On April 28th, Villarreal welcome Liverpool to the Estadio El Madrigal for the first leg of the Europa League semi-final. After beating Sparta Prague in both legs of their quarter-final tie, Villarreal will be facing a much tougher test in Liverpool. Since their victory in Prague, the Yellow Submarines have lost away to both Rayo Vallecano and Real Madrid.
Liverpool are just coming off upsetting the favourites for the competition, Borussia Dortmund, in the last round. After being minutes from going out, Liverpool are now the new favourites to win the Europa League. With their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League through the Premier League dashed, this tie is hugely important for the club.
Villarreal have most of their squad available, but could be without up to three players. Leo Baptistao will miss out through injury, while both Mateo Musacchio and Jaume Costa are both doubtful with thigh injuries.
Liverpool will be missing quite a few players through both injury and suspension. The big news this week was Mamadou Sakho’s failed a drug test. The French defender has not been handed a ban by UEFA, but Liverpool are going to keep him out of this fixture. On top of that, they’ll be without Emre Can, Jordan Henderson, Christian Benteke, Danny Ings, Joe Gomes, Jordan Henderson, and Divock Origi all out with various injuries.
Villarreal are unbeaten in the Europa League at home, and have only conceded one goal in six home games. Villarreal have scored the 10th most goals in La Liga, but sit fourth thanks to having the third best defensive record in the league behind only Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, according to WhoScored.
Liverpool are unbeaten in their last seven in all competitions, with four wins against Dortmund, Bournemouth, Everton and Stoke. No Liverpool player has scored more than two goals in the Europa League this season, according to WhoScored.
Villarreal: Cedric Bakambu
Villarreal are built on a strong defence, but for their game to work they need a clinical forward to take the chances they get. Cedric Bakambu has done that job perfectly for them. His nine goals are the second most in the Europa League behind only Aritz Aduriz. He has scored 45% of his teams goals in the Europa League, and, according to WhoScored, only Augsburg’s Raul Bobdilla has scored a high percentage of his teams goals. For Villarreal to succeed they’ll need Bakambu to be at his clinical best.
Liverpool: Daniel Sturridge
Speaking of the importance of strikers, Daniel Sturridge has been one of Liverpool’s most important players since he got to the club. The often injured Englishman has been played sparingly recently as Jurgen Klopp looks to keep him healthy. But now with the injuries to both Divock Origi and Christian Benteke, Sturridge is the only option, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He has scored a goal every 100 minutes in the Premier League this season, according to WhoScored, and when fit is one of the league’s most dangerous strikers.
This has all the makings of a tight cagey first leg. Villarreal can’t really afford to concede an away goal, but Liverpool don’t want to give such a good defensive team a lead to hold onto for the second leg.
Prediction: 0-0 Draw