There was a smile from Unai Emery when the stats were read out to him the day before what could well be the biggest night in Villarreal’s history: not just the team but the town. This season Liverpool have played 56 games, losing only three and never by more than two goals. In other words Jürgen Klopp’s team have not endured the kind of result that Villarreal will have to inflict on them to progress to the Champions League final.
“You’ve done a good job finding that stat,” the Villarreal coach said. “We had them but I didn’t want to say so. That shows you how difficult it will be to turn it round but we will work on the game and see if we can.
“We’ll have to produce a perfect game, reach excellence or get close to it to be able to do something that no one has done to them.”
Villarreal will certainly need to perform better than they did in the first leg and Emery sees hope in playing the second leg at home. He is optimistic his side can raise their levels in front of their own supporters having been reduced to resisting at Anfield. That, though, does not necessarily mean opening up and he said his team would have to defend well – the centre-back Pau Torres expressed his hope for a “long” game, saying “one goal puts us right back in it and it doesn’t ‘t matter if it’s in the first minute or the 60th”.
Asked what makes the second game different, Emery said: “First, we’re at home with our fans. Second, we have to win. Third, we have to defend but there are lots of ways of defending.
“We have to do a brutal defensive performance and from that base be able to find something we could not find there [at Anfield], which is our play. Over 90 minutes, in their ground, they were favourites, they were better than us, no complaints.
“It is hard to turn around 2-0. It benefits us that there is no away goals [rule], so it’s a bit more natural to play for a win. We have to find ways of scoring. The ‘home’ factor was very important there and we would like to have a little difference in our favor here.
“This is a town where, of course, not everyone likes football but they do all identify with Villarreal because they have that feeling of belonging; 23,000 people will be there and we want to be in the end. They have a big lead but we’re not here just to end it.”
Emery was reminded of a comeback his Arsenal side had produced against Rennes, in which they recovered from a 3-1 first-leg deficit to go through in the Europa League round of 16 in 2019. Although he admitted there were “certain parallels”, he said “this time the level is much higher”.
He described Thiago Alcântara as offering a “tremendous” performance in the first leg, labeled Fabinho’s career path “extraordinary” and insisted Liverpool were the “best team in the world”.
“We’re at home, we have to be focused, and find a great response against a very complete team, one that plays with a tremendous confidence, a feeling of superiority, one that loses very little,” he said.
“We have to look for our chance, try to face them in duels and win those duels. To have got here we have needed a huge effort; now we have to try to reach excellence.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism