Liverpool survive Villareal’s shock, qualifies for Champions League final
For 45 minutes on Tuesday, Liverpool’s hopes of reaching the Champions League final looked in serious jeopardy.
They were outplayed during the first half of their semi-final second leg in Villarreal, the Reds producing surely their worst half of the season in a game that threatened to derail their quadruple hopes.
But – as is so often the case – Jurgen Klopp’s side found a way.
Liverpool, according to BBC Sport had looked in control of the tie after a comfortable 2-0 win last week at Anfield, but the Spanish side cancelled out that lead by the break.
At the hour mark it was still 2-2 on aggregate, but Fabinho, half-time substitute Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane scored to send Liverpool to Paris – where they will play either Real Madrid or Manchester City.
Liverpool Manager, Jurgen Klopp, revealed after the game that he asked assistant manager Peter Krawietz, at half-time to show a clip of something his players did well during the first half so they could replicate that in the second period – but he could not find one.
They trailed 2-0 to goals from Boulaye Dia and Francis Coquelin and had not had a shot on target themselves.
“The problem at half-time was that we knew what was wrong because it was obvious but we didn’t have a situation to show where we did it right,” Klopp said.
“I said to Krawietz: ‘Find one where we do well and we can show it.’ He came in and said: ‘Nah, don’t have it.’
“So it was a big half-time but it was about how the boys reacted. We were calm and we are still here.
“We did not play football at all. I told the boys: ‘They have momentum but they don’t own it, we can get it back.’ When we broke the lines and found spaces and were more flexible and not fixed on positions, all of a sudden we were in the game. We scored goals and made it happen.
“What I said was about football, where we had to play, where we had to move, where we had to be brave, change momentum, going in behind and in between. It was a football problem and you solve it with football.
“After three minutes [of the first half] our minds were not right. We were in a rush and felt the pressure. You have to force your own football through and in the second half we did that.”
The Reds had only had three touches in Villarreal’s box and completed 36.2% of their passes in the final third of the first half, just a week after a performance so dominant at Anfield that Villarreal’s approach was described as “pathetic” by one radio pundit.
On Klopp’s half-time team talk, Reds defender Virgil van Dijk told BT Sport: “He told us to play football, the Liverpool way, how we have all season.
“They play a high line so with the speed we have we needed to mix it up. Also we needed to show how much we wanted to go to the final. In the second half we dominated.”
Right-back, Trent Alexander-Arnold, added: “We regrouped at half-time and got the game by the scruff of the neck. We did what we needed to do.
“We never played football in that first half and didn’t pick up any second balls. They played the game they wanted to and we allowed them to do that. In the second half, we controlled the game better.”
The introduction of Diaz at half-time was a major turning point. The Colombia forward, who replaced Diogo Jota, scored the Reds’ equaliser on the night – the goal that pretty much wrapped up the tie.
In 45 minutes he had more shots – four – than anybody else managed in the whole game. His passing accuracy of 90% was better than any Reds player bar late substitute James Milner.
BBC Radio 5 Live co-commentator Chris Sutton, said, “Diaz made a big difference. He’s been a revelation. We talk about players needing time to bed in but he’s settled in immediately.”
The £37.5m January signing has scored five goals since his move from Porto.