VILLARREAL, Spain — Liverpool continue their quest for the quadruple. Although they can now prepare for a 10th Champions League final later this month, against Manchester City or Real Madrid in Paris, it took another display of the club’s incredible resilience in European competition on Tuesday. to seal a 3-2 win over Villarreal at the Estadio. of the Ceramica.
Jurgen Klopp’s side were so poor in the first half – overrun, overrun and overtaken by their Spanish opponents – that goals from Boulaye Dia and Francis Coquelin gave Villarreal a 2-0 lead which nullified both goals from Liverpool. advantage from last week’s first leg. Liverpool’s three touches in the Villarreal penalty area before half-time were their lowest in a first half of the entire season in all competitions.
Had referee Danny Makkelie awarded the home side a 37th-minute penalty – four minutes before Coquelin’s header – after goalkeeper Alisson Becker appeared to bring down Giovani Lo Celso, Liverpool could have trailed 3 -0 at halftime, their threatening season. implode before a blizzard of 23,000 yellow flags.
But Klopp’s decision to replace Diogo Jota with Luis Diaz at the break turned the game in Liverpool’s favor as the Colombia winger transformed his side’s approach from submission to aggressive ambition.
Diaz ran to Villarreal, defused his pace in the first half and put Liverpool in control of the game. By the time Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli gave Klopp’s side a helping hand with a string of costly mistakes, Diaz had turned the tide and made it inevitable for Liverpool to reach a third Champions League final in five seasons.
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“Coming back like we came back in the second half was really special,” Klopp said. “Luis (Diaz) had a huge impact – Diogo Jota wasn’t the problem in the first half, we had 11 problems. We just needed to mix it up a bit. I wanted the players to be monsters of mentality from the first minute, but Villarreal took all the risks in the first half and we had a football problem to solve.
“We reached a final, but three of the competitions are not finished yet. The finals appear in our calendar and we have to be ready for them, but it’s going to be difficult.”
While the record books will show Liverpool went to Paris with a 5-2 aggregate win, progress to the final was all but certain at half-time at the small Villarreal stadium.
Liverpool completed the so-called ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ as they fought back 3-0 against AC Milan to win the 2005 Champions League final, and they overturned a 3-0 first leg deficit with a 4 win. -0 at Anfield against Barcelona. in the 2019 semi-finals, so a second-half comeback against last season’s Europa League winners still has a ways to go to match their previous epic nights of glory.
But that victory and performance will go down in Liverpool folklore as it provided proof of qualities often overlooked due to the world-class quality of Klopp’s squad.
To achieve great things, all athletes or teams must overcome some sort of adversity along the way, and it was undoubtedly a test of Liverpool’s determination and fighting spirit.
Liverpool were swinging badly in the first half. Villarreal manager Unai Emery had sent his team out with a game plan to relentlessly pressure Liverpool and put pressure on their defence. In midfield, Etienne Capoue (sent off for a second 85th-minute caution), Dani Parejo and Francis Coquelin were outstanding, while Lo Celso found space to dig holes in the Liverpool defence.
Up front, Gerard Moreno and Dia tormented Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate. Villarreal also took advantage of gaps on Liverpool’s right, where Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold failed to perform their defensive duties. Dia’s third-minute opener after Capua was sacked gave Emery’s side the belief that they could hurt Liverpool and they dominated the game, Coquelin making it 2-0 in 41 minutes.
It led to arguably Klopp’s most important half of the season, and he went ahead to introduce Diaz, who has been a sensation since his £50million signing from Porto in January.
With Diaz striding down the left, Liverpool began to gain possession and create chances, and they reclaimed the overall lead when Fabinho ran through Rulli’s legs in the 62nd minute.
Five minutes later, Diaz headed in an Alexander-Arnold cross to make it 2-2 on the night and 4-2 on aggregate before Sadio Mane completed the scoring in the 74th minute after Rulli came out of his box and misses the ball badly.
From being on course for elimination, Liverpool had turned things around within half an hour and it was simply down to the manager’s audacity and the team’s ability to step up a gear.
Only the best teams can do it so quickly and to such devastating effect – and Liverpool are in that bracket. But so do Manchester City and Real Madrid, who meet in Madrid on Wednesday to decide who will face Liverpool on May 28.
Real have had their unforgettable comebacks this season, against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea, but City have yet to be tested in that way. If it comes to Liverpool taking on City in Paris, however, there will be no question marks over the mentality of Klopp and his players – and the opposition will know it too.
That’s why this win at Villarreal was so important. It sent a message to others that Liverpool never know when they are beaten and could end up with four trophies this season because of it.
No English team has ever won the quadruple – the FA Cup, Carabao Cup, UEFA Champions League and English Premier League – in one season, but Liverpool have come convincingly close.