For the third time in five years, Liverpool is headed to the Champions League final, but it didn’t come easy.
In a topsy-turvy tale of two halves, Villarreal erased a two-goal aggregate deficit from Liverpool’s win at Anfield last week in the first leg before the Reds came storming back with three goals in the second half for a 5–2 aggregate triumph.
Jürgen Klopp’s side continued its quest for a historic quadruple after facing down a wild crowd energized by Villarreal’s comeback at the Estadio de la Cerámica. Now, Liverpool will await the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between Manchester City and Real Madrid. City takes its 4–3 aggregate lead into the Bernabéu, where either another matchup between Premier League powers or a rematch of the 2018 final will be set in stone.
Meanwhile, the Yellow Submarine’s Cinderella Champions League campaign came to an end after a giant-toppling journey that eliminated Juventus and Bayern Munich from the competition’s knockout stages. But for the first 45 minutes, Villarreal had its fans believing in a trip to Paris.
It only took three minutes for Villarreal to heap the pressure on Liverpool. Boulaye Dia cut Liverpool’s aggregate lead in half after former Tottenham and Watford midfielder Étienne Capoue sent a perfect one-time cross through the area to Dia’s feet.
Villarreal kept up the pressure as Liverpool struggled to get out of its own half throughout the first 15 minutes. However, in the 14th minute, the 2019 European champions nearly reestablished their lead when Thiago Alcântara’s long-distance shot sailed just over the goal.
In the 23rd minute, Liverpool seemed to have its best chance yet when Diogo Jota and Mohamed Salah led a counterattack into the Villarreal half. After a bit of confusion between Villarreal defender Raúl Albiol and keeper Gerónimo Rulli, Liverpool looked to have an open goal before Salah was called for a foul interfering with Rulli.
The Yellow Submarine looked to have a golden chance in the 37th minute but was left to argue for a penalty that was never given. Giovani Lo Celso was through on goal but wasn’t able to control the ball in front of Alisson. The Liverpool keeper barreled through Lo Celso but also knocked the ball away, which led the referee to allow play to continue.
But Villarreal wouldn’t have to wait long for its equalizer. In the 41st minute, Capoue sent another perfect cross into the box off a counterattack, this time finding Francis Coquelin. The former Arsenal midfielder rose above Trent Alexander-Arnold and headed home the effort for his first European goal in eight years.
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According to Squawka, the goal meant that Villarreal had scored on seven consecutive shots on target in the Champions League, dating back to the round of 16.
Liverpool came shockingly close to a goal in the 55th minute off a quickly taken free kick. Alexander-Arnold took the quick pass and launched a long-range effort that deflected off a defender and looped high in the air before striking the crossbar.
After dominating possession in the second half, Fabinho restored the aggregate lead for Liverpool in the 62nd minute. After taking a pass from Salah just off to the side of goal, the Brazilian rocketed a shot through the legs of Rulli, who might have done better to save the chance.
Within five minutes, Liverpool was back to a two-goal aggregate lead. Luis Díaz, who came on for Jota at halftime, struck in the 67th minute on a wide-open header after he beat the offside trap.
In the 74th minute, Sadio Mané put the tie to bed with Liverpool’s third goal in 12 minutes. Rulli was once again at fault as he charged out at goal. Mané evaded the keeper and guided home the chance to extend Liverpool’s aggregate lead to 5–2.
Capoue capped off an eventful day in the 85th minute with an ejection after picking up his second yellow card. The midfielder assisted both of the club’s goals and was given an ovation from Villarreal fans as he walked off the field.
With the win, Liverpool became the first English club to reach the League Cup final, FA Cup final and Champions League final in the same season.
The Reds are in for quite a final stretch with a potential quadruple on the line if it can also overcome a one-point deficit in the league to Man City. Two weeks after the FA Cup final against Chelsea on May 14, Liverpool will play the Champions League final May 28 in Paris, which could also come against Man City.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism