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03rd May 2022

Liverpool weather early storm in Villarreal to reach Champions League final

Villarreal caught Liverpool napping in the first half but couldn't sustain their dominance, as Liverpool's quality shone through

Reuben Pinder

A night to forget for the Villarreal goalkeeper

There was no calm before this storm, only more storm. As the rain poured down in south-eastern Spain, the stadium announcer at the Estadio de la Cerámica bellowed out a rallying cry. “It is possible! The comeback! It is possible!” And for a short while, it seemed that he had spoken such a miracle into existence.

An early goal from Boulaye Dia had Liverpool rattled. Jurgen Klopp’s side had not turned up with the control and energy we have come to expect from them in this quadruple push. Then on the stroke of half time, former Tottenham midfielder Etienne Capoue then clipped a cross to the back post, where former Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin rose above Trent Alexander-Arnold to put the home side 2-0 up on the night, level on aggregate.

It was probably the worst 45 minute performance Liverpool have put in all season, but there was always a sense that they would pull it back. They are no strangers to Champions League comebacks, after all. And this wasn’t even a comeback. They were rattled, but still level.

On came Luis Diaz, whose immediate impact saw Liverpool regain control, dictate the tempo, and break through the yellow wall of defenders.

Liverpool’s first came through Fabinho, though they also have Gerónimo Rulli to thank. The Villarreal goalkeeper, having already misjudged a cross in the first leg to give Liverpool the lead, let a shot from the Brazilian though his legs.

Just five minutes later, he let a Luis Diaz header through his legs. The Colombian timed his run to perfection to get on the end of an in-swinging cross by Alexander-Arnold, who more than atoned for his part for Coquelin’s goal.

Rulli was once again the focus when Liverpool scored their third on the night, as he rushed off his line, only to miss the ball, allowing Sadio Mané an easy route to goal once he had ridden a challenge from Juan Foyth.

Villarreal can be proud of their efforts in this tie, but will rue the individual errors that proved the difference against one of the best two club sides in the world.