Villarreal 1-0 Liverpool
Liverpool have now experienced their first defeat in this season’s Europa League. From early in the group stages, Liverpool had started well and even continued to do as well later in the knockout rounds, only drawing or winning their games against such teams as Bordeaux, Sion, Rubin Kazan, Augsburg, Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund. Villareal have just become the first team to beat us in the competition so far.
This fixture was always looking like a goalless draw, to be honest. Villareal had a few dangerous attacks but they most spent their time defending so tightly that getting enough space for a shot on goal became extremely difficult for Liverpool. Most attacks were met with a defender directly in front of our player (and the ball), who was blocking the way to goal. Quite reminiscent of Chelsea’s “bus parking” tactics where Chelsea would use at least eight of their players (including midfielders) as defenders, while only two other outfield players at most would be positioned in the opponents half. An extremely defensive formation. You could call it 8-1-1, pretty much. 8 defenders, 1 midfielder and 1 striker. At times even the midfield was empty, only the striker was up in an attacking position and it would be 9-0-1 formation.
Fernando Torres is the only attacking player in this defensive 9-0-1 formation, where 9 of Chelsea’s players are used as defenders. If they want to make an attack at all, they have to kick the ball far up the pitch to the single striker, while keeping a large portion of the team (9 of 10 outfield players) still in their own half.
Villareal did not play THAT defensively, they still had at least 3 midfielders and 2 strikers all in their natural positions. But their back line of defense was still very tight. They were quite successful in forcing Liverpool backwards. It’s a style of play that uses pressure to not directly take the ball from the opponent, but to just make them scared enough of maybe losing the ball to start passing the ball backwards, to your own defenders or goalkeeper. It worked for quite a large part of the game. Liverpool were often seen moving the ball backwards instead of forwards and it became very frustrating to watch. We needed to be up in our opponents half, making dangerous attacks. Though we had the ball with our team for far longer than our opponents, possession really means nothing if you’re not using it to get the ball to your attackers and make a shot on goal for scoring.
Our lineup for this fixture wasn’t too different from earlier victorious lineups which had faced other opponents and won. With Mamadou Sakho currently unavailable for selection due to an ongoing investigation by UEFA (see http://www.anfieldfamily.com/sakho-fails-drug-test/ for more information on that), Kolo Toure would be the central defender that replaced him at the back. Coutinho and Firmino were the two strikers in the 4-4-2 formation, though Coutinho can play within the midfield so often it can become 4-5-1 at times. He’s versatile and that’s a good thing, though. Midfielder, Striker, he can help Liverpool’s squad out by just playing where he is needed most. Other strikers in the squad included Christian Benteke and Daniel Sturridge.
Despite a fairly strong offensive lineup, no goals were scored at all by Liverpool. Some of the best chances to score included a Joe Allen right footed shot at around only the 5th minute of the game.. this went directly towards the Villareal goalkeeper but if it had gone either side of him, it’s unlikely that he’d have had enough time to move and save it from such a close range.
A bit later on, James Milner would put a wonderful through ball to Adam Lallana who ran past the last defender and was even “fouled” by that last defender who brought him down as he drew close to the goalkeeper and readied for a shot but the linesman had already raised his flag for offside. It was shown again on TV and the replays had shown Lallana was actually level to the last defender when the ball was played to him by Milner. He was not in an offside position, though the match officials had judged him to be so. If they hadn’t ruled it as offside, they’d most likely have had to call a foul by the defender who brought him down and at least given a yellow card. Liverpool were unlucky that this did not happen.
Coutinho had a shot that went high and wide within the first half. He looked genuinely disappointed in himself. We’ve seen his shots go smashing past the goalkeeper in other games, though. It’s just a shame when they’re not on target and they smash into the crowd in the stands instead of smashing the back of the net for a goal.
Nearing the end of the first half, Liverpool looked a little frustrated as many of their chances to score were just met with a defender’s body blocking the shot. Nathaniel Clyne had been given the ball by Coutinho and had taken a powerful shot on goal, only to see the ball smack against a Villareal defender, denying him the goal that it could have been had the shot gone all the way towards the goal without hitting anyone. It became very difficult for Liverpool to make enough space and create enough time to have a shot that wasn’t blocked by a Villareal player. Their goalkeeper had less work to do than the defenders in front of him who would work hard to stop Liverpool’s attacks from going towards the goal. This would go on and on throughout the entire game.
By half time, it had been an okay performance that the manager most likely wouldn’t need to complain about. Surely he would just ask that we keep playing as we were, try to score a goal maybe. We never would get any away goals, which is quite disappointing. The half time break is sometimes used as an opportunity to make changes to the lineup, also. However despite 45 minutes of not scoring at all, Benteke and Sturridge were not chosen for use at this time. In fact the game would get so far as the 88th minute before Benteke was substituted onto the pitch for Firmino and played for two minutes of regular time and three minutes of extra time – that’s just not enough time to expect a goal from him though.
