Liverpool 3-0 Villarreal: Magical Reds reach Europa League Final

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Liverpool romped to a fantastic 3-0 win over Villarreal on Thursday evening, reaching the Europa League Final in the process.

Liverpool 3-0 Villarreal

Europa League – Anfield – Thursday 5th May 2016

Goals: Soriano OG (7′), Sturridge (63′), Lallana (81′)

Sent-off: Ruiz (71′)

Pre-match

Jurgen Klopp made numerous changes to the weakened team that lost 3-1 to Swansea City on Sunday, with Liverpool arguably as strong as they could be, taking current injuries into account.

Daniel Sturridge was selected up front, following much debate over whether he would again sit on the bench, while Emre Can returned to the side, after recovering from a potentially season-ending ankle injury.

Kolo Toure started at centre-back alongside Dejan Lovren, having been preferred to Lucas Leiva and Martin Skrtel, while James Milner was in central midfield in Klopp’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.

The trident of Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino supported Sturridge in attack, in what looked like a mouthwatering attacking unit.

Anfield awaited its biggest game of the season, with the Reds desperate to overturn the one-goal deficit from the first-leg. Villarreal would not be easy opponents, though.

European Football - UEFA Europa League - Semi-Final 2nd Leg - Liverpool FC v Villarreal CF

First-half

After a few early chances for the visitors – Simon Mignolet saved well to deny Mario Gaspar – Liverpool were ahead. Bruno’s scrappy own goal sent Anfield into raptures, in what was the perfect start for Klopp and his team.

It looked as though it was Sturridge’s goal on first viewing, but replays showed the all important final touch was from the Villarreal captain.

Lallana missed a glorious chance to double the lead soon after, but the Englishman dragged his effort wide after an inch-perfect Milner cross.

The pace of Liverpool’s play was relentless and inventive, and Villarreal didn’t know what had hit them in the opening half an hour. Milner and Firmino were particularly impressive.

Lovren’s header was comfortably saved by a nervy Alphonse Areola, while Nathaniel Clyne was booked for a challenge on former Tottenham man Roberto Soldado.

The Spaniard was then yellow carded himself after a reckless tackle on Coutinho, and there were increasing signs that the Yellow Submarine were losing their heads a little.

Cedric Bakambu almost stole in seconds before the interval, but the dangerous striker’s effort was tame, and trickled into the arms of Mignolet.

At half-time, the scores were level on aggregate, with Bruno’s early own goal the difference between the two sides.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, May 5, 2016: Liverpool's supporters celebrate scoring the first goal against Villarreal during the UEFA Europa League Semi-Final 2nd Leg match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Second-half

There were no changes for either side at the break.

Within seconds of the restart, Bakambu was sent clean-through, but Lovren made a tremendous challenge to deny the Congo international.

Sturridge almost pounced for Liverpool, having made a clever run into the box, while Coutinho tested Areola from close-range.

Milner showed lovely feet before firing straight at Areola from 18 yards, and Sturridge repeated the feat six minutes into the second-half.

Anfield grew increasingly tense – understandable given the occasion – with one Villarreal goal capable of completely turning the game on its head. Soldado headed wide of the target.

Manu Trigueros replaced Tomas Pina on the hour mark, as Marcelino looked for something different from his under-performing side.

Sturridge’s right-footed shot was saved by the improving Areola, but the 26-year-old scored seconds later, in what was a memorable moment for him.

VILLRREAL, SPAIN - Thursday, April 28, 2016: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino in action against Villarreal CF during the UEFA Europa League Semi-Final 1st Leg match at Estadio El Madrigal. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The striker squeezed an effort in via the inside of the post and Areola’s body, and as things stood, the Reds were on their way to the final.

Alberto Moreno shot wide, following an outrageous piece of skill by Firmino, as Liverpool looked to kill the game off as a contest.

With left 20 minutes left, Villarreal were reduced to 10 men. Victor Ruiz was shown a second yellow card after fouling Lallana, and life suddenly got even harder for the visitors.

Firmino forced Areola into yet another stop, while Moreno was a little fortunate not to concede a penalty after a silly push on Denis Suarez.

Lallana put the Reds in dreamland in the 81st minute, with the former Southampton finishing from a few yards out, after Sturridge had scuffed his shot.

A delirious Anfield sung its way to the final whistle, as Liverpool saw the game out with ease.

It was an absolutely fantastic performance from Klopp’s men, who will face Sevilla in the Europa League Final in a fortnight.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, May 5, 2016: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino in action against Villarreal during the UEFA Europa League Semi-Final 2nd Leg match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

TIA Man of the Match: Roberto Firmino

Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Toure, Lovren, Moreno, Can, Milner, Lallana, Firmino (Benteke 89′), Coutinho (Allen 82′), Sturridge (Lucas 90′).

Subs not used: Ward, Skrtel, Ibe, Smith.

Villarreal: Areola, Mario, Musacchio, Victor, Costa, Dos Santos (Bonera 73′), Pina (Trigueros 59′), Bruno, Suarez, Soldado (Lopez 68′), Bakambu

Subs not used: Asenjo, Rukavina, Samuel, Castillejo

Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary)

Up next: The Reds host Watford on Sunday afternoon (4pm BST) in the Premier League, before Chelsea visit Anfield next Wednesday (8pm).

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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