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5 talking points as Liverpool reach Champions League final after staging Villarreal comeback


Liverpool have reached their third Champions League final in five seasons after staging a stunning second half comeback victory over Villarreal.

Fabinho, Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane were all on target for the Reds after the break as they sailed through to the final in Paris, where they will play the winners of Real Madrid’s clash against Manchester City on Wednesday.


The Reds were overwhelming favourites to progress to the final thanks to last week’s two-goal victory over the Spanish side at Anfield, whenever Jurgen Klopp’s side were dominant from start to finish. Yet they were left rocking from the start as Villarreal made the fast start that they needed.

In the third minute, Boulaye Dia gave the home side the lead after a cross from Pervis Estupinan found Etienne Capoue and the former Tottenham and Watford midfielder laid it on a plate for the Senegalese forward to coolly find the net.

It was a moment that the Reds struggled to respond to with all the first half pressure coming from the home side; Giovanni Lo Celso went down in the area under a challenge from Reds goalkeeper Alisson Becker, but play was waved on. Moments later, Villarreal doubled their lead on the night to draw level on aggregate as former Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin guided a header from Capoue’s cross beyond Alisson and into the net.


However, the home side’s energy levels appeared to drop significantly after the break with Liverpool enjoying much more possession and carving out opportunities. Just after the hour mark, Fabinho found space inside the area and his low shot went through the legs of Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli.

It was a goal that entirely deflated the home crowd and it was all one-way traffic for the remainder of the match. Second half substitute Diaz – who inspired the comeback – headed home the equaliser on the night as Rulli again let the ball go in through his legs before the Argentine shot-stopper completed his hat-trick of errors as the Reds grabbed a third. Mane ran through on goal and Rulli inexplicably rushed out, was beaten by Mane – who added the killer third goal. Capoue – who had provided the assists for both Villarreal goals – was sent-off with five minutes remaining for a second yellow card to rub salt into the home side’s wounds.


Here are the five talking points from an evening of ups and downs at El Madrigal in Spain.

Liverpool show mettle

Having been overwhelming favourites to progress at the start of the night, Liverpool had arguably their most concerning half of the season in the opening period as Villarreal rushed into a deserved two-goal lead.

5 talking points as Liverpool reach Champions League final after staging Villarreal comeback

Yet, as they almost always do, the Reds roared back. Substitute Luis Diaz was the difference as the hosts ran out of steam and had no response to the visitors comeback. The Colombian headed home the second with goals from Fabinho and Mane either side. After their worst 45 minutes of the campaign, the second half was vintage Liverpool under Klopp.

Reds rocked by fast start

Both teams were unrecognisable from last week’s first leg at Anfield, where Villarreal barely managed to get out of their own half never mind come close to scoring a goal. Within three minutes, they halved the deficit here and after having a strong penalty shout turned down, they grabbed a second before the break.

5 talking points as Liverpool reach Champions League final after staging Villarreal comeback

While it was the Spanish side who could barely string two passes together in Liverpool due to the home side’s intense pressure, those roles were entirely reversed at El Madrigal with Klopp’s side rocked by the home side’s swift transitions and attacking the space behind the full-backs. No other side had left Liverpool looking as stunned as this all season, although the visitors recovered impressively after the break.

Coquelin comes up trumps

English football fans will remember Francis Coquelin for being a useful, if somewhat limited, squad player at Arsenal. The holding midfielder clocked up 160 first-team appearances for the Gunners, but somewhat tellingly – never scored a goal for the club.

5 talking points as Liverpool reach Champions League final after staging Villarreal comeback

Indeed, before Tuesday night’s clash – Coquelin had only scored four goals in his professional – of which two came in 2010 and 2013. This goal – a looping header from Etienne Capoue’s cross – was just his third goal of the last nine years. His previous goals had come at four different clubs: Lorient, Freiburg (loan), Valencia and Villarreal. It is safe to say tonight’s was his most memorable yet, even if it came in an eventual defeat.

Emery’s Euro genius runs out

Emery won all 12 knockout ties during his tenure at Sevilla, won each of his four at Arsenal and again triumphed in each of the four for Villarreal last season. The caveat to that was that each of those ties was in the Europa League, with Emery’s only previous Champions League experience being the underwhelming Paris Saint-Germain stint.


Yet this season the Spaniard guided Villarreal to the Round of 16 victory over Juventus, easing past the Italian club 4-1 on aggregate, before masterminding the sensational triumph past Bayern Munich. Excluding that spell in Paris, Emery had ahead of this game won 22 two-legged knockout ties across Sevilla, Arsenal and Villarreal – with the win over Bayern his finest achievement yet.

Going into this tie, he had won his last 10 successive semi-finals as a manager and it was no surprise that his side made a thrilling contest of this, even against the odds.

Klopp overcomes Spanish stumbling block

Jurgen Klopp was instilled as Liverpool boss in 2015 and the only sides who have eliminated his side from European competition have been from La Liga.

5 talking points as Liverpool reach Champions League final after staging Villarreal comeback

In 2016, it was the Europa League final against Sevilla (at the time by managed by Unai Emery, his adversary again on Tuesday) and the following year the club were not in Europe. In 2018 they fell shy in the Champions League final against Real Madrid before winning the trophy the following year, while Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid have inflicted their European exits since.

He may have feared a repeat of this when his side trailed by two goals at the break, but his impressive side blew their opponents away after the break.


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