Having defeated arguably the strongest team left in the competition in the last round, Liverpool look well set in their semi-final show down with Villarreal. The first leg, which takes place in Spain on Thursday night, is sure to be a tough test but the experience of holding Borussia Dortmund, in the Westfalenstadion, to a 1-1 in the quarter-final, will hold the team in good stead.
However, there have been injury problems leading up to the game at El Madrigal and Jurgen Klopp has a number of first team players missing. Both Emre Can and Jordan Henderson have already been ruled out for the remainder of the season. Since then, Divock Origi has picked up an injury, thanks to a dreadful challenge from Everton defender, Ramiro Funes Mori. Defender, Mamadou Sakho, is out of contention, pending the outcome of a failed drugs test.
With this in mind, Klopp is likely to partner Kolo Toure or Martin Skrtel, the latter being somewhat out of sorts, with Dejan Lovren at the heart of the defence. Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva will be operating in the holding midfield area, with James Milner and Adam Lallana playing further forward. With Christian Benteke unavailable due to injury and also out of favour, Daniel Sturridge will carry the goal scoring burden alone up-front, with support from Philippe Coutinho. Roberto Firmino may have to settle for a place on the bench but could come on to make an impact later in the game.
In terms of form going in to the match, things were looking rosy at half-time against Newcastle. With Liverpool 2-0 up, following the great 4-0 win over Everton, confidence travelling to Villarreal was seemingly high but an error from Simon Mignolet soon put pay to that. With Jack Colback finding an equaliser, it seems like two steps forward and one step back at the present time. Still, Liverpool are unbeaten in the Europa League this season and the form of the opposition, Villarreal, is not great.
The Yellow Submarine have struggled ever since they defeated Sparta Prague in the quarter-final. Defeats at Rayo Vallecano and Real Madrid, was followed up on the weekend with a home 0-0 draw with Real Sociedad. Despite these results, Villarreal are still a force to be reckoned with on their own turf and have lost just three times at El Madrigal this season, in all competitions. Furthermore, their defensive record at home is excellent and they have kept sixteen clean-sheets to date. It’s clear Villarreal will be a tough team to break down in their own stadium and the crucial away goal, could be difficult to come by. In regard to playing personnel, Villarreal look set to be without defender Mateo Musacchio and left-back, Juame Costa, with Tomas Pina, Samu Castillejo and Roberto Soldado also struggling.
Interestingly, Villarreal look set to claim Champions League football through their finishing position in La Liga this season, whereas for Liverpool, they need to win the Europa League for that to happen at Anfield in 2016/17. Therefore, Liverpool may be under more pressure to win the match but also have that extra motivation to do so. Furthermore, Villarreal’s form of late has shown a dip and there are signs of tiredness, towards the end of a long season.
There have been 7 goals in the six away Europa League games Liverpool have been involved in this season and Villarreal have conceded just once at home, in their six home Europa League games in the current campaign. This suggests a tight contest is in prospect and it could be the chance Daniel Sturridge has been waiting for, to impress his manager. There is no doubt Sturridge has the ability to score goals and Klopp will be looking towards the England man to provide Liverpool with an away goal to take back to Anfield.
Liverpool have drawn all three of the away legs in the knockout stages of the Europa League this season and there is every chance the same outcome will occur on Thursday night. Anything from a 1-1 draw or more, would be good but the key, is to break Villarreal down, at least once and have an away goal to take back for the second leg. As we know, anything is possible on a European night at Anfield.