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Liverpool Withstands Villarreal's Rally, Advances to 2022 Champions League Final

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVMay 3, 2022

Liverpool's Fabinho celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the Champions League semi final, second leg soccer match between Villarreal and Liverpool at the Ceramica stadium in Villarreal, Spain, Tuesday, May 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)
AP Photo/Alberto Saiz

The quadruple remains on for Liverpool.

Thanks to a second-half turnaround, the Reds beat Villarreal 5-2 on aggregate to qualify for the Champions League final.

The "game of two halves" cliche certainly applied Tuesday night at Estadio de la Ceramica. Liverpool went behind by two goals before scoring three unanswered to make the final score more one-sided than the tie was.

Villarreal was decisively beaten in the first leg, and the 2-0 final score might have slightly flattered the Spanish club. The Yellow Submarine only finished with 29 percent of possession and failed to register a shot on target.

Veteran center back Pau Torres wasn't throwing in the towel, though.

"At home we are a totally different team, we are going to go out there and play to win," he told Movistar Plus (via Reuters). "We still trust in ourselves, we have no doubt. I can promise our fans they are going to see a Villarreal that they can identify with in the second leg."

From the opening whistle, Villarreal displayed a clear sense of purpose and showed no fear in taking the match right to Liverpool. That mentality resulted in a goal straight away.

In the third minute, Pervis Estupinan hit a dangerous cross to the far post. Etienne Capoue didn't make clean contact with his attempted shot, which proved to be a blessing in disguise as the ball rolled perfectly into the path of Boulaye Dia.

B/R Football @brfootball

Three minutes in and Villarreal already got one back 😱<br><br>(via <a href="https://twitter.com/CBSSportsGolazo?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CBSSportsGolazo</a>)<a href="https://t.co/MOYbbi0oae">pic.twitter.com/MOYbbi0oae</a>

The goal didn't shake Liverpool out of its early slumber as Villarreal continued to boss the game from there. An aggregate equalizer felt inevitable, and it arrived in the 41st minute on a header from Francis Coquelin.

B/R Football @brfootball

IT’S ALL EVEN 🤯<br><br>(via <a href="https://twitter.com/CBSSportsGolazo?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CBSSportsGolazo</a>)<a href="https://t.co/eNy8KzA4RE">pic.twitter.com/eNy8KzA4RE</a>

It was a stunning turnaround from such a one-sided opening leg, both in terms of Villarreal's dominance and Liverpool's disarray.

Jim Boardman @JimBoardman

Half time, Villarreal 2 (2) Liverpool 0 (2). The Reds playing like they have finally run out of steam after such an intense run - and like they can’t handle being played at their own game. One way to handle it is to pass the ball better, but they know that. Work for Klopp to do.

Andy Brassell @andybrassell

Did say earlier to <a href="https://twitter.com/ianirvingtv?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ianirvingtv</a> that Villarreal needed a replica of the first leg first half v Bayern to get back in this tie. Did not for a second imagine that they'd actually produce it.

The abolishment of the away-goals rule meant the second half was there for the taking for the host. Under the old format, Liverpool would've needed only one goal to effectively blunt all of the momentum Villarreal had built to that point. Without that advantage for the Reds, the match continued to teeter on a knife's edge.

Whereas some were calling for Jordan Henderson to replace Naby Keita at the halftime interval, manager Jurgen Klopp opted to bring on Luis Diaz for Diogo Jota. The Liverpool manager clearly wanted to take a more aggressive approach.

Between that and whatever Klopp told his players in the dressing room, the second half was a stark contrast to the first.

Fabinho made it 2-1 in the 62nd minute on a shot that squeezed between the legs of Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli. Diaz added more breathing room in the 67th minute, illustrating how much his inclusion changed the match.

B/R Football @brfootball

IT’S ALL EVEN 🤯<br><br>(via <a href="https://twitter.com/CBSSportsGolazo?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CBSSportsGolazo</a>)<a href="https://t.co/eNy8KzA4RE">pic.twitter.com/eNy8KzA4RE</a>

Rulli could've done more to keep Fabinho's effort out of the net, and he was squarely to blame for Sadio Mane's tally in the 74th minute. The Argentine shot-stopper ran well off his line and left the goal wide open as Mane got on the end of a lofted pass from Keita.

B/R Football @brfootball

Geronimo Rulli 🥴<br><br>(via <a href="https://twitter.com/TUDNUSA?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TUDNUSA</a>)<a href="https://t.co/eiHdktSd45">pic.twitter.com/eiHdktSd45</a>

Overcoming a two-goal deficit in a little more than 20 minutes was already a tall order for Villarreal, so going behind by three meant the end of the home side's Cinderella story.

Liverpool, on the other hand, punched its ticket to Paris for the Champions League final on May 28. The Reds await the winner of Wednesday's semifinal between Manchester City and Real Madrid.

They will either have the chance to best their biggest domestic rival or gain a measure of vengeance after losing to Madrid in the 2018 final.