Liverpool advances to Champions League final, beating Villarreal 3-2 in semi-final second leg in Spain, winning 5-2 on aggregate
Posted On May 3, 2022
Liverpool has rallied after an early scare to defeat Villarreal 3-2 and advance to its third Champions League final in five seasons.
Villarreal looked on its way to another stunning upset after opening a two-goal lead in the first half to offset its 2-0 first-leg loss in England, but the modest Spanish club couldn’t keep up and Liverpool came from behind to advance 5-2 on aggregate.
After Boulaye Dia and Francis Coquelin put Villarreal ahead by the 41st minute, Fabinho, substitute Luis Díaz and Sadio Mané scored in the second half to propel Liverpool into the final for the first time since winning its sixth European title in 2019.
Based in a city of 50,000 people in southern Spain, Villarreal had eliminated Juventus in the round of 16 and Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals.
Unai Emery’s team played a man down from the 86th after Étienne Capoue, who assisted on both Villarreal’s goals, was sent off with a second yellow card.
Liverpool will play the final on May 29 (AEST) in Paris against either Premier League rival Manchester City or 13-time European champion Real Madrid.
Those two teams will meet in Madrid with City defending a 4-3 win from the first leg in England.
The victory also keeps alive Liverpool’s hopes of a “ quadruple ” — winning all four major trophies in one season.
The visitors were dominant in the first leg but looked lost on Tuesday as Villarreal came out pressing early. The hosts won almost every 50-50 ball and stayed near the Liverpool area without giving up much space for counter-attacks.
It didn’t take long for Villarreal to cut into the first-leg deficit as Dia opened the scoring from close range after a pass by Capoue in the third minute.
Villarreal wanted a penalty kick after Giovani Lo Celso collided with Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker, but a few moments later it got the second goal with a header by former Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin into the top corner after a well-placed right-flank cross by Capoue.
The Liverpool defence looked flat-footed on both goals, leaving space for the Villarreal players to finish into the net.
Liverpool, who had dominated the first leg at Anfield but had only secured a 2-0 lead, were left ruing their failure to put their opponents away last week.
A stunned Reds side went in at the break to face manager Jürgen Klopp. His half-time team talk must have worked, as the Reds came out firing in the second half, while Villarreal’s players went into their shell and allowed the visitors to take control.
The English club nearly pulled closer when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s shot deflected on a defender and hit the crossbar in the 55th minute, and Liverpool secured the first goal in the 62nd minute with a low shot by Fabinho that went through the legs of goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli.
Liverpool took advantage of Villarreal’s let-down and Luis Díaz, who helped turn the game around after entering the match at half-time, equalised with a 67th-minute header.
With Liverpool two goals ahead on aggregate, Villarreal heads started to drop and Mané completed the turnaround on a breakaway in the 74th after getting past Rulli outside the area and shooting into the open net.
Returning to the Champions League may be hard for Villarreal as the team is currently out of the qualification zone in the Spanish league.
This was only the fourth appearance in Europe’s top club competition for the club. It had also made the semi-finals in 2006, losing to Arsenal. It was a quarterfinalist in 2009, losing to Arsenal again.
With Villarreal’s elimination, Shakhtar Donetsk is set to earn an automatic spot directly into the group stage next season. The berth was freed up because the winner this season will be either Liverpool, Madrid or City, who already qualified through their league’s position.