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When Villarreal’s Yellow Submarine last docked at Anfield – to be sunk by Daniel Sturridge

Liverpool are preparing to face Villarreal in the Champions League semi-finals, but what happened the last time the two sides met?

After the drama of the Merseyside derby, attention now swiftly turns to the Champions League, with Villarreal heading to Anfield for a first-leg tie on Wednesday night.

It is five years since Liverpool last faced the Yellow Submarine – and a lot has changed for both sides.

 

Klopp’s memorable first season

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, April 14, 2016: Liverpool supporters' banner "Jurgen Norbert Klopp Boss Tha" as the fans welcome the Liverpool team coach to Anfield before the UEFA Europa League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg match against Borussia Dortmund. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The 2015/16 season was a seismic one at Anfield, as Brendan Rodgers made way for Jurgen Klopp in October 2015.

There was no denying the magnitude of the appointment when it happened, but even the most optimistic Liverpool fan may not have expected such brilliance from the German in the next six-and-a-half years.

While Premier League results were hit-and-miss in Klopp’s first season in charge – they would finish eighth in the table – he made immediate inroads in the Europa League.

After a fairly forgettable 1-0 aggregate triumph over Augsburg in the round of 32, the real drama started to happen.

Liverpool were pitted against Man United for their first-ever meeting in Europe, with the idea of being dumped out by their biggest rivals not worth thinking about.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Wednesday, March 16, 2016: Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho Correia celebrates scoring the first goal against Manchester United during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 2nd Leg match at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Thankfully, the Reds prevailed 3-1 on aggregate, with a deft Philippe Coutinho finish silencing Old Trafford in the second leg, following a comfortable home win.

The quarter-finals saw one of Anfield’s all-time great nights, as Klopp came up against the Dortmund side he had left a year earlier, now managed by Thomas Tuchel.

A star-studded team that featured the likes of Mats Hummels, Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were hot favourites to progress, but Liverpool had other ideas.

Divock Origi earned Klopp’s men a 1-1 draw in Germany, before Dejan Lovren completed the most incredible of comebacks at Anfield, sealing a 4-3 victory with a last-gasp header.

That unforgettable game set up a semi-final meeting with Villarreal…

 

On to the semis

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, May 5, 2016: Liverpool and Villarreal players shake hands before the UEFA Europa League Semi-Final 2nd Leg match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Having been underdogs against Dortmund, Liverpool were expected to get the better of Villarreal in the final four.

The Reds have been warned not to take their Champions League opponents for granted over the next couple of weeks – and there is a feeling that they did just that in the first leg at El Madrigal five years previous.

Liverpool may arguably have been the better team in Spain, but they were profligate in front of goal, having 15 shots but only hitting the target three times.

They were made to pay when Adrian Lopez found the net in stoppage time, giving the tie a completely different complexion, especially with the away goal rule still applying.


Liverpool XI vs. Villarreal – May 5, 2016

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, May 5, 2016: Liverpool's players line up for a team group photograph before the UEFA Europa League Semi-Final 2nd Leg match against Villarreal CF at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Mignolet; Clyne, Toure, Lovren, Moreno; Milner, Can, Lallana, Coutinho; Sturridge, Firmino


A Villarreal goal at Anfield would require Liverpool to score three to progress, so there was understandable trepidation going into the reverse fixture.

Thankfully, the Reds saved possibly their most professional European performance of the season for that night.

Bruno Soriano’s early own goal immediately eased the tension and the scores were level on aggregate going into the final half-hour.

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

It was two injury-prone but talented Englishmen who got Liverpool over the finish line, with Daniel Sturridge finishing well to make it 2-0, celebrating more passionately than he has ever done.

Adam Lallana then put the icing on the cake, after Victor Ruiz had been shown a red card, as Klopp’s side made it to the final in Basel.

Unai Emery’s Sevilla team were their opponents…

 

What happened next?

Liverpool players look dejected after the UEFA Europa League Final at St. Jakob-Park, Basel, Switzerland vs Sevilla. (May 2016) (Picture by David Davies PA Archive/PA Images)

At this point in his career, Klopp had a reputation for losing finals.

There was confidence that his record would change for the better in Switzerland, however, with fate seemingly on their side after their heroic journey.

Not all scripts have fairytale endings, though, and a special evening eventually turned into a nightmare.

Sturridge gave Liverpool the lead with the most glorious outside-of-the-foot finish – it remains one of the great forgotten Reds goals – but they fell to pieces after the break.

Sevilla went up a gear and Klopp’s side were shambolic defensively, with Kevin Gameiro’s equaliser added to by two goals from Coke.

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - Wednesday, May 18, 2016: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp before the UEFA Europa League Final against Sevilla at St. Jakob-Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A bullish Klopp delivered a now-iconic message to the supporters after the game, saying:

“Someday everybody will say Basel was a very decisive moment for the wonderful future of Liverpool FC.”

Six years on, and with one Champions League, Premier League, Club World Cup, UEFA Super Cup and League Cup crown apiece in the bag, Klopp has built arguably the greatest Liverpool side in history.

They are within touching distance of doing something extraordinary, with a quadruple still on offer, and victory over Villarreal would seal a third Champions League final in four years.

But underestimate Emery teams at your peril…

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