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′)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)