Liverpool held off a spirited Villarreal display with Luis Diaz producing the cameo of dreams to help the Reds qualify for their third Champions League final in five years.
Any faint hopes Liverpool would breeze through their second leg in Spain were ruthlessly banished inside three minutes. Boulaye Dia halved Liverpool’s aggregate lead when peeling off the back of Virgil van Dijk to stab home Etienne Capoue’s mishit strike.
The Reds looked surprisingly rattled and saw their lead wiped out entirely five minutes before the break. Capoue bagged his second assist when crossing for Francis Coquelin who nodded home under minimal pressure from Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Liverpool had no choice but to improve after the break and every player to a man upped their game. Mohamed Salah is difficult to keep out of the action at the worst of times and he provided the assist for Fabinho to put Liverpool back in front on aggregate.
Luis Diaz had looked Liverpool’s liveliest attacker following his half-time introduction and both he and Sadio Mane notched to settle any lingering nerves.
Three unanswered goals in the second half saw the Reds win 3-2 on the night (5-2 on aggregate) and book their place in the Champions League final on May 28. Either Man City or Real Madrid await.
Alisson Becker: Blameless for Dia’s goal. Must’ve been in disbelief an what was unfolding ahead of him with Liverpool struggling to do even the simplest things in Spain. Even he wasn’t immune to the nerves when uncharacteristically hoofing straight out of play with an errant long ball. Liverpool’s second half turnaround was encompassed by the fact he barely lifting a finger in the final 45m. 6/10
Trent Alexander-Arnold: Pushed forward when he could but guilty of forcing the passes. Didn’t do anywhere near enough to challenge Coquelin in the air for Villarreal’s second.
More influential and dangerous after the break upon rediscovering his passing range. Saw a deflected long-range strike bounce off the top of the bar and provided the assist for Diaz to head home. Really stood up tall when the chips were down and Liverpool were in desperate need of inspiration. 7
Ibrahima Konate: Solid display early with those around him barely able to string two passes together. Continues to impress in the Champions League and a place in the eleven in the final should be his. 7
Virgil van Dijk: Didn’t anticipate the danger for Dia’s goal when allowing the midfielder to steal a march at the far post. Looked as frustrated as any at a truly dismal first half, though he wasn’t blameless either and committed his fair share of fouls. Cut out numerous Villarreal attacks and regained his composure well. 7
Andrew Robertson: Caught cold by Capoue’s run for Villarreal’s first goal, though wasn’t the only Reds player at fault for that one. Typically energetic but too often saw his passes find a yellow shirt. More composed as Liverpool put their foot down in the second half but remained one of his worst outings this season. 4
Naby Keita: Guilty of not pressuring Estupinan whose cross led to the opening goal. Decision-making a touch suspect when notably going for goal from distance with four Reds shirts up in support. Continued to struggle with a series of misplaced passes putting Liverpool under the cosh. All in all, a nightmare first half and lucky to escape the half-time hook. 4
Fabinho: Given the run-around by Villarreal’s midfield who were quicker and sharper than everyone in red prior to the break. Settled in the second half and helped Liverpool finally establish a foothold. His impact extended far beyond just knocking it around nicely when firing Liverpool back ahead on aggregate through the goalkeeper’s legs. 7
Thiago Alcantara: Dipped below his usual high standards with his distribution surprisingly wayward. Liverpool looked to him to provide control and steady the ship but his struggles only exacerbated their tension. Settled after the break and helped Liverpool take control, though tonight’s display was far below his recent performances. 6
Mohamed Salah: A few lively moments on the break but Liverpool’s front three played as individuals, not a collective, in the first half. Improved after half time and neat interplay with Fabinho teed up the Brazilian to put Liverpool back ahead on aggregate. Could’ve added a fourth late on but wasn’t clinical. 6
Diogo Jota: Saw a glorious chance to equalise go begging when his poor touch saw him chased down by 36-year-old Albiol. Often chasing shadows when on the press and hasn’t been blunted that easily by too many defences this season. Hooked at the break with Diaz taking his place, and what an inspired substitution that was. 4
Sadio Mane: Tireless pressing but didn’t click with his fellow forwards in the early going. Stuck to his task as he always does and showed remarkable composure to score Liverpool’s third on the night when dribbling past both the goalkeeper and a defender. 7
Luis Diaz (On for Jota, 46m): Into the action straight away and always looked to drive at Foyth with his pace and trickery. Spurned an opportunity to put Liverpool ahead on aggregate when lacking composure with an ambitious scissor kick. Didn’t let that miss linger on his mind and continued to look Liverpool’s most potent threat.
Held his run nicely to provide the finishing touch to Alexander-Arnold’s delicate cross. It’s not an exaggeration to say Liverpool’s quadruple hopes may have ended tonight if Diaz hadn’t been signed in January. 9 (Man of the match)
Jordan Henderson (On for Keita, 79m): N/A
Kostas Tsimikas (On for Robertson, 79m): N/A
Curtis Jones (On for Thiago, 79m): N/A
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