Liverpool host Villarreal in the second leg of the the semi-final of the Europa League. The match is a crunch fixture in the Reds’ season and it could determine whether or not this campaign is deemed successful. Liverpool’s season has been patchy and after the brilliant win over Dortmund, things haven’t exactly been on the rise in the Premier League. A draw and a loss to Newcastle United and Swansea City respectively has left the Reds in eighth place in the league. They face Watford, Chelsea and West Brom in the league and all three of these are tricky fixtures that can leave Liverpool in an embarrassing position come the end of the season. Europa League remains their best shot of redeeming the season, and more importantly getting the prized Champions League spot.
Villarreal have plenty to be proud of and are comfortably in fourth position in the league table, six points ahead of Athletic Bilbao. Their thrashing of Valencia over the weekend ensures they have secured a Champions League spot for next season. Their brilliant form makes them a bigger threat for Jurgen Klopp.
According to the Express‘s Paul Joyce, Emre Can returned to training and now faces a race to prove his fitness in time for the must win tie at Anfield. Can’s return would be hugely beneficial as Liverpool’s modified squad has been heavily struggling recently; however, Klopp will be extremely careful while using the player so whether he plays a part or not remains up for question. Liverpool are without Divock Origi, who was in brilliant form recently as well as Mamadou Sakho, who could well be out for 18 months with a ban, according to certain reports. Jordan Henderson remains the other player on the sidelines.
The Spaniards have no new injuries to worry about and after resting 10 players against Valencia (and still managing to win 0-2), coach Marcelinho will have his strongest line-up fresh and ready to fire.
- Liverpool’s José Enrique – who is not in their UEFA Europa League squad – played for Villarreal from 2006–07.
- Villarreal’s away record has been pretty poor. They have won 12 home league games but only six on the road. In the Europa League, they were beaten by Rapid Vienna in the group stages and have conceded nine goals in six away games, keeping only one clean sheet away at Bayer Leverkusen.
- This draw meant it was the first time the two sides were meeting in a UEFA club competition, though they did play a pre-season friendly in 2008, drawing 0-0 at El Madrigal.
The Brazilian is capable of superb moments and against a tight Villarreal defence, Coutinho could be the X factor. The Brazilian only played one half against Villarreal in the first leg as well as against Swansea in the league and failed to inspire. He would hope to make more of an impact in the coming game. The 23-year-old has scored 12 goals and has 6 assists for himself this season, the best output so far recorded in his career. He averages 2.7 key passes every 90 minutes in Europe and his link-up with Sturridge as well as Firmino could prove to be the difference and what the side needs for another successful turnaround.
As evidenced by the first leg and in the league this season, Villarreal’s centre midfields are very good at quickly releasing the ball and playing diagonal passes over the defence for Cedric Bakambu, who is fast and lethal with his strikes. The Frenchman has a whopping 9 goals in the Europa campaign and will be key against a fragile Liverpool defence that is missing Mamadou Sakho, someone who was crucial in the side doing well at the back.