Villarreal 2 – 3 Liverpool

Liverpool overcame a valiant performance by Villarreal to book a third Champions League final in five seasons with a 3-2 victory at El Madrigal to complete a 5-2 aggregate win on Tuesday night.

The six-time European champions saw their first-leg advantage wiped out in the first half as Boulaye Dia’s third-minute opener was added to by Francis Coquelin, who outjumped Trent Alexander-Arnold to float a header into the top corner (41).

But Fabinho restored Liverpool’s advantage in the tie when his near-post shot flashed through Geronimo Rulli (62). It turned the tide as the inspired substitute Luis Diaz restored the visitors’ two-goal cushion from Alexander-Arnold’s cross (67).

Villarreal celebrate Boulaye Dia's early goal in the second leg against Liverpool
Villarreal celebrate Boulaye Dia’s early goal in the second leg against Liverpool

It was a very dominant second-half display from Jurgen Klopp’s side, who capitalised on further dubious goalkeeping as Sadio Mane nipped in front of the roaming Rulli, rode the challenge of Juan Foyth to stroke into an unguarded net (74).

There was still time for Etienne Capoue to be sent off in the final five minutes following a second bookable offence on Curtis Jones as Liverpool march onto the Paris showpiece in 25 days’ time, where history might await.

Yet more history for Liverpool – Opta stats

Liverpool have become the first ever English club to reach the final of the European Cup/Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup in the same season.

Villarreal had never lost (P7 W2 D5) or conceded more than once at home in the knockout stages of the Champions League before tonight. They are only the second side to lose a Champions League semi-final match despite leading by 2+ goals at half-time, after Ajax vs Spurs in 2018-19.

Liverpool have reached their 10th European Cup/Champions League final, the fourth side to reach the competition showpiece on 10+ occasions, after Real Madrid (16), Bayern Munich (11) and AC Milan (11).

Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp has reached the final of the Champions League for the fourth time as a manager, now the joint-most of any coach in the competition along with Alex Ferguson, Carlo Ancelotti and Marcello Lippi.

Liverpool have scored 139 goals in 57 games in all competitions in 2021-22, their highest ever total in a single season in their club history.

Emery true to his word as Reds made to suffer

Francis Coquelin celebrates levelling the Champions League semi-final tie against Liverpool
Francis Coquelin celebrates levelling the tie

This was the epitome of a game of two halves. It will be viewed as a missed opportunity in Spain for Villarreal after an opening 45 minutes in which Unai Emery was true to his word and Liverpool duly suffered. The hosts embarked on a walk of honour at the final whistle with the city proud of a team dwarfed by the resources of their opponents.

“We never make these Champions League semi-finals easy for ourselves,” Alexander-Arnold told BT Sport. “Thinking back to Roma away and Barcelona at home and now here. It was very difficult and they played very well in the first half. But we regrouped at half-time and did what we needed to do.”

Player ratings

Villarreal: Rulli (4), Foyth (5), Albiol (6), Torres (6), Estupinan (6), Lo Celso (6), Parejo (6), Capoue (6), Coquelin (7), Gerard (6), Dia (6).

Subs: Alcacer (6), Chukwueze (5), Trigueros (n/a), Pedraza (6), Aurier (n/a).

Liverpool: Alisson (6), Alexander-Arnold (7), Konate (6), van Dijk (6), Robertson (6), Keita (6), Fabinho (7), Thiago (5), Salah (6), Mane (7), Jota (5).

Subs: Milner (n/a), Henderson (n/a), Jones (n/a), Tsimikas (n/a), Diaz (8).

Man of the match: Luis Diaz.

For all their struggles in this enthralling second leg, Klopp’s side – in the midst of a defining month in their season and indeed their history – are potentially just 90 minutes away from a seventh European Cup.

The Estadio de la Ceramica had been battered by torrential rain throughout Tuesday, and the aptly named Yellow Submarine showed early signs of derailing Liverpool’s quest for an unprecedented achievement.

The conditions proved a leveller as the hosts were given plenty of encouragement by halving the deficit.

Boulaye Dia struck within three minutes
Boulaye Dia struck within three minutes

Pervis Estupinan was afforded too much time by Naby Keita to cross from the left, and after Capoue had ghosted around the back of Andrew Robertson, Virgil van Dijk was caught flat-footed as Dia pounced to tuck home the former Tottenham midfielder’s miscue for his first ever Champions League goal.

