Thursday, 28 April 2016

Villarreal v Liverpool - Preview

Klopp - Getty Images
Christian Benteke could return for Liverpool against Villarreal after travelling with the rest of the first-team squad to Spain.

Benteke returned to full training earlier this week after a month out with a knee ligament injury sustained on international duty with Belgium.

The 25-year-old, who last featured for Liverpool in the 3-2 defeat at Southampton on March 20, could be named among the substitutes for the Europa League semi-final first leg at the Estadio El Madrigal.

Benteke’s return to fitness will be a welcome boost for Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who lost Divock Origi to a “serious injury” during last week’s Merseyside derby.

Meanwhile, Klopp called for bravery from his players if they are to overcome Villarreal to reach the Europa League final and maintain their hopes of Champions League football next season.

Klopp’s men produced a sensational second-half comeback from 3-1 down to beat his old side Borussia Dortmund 4-3 at Anfield to reach the last four.

However, the German warned against complacency as, despite their lack of European pedigree compared to the English giants, Villarreal are enjoying a great season.

“We are now in the semi-finals. We got there because we deserved it, and now we have to show we are strong enough to go through.

Klopp will be without a number of players crucial to Liverpool’s upturn in fortunes over recent weeks.

French defender Mamadou Sakho didn’t travel to Spain on Wednesday as he awaits the result of a UEFA investigation into an alleged failed doping test.

Emre Can, Divock Origi and captain Jordan Henderson are also sidelined by injury.

The build-up to the game has been overshadowed by the ruling that the 96 Liverpool fans that died at the Hillsborough tragedy 27 years ago were unlawfully killed in the biggest inquest in English legal history.

Villarreal have announced they will mark the decision with a tribute to the victims before the game.

However, once the action gets underway, the Yellow Submarine are intent on causing an upset to reach their first ever Cup final.

“Maybe Liverpool could be considered favourites because of their history as a club,” said Villarreal coach Marcelino.

“But we don’t consider ourselves in any way inferior to them and we think we can beat a team as legendary as Liverpool.”

It is 10 years since Villarreal came excruciatingly close to reaching the Champions League final against English opposition as Jens Lehmann saved Juan Roman Riquelme’s last-minute penalty to send Arsenal to the final 1-0 on aggregate.

However, Marcelino believes having almost sealed their place in next season’s Champions League already through La Liga, his players have no pressure on them to reach the final.

“The context is similar (to 10 years ago), but we are convinced that we can eliminate Liverpool,” he added.

“It is a privilege to play this semi-final. There was much more pressure in the previous ties and now we have a great chance to make history in this club.”

Perhaps Liverpool are the favourites because of their history, their standing as a club and the fact they eliminated Dortmund, one of the big favourites. But we don't consider ourselves inferior to them. We're going to give everything to try and knock out this legendary team.

Liverpool are a very good side with a lot of extraordinary players who play very dynamic football. They are good on the counterattack, they press teams a lot – especially in the opposition half of the pitch. They won't let us play. We have to look for solutions to try and overcome that first line of pressure; if we do that, it will be a big first step.

When I arrived in October, Basel [venue for next month's final] wasn't a real thing to think about; now it's not far away.

We've watched Villarreal five or six times. They defend in an organised way and are patient enough to wait for mistakes and then capitalise on them. How do we counter the threat of Soldado and Bakambu? By preventing passes through to them – maybe that's the best idea.

Experience is not something you can buy or talk about; it's something you earn and use. But if you use experience in the wrong way then it's worthless. It's all about the performance.

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