of giant-killing experience.
While this situation is slightly different to their quarter-final second leg against Bayern Munich, we may see them employ similar tactics in an attempt to pull off something even bigger.
Emery’s men dug in and stood firm in that tie, registering just two shots on target across both legs to achieve one of the most famous victories in their club’s history.
The key difference is that last time around they went into the second leg defending a 1-0 lead. This time around they will be attempting to come back from two goals down.
Nonetheless, there are reasons to be concerned for Liverpool. For a defensive outfit that doesn’t score a tonne of goals, they have surprisingly registered an effort in all but one of their Champions League home fixtures this season. They scored at home against Juventus and Bayern Munich, both of whom they eliminated.
Emery will be dreaming of a 2-0 win and extra time. Three goals will surely be beyond his team. They will need to go one better than they did against the Italian and German giants, while also keeping a clean sheet. It’s going to be tough but it’s possible.
Tactically they are likely to line up in a very similar way to how they did at Anfield. Emery will know that if Liverpool score in Spain, the tie will be over.
His limited attacking resources will struggle to score twice against one of the best defences in the game, marshalled by arguably the best centre back in the world, to do so three times will be as close to impossible as can be.
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However, one thing that would help his team immeasurably would be the return of their talismanic striker Gerard Moreno, whose hamstring injury (as reported by The Athletic) will leave his club sweating over their star man’s fitness ahead of a crunch meeting with the Reds next week.
One point, which some of the English media’s less informed pundits failed to grasp, is that it’s pretty foolish to go and compete toe-to-toe against a team light years ahead of you without your best player.
Moreno isn’t only a superb goal threat for the Yellow Submarine, he also does a lot to bring other players into the game and help the team keep possession.
The defensive nature of Villarreal’s performance in midweek should have surprised no one but this is a team which usually keeps the ball very well and does carry a threat at the other end.
The key problem the Spaniards had was getting out of their own half. This was partly down to the superbly suffocating press of the Liverpool front-three and midfield three, but Villarreal also suffered without the man they can usually rely on to hold the ball up.
Moreno is said to be on the way back, and assuming he is anything close to fit, he will be included in the starting lineup.
If he can get up to speed quickly, he will be that crucial out-ball for his team. They will use him, they will get up the pitch, they will keep the ball, they will create chances.
Villarreal will still resist the temptation to be reckless. Despite being 2-0 down, there’s no point “having a go” if it’s almost certainly going to lead to you losing 3-0 or 4-0.
They will stay compact, regimented, deny Liverpool space and be as resolute as they were for practically the whole 90 minutes at Anfield, either side of the two goals.
The key difference will be that on the rare occasion that they actually get possession, they will stand a much better chance of keeping it, advancing up the pitch and creating chances, something which they are much more capable of doing than they showed in the first leg.
It’s no accident that they have scored against and eliminated some of Europe’s brightest in the past two seasons on their way to winning the Europa League and reaching a Champions League semi-final.
This is not a Spanish Burnley, with all due respect to Burnley. Villarreal are not only a very well organised defensive unit, they have the technical ability and tactical awareness to break and score goals.
If Liverpool aren’t careful, they might be the latest team to be on the end of a phenomenal Champions League comeback, like the one they themselves masterminded against Barcelona, and the several others which have unfolded in the latter stages of the competition during the last half-decade.
Nonetheless, Klopp and his team are likely to show Villarreal the utmost respect and play to the absolute best of their ability.
The overwhelming odds are with Liverpool to reach the final. Nobody should doubt that.
However, if for one second they underestimate their plucky opponents, if Moreno can drag his team forward, if the home crowd can inspire their heroes to make history, and if Villarreal can score first, anything can happen in this beautiful game we all love.
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