Team news

Liverpool brought back their big guns for their Champions League semi-final second leg in Villarreal as Jurgen Klopp made five changes.

Mohamed Salah, Thiago Alcantara, Fabinho, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ibrahima Konate – all rested for Saturday’s win at Newcastle – returned as the visitors looked to book their third European Cup final in five seasons.

Villarreal, hoping to become just the second side to overturn a two-goal first-leg deficit in a semi-final after Liverpool’s famous comeback from 3-0 down against Barcelona in 2019, were boosted by the return of striker Gerard Moreno.

On a night of fine margins, Liverpool needed to look after the ball better but a slack header by Keita enabled Gerard Moreno to feed Giovani Lo Celso only for the Argentine to run into Alisson, who got the ball first with referee Danny Makkelie waving away penalty claims.

It would only prove a short reprieve as Villarreal would level the tie before the interval as Pau Torres’ long diagonal was collected by Capoue and despite the attentions of Robertson, a cute turn and cross found Coquelin rising above Alexander-Arnold at the far post to glance home a sensational second.

Jurgen Klopp cuts a dejected figure at El Madrigal
Jurgen Klopp cuts a dejected figure in the first half

Liverpool toil but Diaz proves catalyst again

Luis Diaz's introduction galvanised Liverpool
Luis Diaz’s introduction galvanised Liverpool

Liverpool needed to come out fighting in the second period having had three touches in the Villarreal penalty area for their lowest first-half total in all competitions this season.

Swapping game-changer Diaz for Diogo Jota for the start of the second half made an immediate improvement, allowing Mane to play centrally, where he has done well recently.

Alexander-Arnold very nearly re-established Liverpool’s advantage when his strike from distance following a quick free-kick looped off Coquelin and clipped the crossbar.

Fabinho continues purple patch – Opta stats

After scoring only three goals in 122 appearances in his first three seasons with Liverpool, Fabinho has scored eight times in 45 matches for the Reds this season. His goal today was his first in the Champions League since March 2017 vs Manchester City while still with Monaco.

Villarreal pair Boulaye Dia and Francis Coquelin both scored their first ever Champions League goals in this match. This is the first time two players’ first ever goals in the competition have arrived in a semi-final while playing for the same team since Robert Spehar and Philippe Leonard for Monaco vs Juventus in April 1998.

Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold has assisted 18 goals in all competitions this season, the third most of any player in Europe’s big five leagues after Thomas Müller (21) and Kylian Mbappé (19).

Sadio Mané has scored 15 goals for Liverpool in the knockout stages of the Champions League, equalling Frank Lampard (Chelsea) as the player with the most goals in the knockout stages of the competition for an English team.

Two minutes later, Alexander-Arnold was again involved as he found Sadio Mane in space down the right but Diaz was unable to connect cleanly with a scissor-kick from the ensuing cross.

Villarreal looked like they had expended all their energy and with Liverpool’s next attack, they nudged ahead to land a huge psychological blow. Capoue committed himself to challenging Salah, who observed the space in behind to feed Fabinho. The error-prone Rulli anticipated a cross to create space at his near post but the Brazilian would blast through the goalkeeper’s legs.

Fabinho celebrates restoring Liverpool's aggregate lead
Fabinho celebrates restoring Liverpool’s aggregate lead

Liverpool fans could finally smile and after Diaz had seen a shot deflect just wide, the Colombian restored his side’s two-goal lead in the tie as his downward header from Alexander-Arnold’s cross again went through the legs of Rulli.

It was now one-way traffic and after another poor error of judgement from Rulli, Mane kept his composure to end any hopes of a dramatic ending as he latched onto a long ball to slide home his 15th Champions League knockout goal.

The win stretches Liverpool’s unbeaten run to 13 games in all competitions. A 43rd success of the season extends a club record for most victories in a season. Liverpool look a team of destiny even when not at their best – is there anyone who can stop them?

What’s next?

Liverpool’s hectic schedule continues as they host Tottenham in the Premier League on Saturday at 7.45pm knowing they cannot afford to slip up if they are to catch Manchester City.

The Champions League final takes place on May 28 at Saint-Denis’s Stade de France in Paris, against either Real Madrid or Manchester City.

Liverpool’s fixture schedule:

May 7 – Tottenham (H) Premier League

May 10 Aston Villa (A) Premier League, live on Sky Sports

May 14 – FA Cup final vs Chelsea

May 17 – Southampton (A) Premier League

May 22 – Wolves (H) Premier League

May 28 – Champions League final

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