Liverpool survived an almighty scare in the return leg of
their Champions League semi-final against Villareal on Tuesday night as Jurgen
Klopp’s side overcame a valiant first-half effort to beat the Spanish side 3-2
at El Madrigal and 5-2 on aggregate.
The Reds saw their first-leg lead wiped away in the first
half, with Boulaye Dia and Francis Coquelin netting for the hosts to make it
2-2 on aggregate. However, Luis Diaz’s introduction at half-time proved to be
the catalyst for Liverpool’s revival as the Colombian inspired the Reds to a
miraculous second-half comeback to secure their third Champions League final
appearance in the past five seasons.
Taking a 2-0 lead from the first leg at Anfield, Liverpool
were immediately put on the back foot by Villareal as Unai Emery’s side pulled
one back within the first three minutes when Boulaye Dia converted Etienne
Capoue’s cross into an empty net. Dia’s opener inspired the partisan crowd at
El Madrigal and spurred on the home team, who produced wave after wave of
attacks to suffocate Liverpool.
The Reds failed to muster a single shot on target in the
first half, and the constant pressure from Villareal eventually paid off, with
Francis Coquelin scoring the Yellow Submarine’s second goal of the night in the
41st minute. The former Arsenal midfielder ghosted into the penalty
area before out-jumping Trent Alexander-Arnold at the far post to slot his
header into the top corner and bring the Spanish side on level terms on
Villareal entered the break with momentum firmly on their
side, but the script flipped in the second half when Liverpool brought on Luis
Diaz for Diogo Jota. The Colombian international instantly spurred on the
six-time European champions, who grew in stature as the game wore on while the
intensity of the Villareal press weakened. The Reds eventually found the goal
they needed in the 62nd minute when Villareal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli allowed
a Fabinho strike to squirm through his legs to make it 3-2 on aggregate.
Things went bad to worse for the shot-stopper in the second
half as he committed another couple of errors to hand Liverpool a second-half
victory. Substitute Luis Diaz headed Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross between
Rulli’s legs before the goalkeeper was caught out once again for the third,
with Sadio Mane calmly slotting it into an open net after the Argentinian had
inadvertently charged out of his penalty area.
Following this victory, Liverpool await either Manchester
City or Real Madrid in the final in Paris on May 28th, with the hopes of a
quadruple very much still alive.