Monday 22 January 2018

Heavy-metal vision gets Reds rocking

Firmino leads charge as rampant Liverpool surge into Europa final

Adam Lallana (C) scores Liverpool’s third goal against Villarreal during last night’s Europa League semi-final second leg at Anfield Photo: Getty
Adam Lallana (C) scores Liverpool’s third goal against Villarreal during last night’s Europa League semi-final second leg at Anfield Photo: Getty
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp, right, with James Milner and Adam Lallana Photo: AP
Liverpool's Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho (R) vies for the ball against Villarreal's Mexican forward Jonathan dos Santos Photo: Getty
Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool (15) shoots past goalkeeper Alphonse Areola of Villarreal to score their second goal Photo: Getty

Sam Wallace

The great heavy-metal football exponent from Germany who has transformed Liverpool into a thrilling cup side in the space of just seven months is just one Europa League final from lifting some heavy metal of his own.

Liverpool 3 Villareal 0

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool are in the Europa League final and they did so the having staged the Anfield Comeback II, another pulsating victory where the initiative was seized, the pressure applied and the noise and emotion of the ground was harnessed in formidable style.

First Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals, now Villarreal, both dispatched in a fierce Anfield atmosphere and a classically Kloppist high-octane press.

For all their inconsistencies over the league season, this was a magnificent performance from Klopp's team, not least Roberto Firmino who the best player on a night when the standard was high indeed.

Klopp selected Daniel Sturridge for the first time in the last four Europa League games and the English striker rewarded his manager with the critical second goal that changed the course of the tie. There were other big performances too, with James Milner coming to the fore and Nathaniel Clyne demonstrating why he should be England's first-choice right-back at Euro 2016.

Villarreal ended the game with 10 men, their centre-half Victor Ruiz dismissed for a second yellow, and the club who still seek their first major trophy just went to pieces. An own goal from Bruno Soriano on seven minutes, a late third from Adam Lallana and the team in yellow were just waiting for the final whistle.

The 11th European final in Liverpool's history will be against Sevilla, who eliminated Shakhtar Donetsk in the other semi-final and are currently seventh in La Liga, three places and 12 points behind Villarreal. However, they are the winners of this competition for the past two seasons and Klopp's side will have to beat a very good cup team if they are to win an eighth European trophy.

The crowd were certainly intent on making it a big Anfield night and the emotion of the first home game since the unlawful killing ruling from the Hillsborough inquest fed that mood, but in the end it required the players to generate the pressure that would unsettle Villarreal.

Klopp's team did that brilliantly at times, an exhausting, lung-bursting full-press that made you wonder how long they could keep it up.

They got better at that over the course of the first half although it was Villarreal who had the best early chance. It would have changed the mood if right-back Mario Gaspar had got an away goal with his early shot but that was saved by Simon Mignolet and soon, Liverpool had the lead.

The goal came from down the right where Clyne tried to overlap all half. Clyne's cross was pushed away unconvincingly by Alphonse Areola and Firmino got it back into the six-yard box. Sturridge tried to get to the ball over the line but it was Bruno who had the final touch.

A messy goal but one which saw Villarreal buckle under the strain of the numbers that Klopp's side managed to get into the away side's final third of the pitch.

Lallana had a good chance when Milner's ball snapped down the right channel on 13 minutes, but he never got the connection that was needed.

For the most part, this looked like a Klopp team working the way Klopp wanted them to, with a fierce press from the front led by the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Lallana and Firmino but underpinned by another relentless shift from Milner.

He refused to come off after one heavy blow and just kept going until, it seemed, the pain faded. That was a moment from the captain that did not go unnoticed by his team-mates.

With Emre Can back in the side following his recovery from ankle injury, Liverpool looked solid down the middle.

Certainly it takes quite something for Roberto Soldado to lose his cool, but he did five minutes before the break when he kicked Coutinho and was booked. He had slapped Dejan Lovren's leg a few minutes earlier, the sort of silly thing less experienced referees might have reacted to.

The second goal, from Sturridge, came 18 minutes into the second half when at last Liverpool kicked into gear and launched their best attack of the half.


That was the move that led to the corner from which they scored, when Lallana and Sturridge combined on the counterattack and the latter's fierce shot was pushed away for a corner.

The goal itself came a phase later when Clyne once again surged to the byline and his cross was half cleared to the edge of the box where Firmino took matters in hand.

The pass that he speared 10 yards through the Villarreal defence was outrageous, eluding three yellow shirts on its journey to the feet of Sturridge, who finished confidently.

In the wave of confidence that followed, Liverpool might have scored on the counterattack within a minute when Firmino executed a 360-degree turn on Soldado that had the striker wondering which way was north. They could not quite crack the second goal but Ruiz's sending-off less than 10 minutes after Sturridge's goal lifted the crowd once again.

Alberto Moreno was fortunate not to concede a penalty for a push on Denis Suarez, but on 81 minutes, Lallana scored the third.

Ruiz had let the mood get to him in the first half and was booked for shouting at Hungarian referee Victor Kassai. His foul on Lallana came after the last warning was exhausted and off he went just when the Spanish side required stability.

With nine minutes left, Lallana expertly steered Sturridge's mishit into the Villarreal goal after Firmino had crossed again, and they were in their way to the final. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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