Villarreal 2-3 Liverpool (agg 2-5): Reds into final despite real scare

It was comfortable in the end but after 45 minutes of the second-leg, Liverpool had real problems. Boulaye Dia and Francis Coquelin put the hosts two goals up at the break and level on aggregate, with Villarreal sensing an incredible comeback.

The Reds got themselves together in the second-half though, with Fabinho, Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane putting the visitors ahead on the night in a 12-minute spell and completely in control of the tie, banishing their earlier problems to the distant past. Etienne Capoue was sent-off late on to cap a miserable half for Villarreal, as it finished 3-2 to the Reds in Spain.

Jurgen Klopp’s side will be in Europe’s showpiece once again, when they face either Manchester City or Real Madrid in Paris at the end of the month. The quadruple is still alive.

Villarreal failed to register a single shot on target at Anfield in the first-leg – it took them three minutes to do so in Spain and it came in the form of a goal. Pervis Estupinan whipped in a ball to the far post, Capoue sent it back across the box and Dia had the simplest of finishes.

It was a dream start for the hosts, who were visibly buoyed by it. Liverpool meanwhile were rattled in way rarely, if ever, seen under Klopp. Dani Parejo dragged a shot just wide from outside the box.

There was some encouragement for the visitors as Diogo Jota broke through on goal, though Raul Albiol got back well to close him down. Mohamed Salah then poked the ball away from goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli, only for the referee to blow for a foul.

The whistle didn’t go when Giovani Lo Celso went down in the box as he tried to go round Alisson, the officials correctly deciding that Alisson had got the ball as the pair collided.

Francis Coquelin had up until this point spent most of the half holding his face in needlessly dramatic fashion trying to win cheap free-kicks, but he used his head in more positive fashion to level the tie up just before the break. Capoue stood up the cross to the back post, where Coquelin came charging in and lept up Trent Alexander-Arnold to head into the top corner. Few fans in north London would have predicted Capoue and Coquelin combining for a Champions League semi-final goal.

Diaz was introduced at the break and Liverpool were certainly improved at the start of the second-half. Alexander-Arnold’s shot from 30 yards out deflected off Coquelin and looped onto the bar, before Diaz couldn’t keep an acrobatic volley down after Mane found him.

Liverpool put their first-half woes behind them and restored their aggregate lead just after the hour mark. Salah poked the ball through to Fabinho, who looked set to play it across the face of goal. The Brazilian opted to drill it at goal though and while the effort was straight at Rulli, it found a way through the goalkeeper.

Five minutes later, the two-goal advantage in the tie was restored. Alexander-Arnold had time to curl a wonderful left-footed cross into the box, where Diaz was onside and waiting to head it past Rulli for the goal his impact off the bench deserved.

Villarreal looked a beaten side and that was confirmed when Mane put Liverpool in front on the night. Naby Keita played in his teammate, with Mane knocking the ball past the onrushing Rulli who continued his night to forget. The Liverpool man kept his cool, took his time and then rolled the ball into an empty net.

The home side’s frustrations grew in the closing minutes as Liverpool ran them ragged, Curtis Jones very nearly extending the lead with his first touch off the bench.

Capoue was given his marching orders as a foul on Jones resulted in a second yellow card for the midfielder, further emphasising just what an incredible turnaround it had been in the space of 40 minutes.

Liverpool could enjoy the remaining seconds, knowing they will be returning to the biggest stage in club football. One final won, two to come and a Premier League title race going down to the wire – an incredible season could become something even more special.

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