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The good, the bad and who do you want in the final? – Villarreal 2-3 Liverpool

Liverpool did it the hard away again to reach the Champions League final – we hear who three Reds fans want their side to face in Paris.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men picked up a thrilling 3-2 win away to Villarreal, after a nightmare first half threatened to end hopes of a third final in five seasons.

A 5-2 aggregate win means a 10th European Cup in the Reds’ history will come their way on May 28, with Man City or Real Madrid their opponents.

Here, This Is Anfield’s Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) is joined by Red (@TaintlessRed) and John O’Sullivan (@NotoriousJOS) to discuss a crazy night in Spain and who they want Liverpool to face in the final.

 

The good…

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - Tuesday, May 3, 2022: Liverpool's Luis Díaz celebrates after scoring his side's second goal to make the score 2-2 (2-4 on aggreagte) during the UEFA Champions League Semi-Final 2nd Leg game between Villarreal CF and Liverpool FC at the Estadio de la Cerámica. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

RED: Luis Diaz – wow! For any player to make an instant impact when coming in January without a pre-season is mightily impressive.

To do it in a team that is already one of the two best in the world, with so many world-class players, and still stand out in critical moments is mind-boggling.

The first half might’ve been the worst we’ve played all season. We were on the ropes and Diaz instantly changed that. His touch and passing were precise so he was constantly finding teammates, something most of our players didn’t do in the first half.

He was direct and instantly put Villareal on the backfoot, as he can beat any player one-on-one. They had to have other players coming over to help defend him, which created a lot more space in midfield so our team could gain more control. Amazing player.

Jurgen Klopp could have subbed eight players at half-time they were that bad, tbut he chose to make only one and show trust in the team to turn it around.

They did exactly that and the team as a whole showed a lot more grit in the second half. Naby Keita, who like most of the team struggled first half, still kept showing for the ball, found great pockets to receive in half-spaces and was involved in most of our good attacks.

Even with the game tightly balanced, Fabinho went forward from his defensive midfield position, spotting a gap and got our crucial first goal.

Sadio Mane, who could barely keep hold of the ball before the break, kept sprinting, kept running and was rewarded with yet another knockout goal.

The great thing about this Liverpool team is that it can win the game in so many different ways – last night, when things were going against us, the players and Klopp found yet another way.

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - Tuesday, May 3, 2022: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates as his side reach the Final beating Villarreal during the UEFA Champions League Semi-Final 2nd Leg game between Villarreal CF and Liverpool FC at the Estadio de la Cerámica. Liverpool won 3-2 (5-2 on aggregate).(Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOHN: First things first, qualifying for the Champions League final.

Even if it’s almost a routine occurrence under Klopp, with the Reds sealing their passage for a third final in five years, we should never take it for granted.

It is a brilliant achievement on its own merit, but when you consider how well Liverpool are going in other competitions, it is a stunning feat.

The second half was far, far better. Klopp resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes after an abject first half – genuinely as bad as the team have played this season, as Red says – and Liverpool completely dominated a gassed-looking Villarreal.

Diaz, who despite only being on for 45 minutes, was the impetus for the away team to improve, and in the end, 3-2 flattered the hosts. Liverpool ought to have scored a few more in the second period.

I’m pleased for Keita. Like the rest of them, he was horrendous in the first half, but he dusted himself down at the interval and came out in the second half as a different player.

He showed for the ball, broke through pressure with dribbling and wasn’t afraid to play risky passes.

After a similar performance in the first half to his showing away to Madrid last season, I felt he may have been hooked at half-time for Jordan Henderson, but credit to Klopp for retaining his trust in him and Keita himself for not panicking and not losing the courage to play his game.

I think he can take a lot from that, in terms of confidence.

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - MAY 03: Luis Diaz of Liverpool receives their Playstation Player Of The Match award after their sides victory during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Leg Two match between Villarreal and Liverpool at Estadio de la Ceramica on May 03, 2022 in Villarreal, Spain. (Photo by Aitor Alcalde - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Diaz. Wow. He was nothing short of brilliant. Juan Foyth was twisted left and right by the Colombian, whose assured touch and dynamism provided Liverpool with an out ball through the Villarreal press that they didn’t have in the first half.

His technique is as smooth as any we have seen in the famous red. His headed goal wasn’t textbook technique, but his movement was good and it was the least his performance deserved.

Man of the match, despite only playing 45 minutes, and a surefire bet to start in the final.

Luckily, Klopp doesn’t have a Twitter account and didn’t panic and make so many changes at half-time. He showed faith in his team to turn things around – a move that surely built their confidence, and when he did make changes, they worked.

A world-class coach.

HENRY: Diaz has to be the main positive, he’s just a ridiculous footballer.

He helped changed the game and genuinely did more in the first couple of minutes than Diogo Jota managed in an entire 45.

Diaz is like peak Luis Suarez and Mane combined – he excites you every time he has the ball at his feet and his signing was season-changing for Liverpool. He HAS to start in Paris.

