Anfield comeback sends Klopp’s men to final
Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana scored crucial second-half goals as Liverpool moved into the Europa League final with a 3-1 aggregate victory over Villarreal.
Trailing from the first leg, Bruno’s early own goal gave Jurgen Klopp’s men an excellent start before Sturridge – who had been controversially left out in Spain – and Lallana netted the decisive strikes to seal a 3-0 win on the night at Anfield.
Villarreal produced very little as an attacking force throughout Thursday’s second leg and then had defender Victor Ruiz sent off for a second yellow card.
Liverpool, who have won the competition three times, now go on to face record four-time champions and holders Sevilla in Basel on May 18 after Unai Emery’s men defeated Shakhtar Donetsk in the other last-four tie.
Villarreal, meanwhile, have suffered defeat in all four of the European semi-finals they have participated in – one in the Champions League and three in the Europa League.
The visitors looked to get on the front foot early on, with Simon Mignolet getting down sharply to deny Mario and Jonathan dos Santos firing over shortly afterwards.
But Liverpool were ahead inside seven minutes. Nathaniel Clyne’s cross was only pushed out as far as Roberto Firmino by goalkeeper Alphonse Areola – who replaced Sergio Asenjo from the first leg – allowing the Brazil international to help the ball back across the face of goal.
Despite Sturridge being unable to make contact in a busy goalmouth, Bruno was in close proximity and inadvertently netted.
Liverpool threatened to make it two almost immediately when Lallana swept wide from James Milner’s delivery, while Cedric Bakambu shot tamely at Mignolet at the other end as the teams went into half-time with the tie level.
Areola dealt with efforts from Philippe Coutinho, Milner and Sturridge early in the second half, while Roberto Soldado headed off target for Villarreal.
Another Sturridge effort was also kept out after he had been fed by Lallana, before the England striker netted with 63 minutes gone.
Firmino chested down and slipped through a pass from the edge of the box, with Sturridge taking one touch and firing in a shot that Areola could only divert onto the inside of the post.
Villarreal’s hopes of a comeback were dealt a massive blow when Ruiz was handed a second yellow card after arriving late as he attempted to steal possession from Lallana.
There was a moment of drama before Liverpool could be sure of their place in the final when Denis Suarez claimed for a penalty after going down following Alberto Moreno’s pressure from behind, but referee Viktor Kassai was unmoved.
And the tie was put beyond doubt with nine minutes remaining when Firmino made great progress down the left to beat Mateo Musacchio and cut back for Sturridge, whose scuffed shot was helped over the line by Lallana from close range.
Sturridge could have scored again in the closing stages, but was kept out by the legs of Areola after being played in by Clyne, though it did nothing to dampen the joyous Anfield mood.
Report by OmniSport
Key Opta Stats:
– Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet has started every game for the club in the Europa League this season, the only Reds player to do so.
– Liverpool have only failed to score in one of their 21 home Europa League games (0-0 v Braga in December 2010).
– Villarreal have scored an own goal in both of their second-leg ties in Europa League semi-finals, with Mateo Musacchio netting one against Porto in May 2011.
– The Liga side have kept just one clean sheet in their last nine away Europa League games.
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