LIVERPOOL 3-0 VILLARREAL
Liverpool have made it to the FINAL round of the European competition known as the “Europa League”.
This in fact is not a new competition, despite the fact that it’s only been known as the Europa League since 2009. The UEFA Cup was running for many years (since 1971), but we are British record holders for most UEFA Cups won under both the new name (“Europa League”) and the old name (UEFA Cup). The only European team to have won it more than Liverpool is Sevilla, who we will be facing in the Final. Liverpool have never been “runners up” in this competition though, every time we’ve reached a UEFA Cup Final, we’ve won the trophy.
The starting lineup would include Daniel Sturridge and Emre Can, most notably. Can recently returned from injury and would make his way straight back into the side upon his being fully fit once more. Fans had wanted to see Sturridge in the previous fixture against Villarreal and it seems Klopp may have noticed the mass requests to have him playing. He went from unused substitute to a part of the starting 11 lineup. He can and usually does make a positive difference to the games he plays in, when chosen.
Liverpool started this game encouragingly. We would go forwards towards their penalty area on a regular basis. The players knew that the 1 goal advantage from the first leg in Spain had to be overcome and they swiftly went about doing just that. It would take only 7 minutes to level the aggregate scoreline. Now both teams had a single goal scored at their home stadium.
The first goal was judged to have been an own goal in fact. There was a ball played forward by Emre Can and then a cross put in by Firmino across the goal from within the penalty area. The ball would come to Daniel Sturridge who was inside the 6 yard box, though the ball shot at close range may have hit Villarreal defender Bruno Soriano before going into the net.
Aggregate score: Liverpool 1-1 Villarreal.
Liverpool now had what they needed for at least making it to extra time and penalties, though we didn’t play like a team who wanted to wait for 90 minutes to get to play an extra half hour of football before going into a shootout that either side could win, with a little luck. We looked like we wanted to get the second goal which would help us qualify within the regular 90 minutes of play. A second goal would not be seen until after the half time break.
By this time, fans were very confident. We could FEEL the victory coming, even though we’d not scored enough goals to lead the game on aggregate yet.
Liverpool went out there and continued to dominate the possession and furthered their chances of getting another much needed goal. Around the 63rd minute Roberto Firmino would play a brilliant through ball from just outside of the penalty area to Daniel Sturridge, who was waiting on the inside of the box, not far from the penalty spot. He coolly collected the ball, picked his spot as the goalkeeper came towards him and put the ball in the bottom right corner of the net with his left foot. Aggregate score: Liverpool 2-1 Villarreal
Sturridge could now officially claim a goal of his own, with no possibility of it being labelled as an own goal instead of scored by him. The only Villarreal player to touch the ball at all before it went into the net was the goalkeeper, though he couldn’t stop it going past him.
Liverpool now led on aggregate and could have safely gone a little more defensive, with a view to just winning 2-1. However they still kept their attacks going just as often and looked to score again. A goal by Villarreal would have been devastating, even at this point where we’d scored twice. Had they scored and brought the aggregate scoreline to 2-2 and also claimed an away goal, they could have qualified without even winning. The draw would have seen them reach the Final. Thankfully, our goalkeeper was doing splendid every time he had to deal with an attack, making multiple saves throughout the entire game. Our defenders did their part too, shutting down most players who were moving too close to our goal for shots. The back lines of defence deserve a huge amount of credit, for keeping a clean sheet in a European fixture that would have given an advantage to the side scoring away goals.
So, a third goal would make things more comfortable and less nerve-wracking for fans and players alike who wanted to make sure that even if Villarreal scored one away goal, they still wouldn’t qualify.
By the 71st minute, there was a Villarreal player booked for the second time and forced to leave the pitch as Victor Ruiz was shown his second yellow card for a bad foul. He’d already received a yellow card in the first half and had been making some very tough tackles on Liverpool players throughout the game. The referee had cautioned him, but he’d not learned his lesson and so the match official felt it necessary to dismiss the player eventually. This really gave Liverpool a bit of an edge, we really didn’t see any of their ten men now getting even a single goal any more, though we still looked for our third goal.
Firmino was particularly dangerous, pressing ever forwards to create chances for himself and his teammates. Around the 81st minute, just ten minutes after Villarreal had Ruiz sent off Firmino ran down the left wing. He brought the ball far towards the left edge of the penalty area, almost running the ball out for a goal kick. However it would not be a goal kick as Firmino pulled the ball back sharply to Daniel Sturridge. Sturridge took a quick shot on goal (I’m pretty sure he wasn’t trying to make a pass to a teammate) which didn’t ever make it all the way to the net or even the goalkeeper as Adam Lallana had been just in front of Sturridge. Lallana turned, collected the ball that had come from Sturridge’s foot and took a shot which saw Lallana beat the Villarreal goalkeeper from close range. Aggregate score: Liverpool 3-1 Villarreal
With a two goal lead, it wouldn’t have mattered if Villarreal scored an away goal at Anfield any more. Not that we were just going to sit back and let them do that. We’d consistently keep attacking for the rest of the game (only 9 minutes and 4 minutes of extra time) until finally, Liverpool had won on aggregate, 3-1.
As mentioned earlier, Sevilla won their Semi Final and qualified for playing in the Europa League Final against Liverpool.
Man Of the Match?
Tricky, because both defensive and offensive players did so well in this game and many of the players deserve high praise. Toure and Lovren and Mignolet were great at the back while at the other end of the pitch Daniel Sturridge could have had a hat trick if the own goal by Bruno Soriano was credited to him and Lallana hadn’t collected Sturridge’s shot that was going towards goal anyway. But, one player that didn’t even score still made a great impact on the game.
Roberto Firmino was involved in the build up to all three goals Liverpool scored and was a consistently dangerous player for us throughout the entire fixture. His displays of magical football were astounding at times, he dribbled past everyone that came to challenge him with great skill that he makes look easy, yet it’s truly the highest skill levels of professional football. His unselfishness saw him give assists to his teammates instead of shooting and going for goal himself most of the time, though when he does shoot it’s always trouble for the goalkeeper who has to work hard to save the Brazilian’s efforts to score. He was part of the attacking force that kept Liverpool dominating Villarreal and never giving up until we had the goals we needed to qualify for the Europa League Final. I’m naming Firmino Man Of The Match.
Liverpool still have more games to play before the Europa League Final happens. We’ve got Watford to play next in Premier League action on Sunday.
I hope you enjoyed our latest comeback at Anfield, which saw our fans become the 12th man throughout the whole game and motivate our team to success, as we know well how to do. You’ll Never Walk Alone, Anfield Family.
[written by] Stuart Drewery.
I’m an Englishman (born and raised in Liverpool in the 80s). My whole family including my parents and grandparents were Liverpool fans so I was born into being a red.
I’ve seen Liverpool win the league (more than 25 years ago) and I’ve been 100% loyal and committed while supporting the Reds through all the good times AND the bad times since the 80s.