Sturridge was not used at all, which has most fans extremely confused because we needed goals and he is a known goalscorer for Liverpool. Tactically, the manager could and most likely should have used the extra strikers he had for at least half an hour of the game. If not bringing on Benteke and Sturridge at half time, wait until around the 60th minute and then make the changes that would be needed because we had scored no goals and were seeking away goals to use to our advantage in this European competition.
I think the only real explanation for why Benteke and Sturridge were not used in this way was that Klopp had put all his faith in Roberto Firmino and Coutinho had expected more from them than they would give us in the game. The Brazilians have scored for Liverpool (sometimes more than once in a single game) and the manager surely would have been thinking that they were our best chance for goals in the game, not wanting to replace them at all for this reason. If you see your side is not performing as well as it has previously though, a change is needed in order to make a positive difference and that change was not put into action by the Liverpool manager. Eventually, Coutinho had been substituted but not for tactical reasons, as it was reported he was feeling very sick around half time, needing to be replaced. He wasn’t seen back on the substitute bench again due to the nausea that he was going through unfortunately. The only positive we can take from this, is that we know it’s not anything which would keep him out of the side for very long periods of time, he’ll be back in our lineup the next time we play most likely. Jordan Ibe would be the man who replaced him as the game continued for another 45 minutes.
The second half saw more blocked or saved shots from Liverpool. Milner would shoot. Blocked. Lallana would shoot. Shot blocked. Firmino would shoot, only to have the goalkeeper save it and force it onto the goalpost just behind him. The ball just wasn’t going into the net for Liverpool. I began hoping that we would at some point in the game be fouled within the penalty area and get to take and score a penalty kick, that’s how desperate the feeling for an away goal we sorely needed became. One of our best chances in the entire game came when at around the 88th minute, Alberto Moreno had ran past the last defender with the ball, but as he came towards the Villareal goalkeeper he blasted his shot high and wide to the left hand side of the goal, not even managing to force a save from Asenjo. Moreno could have scored. Moreno should have scored. It wasn’t long after this missed opportunity that Denis Suarez ran past Alberto Moreno (disappointing our fans again in a short space of time), then played a ball across to Adrian Lopez who put the ball past Simon Mignolet in the 92nd minute to make the score Villareal 1-0 Liverpool.
Man of the Match? Kolo Toure.
Kolo Toure has recently stepped in to replace Mamadou Sakho and is doing a very good job in central defence. You could never call him lazy, he puts high amounts of effort into his performances, defending at every chance he gets to stop our opponents attackers. He works tirelessly in every game he’s a part of and has been unlucky to not get chosen more, I value this players contribution to our squad highly. We love Kolo and appreciate what he does for Liverpool when he is given his chance to play.
The Reds had deserved a goalless draw from this fixture at least. It all seemed to fall apart in the dying minutes of the game. If just a single minute of extra time was decided by match officials to be played, they may not have even had their 92nd minute goal. It was very unfortunate that the result ended as it did.
Liverpool will still be able to reach the Europa League Final however, but it will take getting an aggregate victory over Villareal when they make the journey to Anfield on May 5th.They’ll look to score away goals surely and Liverpool won’t be able to draw with them. We need to win, claiming at least 1 goal if they don’t score at Anfield (which would actually only level the scoreline and put us into extra time and penalties) and at least three goals if they DO score (once) at Anfield. A 2-2 aggregate scoreline would see them qualify on away goals. The aggregate scoreline needs to see Liverpool at least one goal ahead of Villareal if we are to continue to the very last stage of this competition. Drawing 0-0 again would see them qualify. We don’t want to draw. We want and need to win. Fortunately, when Liverpool have been forced into such desperate positions where winning is essential, we do manage to not disappoint the home crowd at Anfield. Reds have seen some glorious “comebacks” at our own stadium which furthered our progress in the Europa League and brought us to where we are now. The Europa League Final is where we belong. We have worked extremely hard in this competition and making it all the way to face the last team and attempt to win a trophy is something we still yearn to achieve. It is within our grasp and we are not done yet. The fans at Anfield and around the world cheering us on from far away are officially the 12th man for Liverpool and we will motivate our side to success as we have been doing for many years. Inspire us. Sing for us. Show the love for our team and that’s all the motivation our side needs to perform the very best they can and prove their worth for all the dedicated fans.
Before this second leg Europa League Semi Final though, we have a Premier League fixture coming up very soon. We’ll play Swansea at their ground on May 1st.
Walk on with hope in your hearts, Anfield Family. You’ll Never Walk Alone.
[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