When the draws for the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Champions League took place at the same time, Liverpool and Bayern Munich were the hot favorites to make their way through and meet in the last four.
Liverpool duly brushed aside Benfica 6-4 on aggregate but in the other last-eight clash Villarreal had other ideas and deservedly edged past Bayern 2-1 after a 1-1 draw in Munich.
Jurgen Klopp’s men have a great chance to reach the final for the third time in five years but it is clear that you underestimate the Spanish side at your peril.
Whoever goes through will play either Manchester City or Real Madrid in the final.
When: Wednesday, April 27, 20:00 BST
How to watch: BT Sport 2
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Who is the ref for Liverpool vs Villarreal
Szymon Marciniak is the man in the middle at Anfield.
The Polish official took charge of Liverpool’s 3-2 home win over AC Milan, awarding the Reds a penalty, and also their 2-0 victory away to Inter.
In the latter match, he did not show a single card.
Marciniak was also the ref for Villarreal’s 3-0 win at Juventus, showing just one yellow in the game.
Season stats 2021/22: All matches (34), yellows (141), reds (7), penalties (14)
It’s now eight wins in the last 10 in all competitions for Liverpool after back-to-back home victories over great rivals Manchester United and Everton.
The Reds looked imperious in the 4-0 triumph over United although the Merseyside derby win was more of a huff and puff job after Everton had done a good job in neutralizing the hosts.
The bottom line though: Liverpool won the game (2-0) and added another clean sheet.
One slight negative is that they’ve lost one (1-0 vs Inter) and drawn one (3-3 with Benfica) in their two home games in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
That said, they’d done the hard work with convincing wins in the first legs of those ties. It will be a very different dynamic on Wednesday night.
Villarreal only sit seventh in La Liga and have managed just four away wins out of 16, drawing five.
The Yellow Submarines’ road trips tend to be low-scoring affairs – scored 15, conceded 16 – so Liverpool should expect similar tactics to the ones Everton employed.
Their standout away performance this season was a 3-0 success at Juventus last month, while they reached this stage after a 1-1 draw at Bayern so, in Europe, they’ve impressed at some of the biggest grounds.
Since the draw in Germany they’ve won back-to-back league games: 2-1 at 15th-placed Getafe and 2-0 at home to 10th-placed Valencia.
Liverpool and Villarreal players in form
Sadio Mane did not produce his best stuff against Everton but had netted five in five games prior to that, scoring three goals in the two showdowns with Manchester City.
After a drought by his own high standards, Mo Salah has scored twice and assisted twice in Liverpool’s recent home games against Man Utd and Everton.
In those same two matches, Luis Diaz had a goal and two assists.
Thiago Alcantara is showing his best ever form in a Liverpool shirt while Ibrahima Konate has headed in three goals in his last three games, two of those against Benfica in the last eight.
For Villarreal, Arnaut Danjuma scored the winner in the home leg against Bayern and netted both goals in the 2-0 victory over Valencia last Tuesday.
Villarreal did not play at the weekend so that was their last outing.
Liverpool 3-0 Villarreal (May 5, 2016)
Less than a year into Klopp’s reign, the Reds overturned a first-leg deficit in convincing style at Anfield to book their place in the Europa League final.
Liverpool levelled the tie through Bruno Soriano’s early own goal and Daniel Sturridge struck just after the hour to put them ahead on aggregate.
Villarreal were reduced to 10 men when Victor Ruiz was shown red and Adam Lallana made the tie safe with a third home goal nine minutes from time.
Liverpool would lose the final 3-1 to Sevilla, a side managed by current Villarreal boss Unai Emery.
Villarreal 0-1 Liverpool (April 28, 2016)
The visitors looked set to play out a goalless draw and take the tie back to Anfield all square but there was a late twist.
Both sides had struck the woodwork, Roberto Firmino going closest for Liverpool when his shot hit the post.
But in added time, Adrian Lopez tucked away Denis Suarez’s cross to give Villarreal victory on the night even though it eventually did not prove enough.
Liverpool wins: 1
Villarreal wins: 1
Liverpool scored: 3
Villarreal scored: 1
Ahead of the tie, Jurgen Klopp vowed that his players will not underestimate Villarreal after their surprise victories over Juventus and Bayern Munich.
“It’s a massive game,” Klopp said.
“There might have been a little advantage in the last two games. Maybe Juve or Bayern under-estimated them, but that will never happen to us.
“They are still a really good football team who wants to make history as well. It would be the first time they go to a final, which would be a massive thing to Villarreal, but it is to us the same importance.”
As for Unai Emery, the Spaniard wants to see his team build on the performances that saw them reach the Champions League last four.
“We have been able to compete against big teams like Juve and Bayern, so they know it will be a tough game and will have to be 100 percent and give it all at Anfield.
“Of course they will feel favorites as that is natural. It is an even higher difficulty than Juventus and Bayern Munich.
“What I see gives me huge motivation to try to play the perfect game in order to beat the best Liverpool.
“They have built a Liverpool team like their coach, with that smile, that energy.
“We will try to surf the wave of experience we started accumulating last season.”
Predicted Liverpool vs Villarreal teams
The only doubt for the Reds is Firmino, who has a foot problem.
Otherwise, Klopp has a full squad to choose from and he’s been excellent with his rotation of late, often bringing on substitutes who’ve made a serious impact.
Konate has been favored in European ties so could come in for Joel Matip in the heart of defense while skipper Jordan Henderson may return after playing just the final eight minutes against Everton.
Up front, the lively Diaz could get the nod over Diogo Jota following his excellent recent displays.
Possible Liverpool starting line-up: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Robertson, Van Dijk, Konate, Henderson, Fabinho, Thiago, Diaz, Mane, Salah.
For Villarreal, the big news is that key frontman Gerard Moreno is absent due to a hamstring problem.
Former Liverpool left-back Alberto Moreno will not take part due to a ruptured cruciate ligament.
Possible Villarreal starting line-up: Rulli, Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Estupinan, Coquelin, Parejo, Capoue, Lo Celso, Trigueros, Danjuma.
Liverpool vs Villarreal prediction
Fans of the Yellow Submarines should enjoy the trip to Liverpool: a great chance to stock up on Beatles memorabilia.
But it could be a hard day’s night on the pitch.
Liverpool are knocking aside everyone in their path and, although Villarreal won’t make it easy, a 2-0 win should put the Reds in golden position to see the job through in Spain next Tuesday.
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