Favourites Liverpool host Villarreal at Anfield
Seeking to pull off another remarkable Champions League upset, Villarreal travel to Anfield for the first leg of their semi-final with Liverpool on Wednesday night.
Jurgen Klopp‘s side defeated Benfica 6-4 on aggregate in the quarter-finals, while the Yellow Submarine sent Bayern Munich packing to make the final four.
With just under a month to go before the curtain closes on the 2021-22 campaign, Liverpool could yet add an unprecedented haul of four trophies to their brimming cabinet, although the Premier League title remains out of their hands heading into the final straight.
Never before have Liverpool taken part in the semi-finals of the Champions League, FA Cup and EFL Cup in one season.
Wednesday’s first leg will represent the eighth game of a hectic April schedule for Liverpool, who have managed to score at least two goals in every game since the start of the month, but Unai Emery and Villarreal demand plenty of respect before the Spaniard’s return to English turf.
The Yellow Submarine were not the ones being sunk by two European heavyweights in the previous Champions League rounds, with Juventus and most recently Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich failing to find the formula for success against Emery’s well-drilled side.
Emery’s men have already faced two major tests of their European mettle and should therefore travel to Merseyside with unbridled optimism about their chances of gleaning a positive result, and their La Liga fortunes have also improved with back-to-back wins over Getafe and Valencia.
Winning three and drawing one of their four Champions League games on the road since going down to Manchester United back in September, Villarreal have found the back of the net in all of those encounters on rival turf so far.
The modest club from Castellon have met Liverpool twice before in the semi-finals of the 2015-16 Europa League – winning 1-0 at La Ceramica in the first leg before a 3-0 defeat at Anfield. It is Villareal’s first Champions League semi-final since 2006, when they narrowly lost 1-0 to Arsenal over two legs.
Liverpool’s squad remains in tremendous shape ahead of the first leg, with Klopp otherwise has a full list of options to pick from and is expected to bring Ibrahima Konate straight back into the side, with the Frenchman scoring in both legs of the quarter-final win over Benfica.
With Villareal, former Liverpool left-back Alberto Moreno will not be reuniting with his former club this week as he remains on the comeback trail from a ruptured cruciate ligament, while star attacker Gerard Moreno is also set to miss out.
As a result, the only real dilemma for Emery lies in the attacking third, with Chukwueze and Manu Trigueros battling to deputise for Moreno alongside Arnaut Danjuma, who has been linked with a move to Liverpool in recent months.
Juventus were thumped by Villarreal on their own turf. Bayern Munich failed to overcome Emery’s side at the Allianz Arena. There is no reason for the travelling party to believe that another remarkable away win and joyous plane ride home is not on the cards.
However, Gerard Moreno’s goalscoring and playmaking qualities will be a huge miss for Villarreal at Anfield, and while we eventually expect Liverpool to break the Yellow Submarine’s resistance and earn a first-leg advantage, they will surely have to be even more patient than they were against Everton.
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Thiago; Salah, Mane, Diaz
Villarreal possible starting lineup:
Rulli; Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Estupinan; Parejo, Coquelin, Capoue; Lo Celso; Chukwueze, Danjuma