Meanwhile, the response to a woeful first half was clearly great to see, with the Reds turning the screw and showing their class.

Oh, and we’re in yet another European Cup final!

 

The bad…

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - Tuesday, May 3, 2022: Villarreal's Francis Coquelin celebrates after scoring the second goal to level the tie 2-2 on aggregate during the UEFA Champions League Semi-Final 2nd Leg game between Villarreal CF and Liverpool FC at the Estadio de la Cerámica. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

RED: Absolutely everything in the first half!

I don’t think a strong Liverpool selection has played so badly since we were thrashed by Aston Villa. We’ve had poor performances since that match, but it’s always been when we’ve missed key players.

The passing was the most shocking thing – Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ibrahima Konate, Keita, Thiago and Mane simply couldn’t find teammates.

These are exceptionally good technical football players, so it’s hard to know exactly why, but Klopp put it down to a lack of movement, which meant good passing options weren’t available.

I think that was only part of the issue, though.

In the second half, Diaz showed instantly that it was possible to play good attacking football without always losing the ball and others followed suit.

Some improved their performances like Keita and Mane, while others still found it tough going like Robertson and Thiago.

It’s not easy to play so many must-win games back to back, and while Klopp’s been great at rotating his side, perhaps there was both a bit of fatigue for some players and also a bit of complacency.

We should also certainly give Villareal and Unai Emery a lot of credit. You can see why they’ve knocked out big teams in European competitions in the last two seasons.

Hopefully, this match is a big reminder that if you’re even a little bit off it then you’re inviting trouble.

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - Tuesday, May 3, 2022: Villarreal's Francis Coquelin scores the second goal to level the tie 2-2 on aggregate during the UEFA Champions League Semi-Final 2nd Leg game between Villarreal CF and Liverpool FC at the Estadio de la Cerámica. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOHN: The first half, without exaggerating, was as bad as Liverpool have been this season, as mentioned.

Villarreal swamped them, totally outnumbering them in midfield. The Reds’ passing was horrendous, dropping from an 84 percent average to 65 percent, and their front-three, whose touches all deserted them, couldn’t retain possession.

Every attack broke down and the ball kept coming back at Liverpool, with wave after wave of yellow pressure.

The midfield played their part, too, misplacing even basic passes and not pressing effectively. Fabinho was lucky not to be booked and Thiago and Keita were both a shadow of their usual selves.

HENRY: Let’s face it, that opening 45 minutes was an absolute shambles. I could feel the quadruple dream potentially dying and it hurt.

Quite why Liverpool were so bad I don’t know, given their usual professionalism in big games, but it was a genuinely painful watch.

Jota, Thiago, Keita and Robertson were the worst players, for me, proving to be hopeless in and out of possession, but the latter trio deserve credit for improving in the second half.

I’m finding Jota hugely frustrating at the moment – if he’s not scoring, it feels as though he’s offering very little.

And he’s gone seven games without finding the net now, so he feels worryingly ineffective at such a crucial time.

 

And who do you want in the final?…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, April 14, 2021: Real Madrid's Rodrygo Silva de Goes (L) and Liverpool's Andy Robertson during the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg game between Liverpool FC and Real Madird CF at Anfield. The game ended in a goal-less draw, Real Madrid won 3-1 on aggregate. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

RED: Without a shadow of a doubt, I want Real Madrid.

Although we have a decent chance against any team, I consider Man City to be one of the two best teams in the world and the biggest threat to us.

We’ll take who we get, but we are now a much better side than the one that lost in Kyiv when Madrid injured Mohamed Salah and Loris Karius.

We’ve also got fit centre-backs, which we didn’t when Madrid knocked us out last season. It would be great to get our own back and avoid facing City.

JOHN: Liverpool should fear nobody in the final, but that being said, you would rather Real Madrid.

The Reds owe them one after 2018, and despite ALL their European prowess, they are a worse team than Man City.

Liverpool have only beaten City once in recent years and Pep Guardiola’s team have all the weapons to beat any time.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 10, 2022: Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne (L) celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

They have an additional motivation to finally break their European duck and will want to avenge losing last season’s final.

Carlo Ancelotti is a brilliant coach, and in Karim Benzema, Madrid arguably have the world’s form player, but the Reds would be favourites going into that final.

Liverpool versus Madrid in a European Cup final in Paris – where have we heard that before?

HENRY: Like the other lads, it has to be Madrid for me. The main reason is that I could stomach losing to them far more!

OK, so that’s not the only reason – City are also the better side and the thought of a final against them really does feel too stressful and tricky to handle.

Madrid have an uncanny knack of just getting the job done, which always makes them a threat, but I don’t think they’re the team they were and Liverpool would be confident of getting revenge for 2018.

If it’s City – I think it will be – then it’s a 50/50 toss of a coin, whereas I’d make it at least 60/40 in the Reds’ favour if it was Madrid.

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