Liverpool vs. Villarreal: Winners and Losers from Europa League
Liverpool beat Basel 3-0 on Thursday night to win their UEFA Europa League semi-final, 3-1 on aggregate.
The home side got off to the perfect start with a goal inside the opening 10 minutes, as Bruno Soriano put through his own net from just a few yards out. Liverpool played at a high intensity throughout the first half and had chances to add to their lead but had to wait until the hour mark to do so—Daniel Sturridge the scorer this time, via the post.
At that point a goal for Villarreal would have sent them to the final on away goals, but Liverpool continued their offensive play and hit a third from close range through Adam Lallana.
Here are all our winners and losers from Anfield as Liverpool sealed passage to the final in Basel.
Winner: Emre Can
Somewhere between an army tank and a luxury sports car, Emre Can barrelled around the midfield zone totally dominating the middle third of the park, seemingly on his own at times.
The German midfielder completed the full 90 minutes at breakneck pace despite having just returned from injury and was the catalyst for Liverpool's high-intensity performance, starting attacks quickly from deep when possession was won back and picking up second balls and stray passes with ease.
Villarreal had no answer to his presence, and he was arguably the best performer on a night when all 11 of the home players were on form.
Loser: Roberto Soldado
A terrible return to England for Roberto Soldado, who only escaped his Tottenham Hotspur nightmare in the summer by joining Villarreal.
He was frustrated and shrugged aside easily all night long, only really coming to viewers' attention thanks to his numerous fouls on the home players, utterly unable to get involved in any build-up play and never a threat inside the penalty box.
The final straw for Soldado was being sold a piece of skill by Roberto Firmino that bamboozled the Spaniard, and he was subbed off soon after.
Winner: Roberto Firmino
Speaking of Firmino, the Brazilian playmaker was a standout for the Reds in the second half as he ran Villarreal's defence ragged.
Firmino's movement between the lines was exceptional, rotating which channel he operated in and always ensuring he could take the ball to feet and on the half turn. He was involved in the build-up to the second and third goals and almost set up another after his run and turn that embarrassed Soldado.
A huge ovation as he left the field, subbed in the final moments, was just reward for a telling display.
Loser: Alphonse Areola
The first leg saw Sergio Asenjo perform well for Villarreal as goalkeeper, even if he wasn't unduly troubled by a low-key Liverpool performance, but Marcelino opted to change his No. 1 for the second leg at Anfield, instead fielding Alphonse Areola.
The on-loan Paris Saint-Germain stopper has been first choice for much of the campaign with Asenjo out injured, but he picked a bad game to have an off night as several early errors seemed to spawn uncertainty in the Villarreal defence.
Areola missed a handful of crosses, palmed a low ball out in the build-up to the opening goal and generally failed to inspire confidence in the back line.
Winner: Daniel Sturridge
Having not been in the starting lineup for the first leg and rested in league action at times too of late, Daniel Sturridge put in a big display to lead the attack for Liverpool and help his team to the final.
Speaking after the game on BT Sport, Sturridge said the team deserved the win: "You've got to be prepared to put your body on the line and to miss chances. If you don't shoot you don't score, but today was a great feeling. We like to press, we like to be in their faces."
That was certainly the case as the Reds pressed high from kick-off, with Sturridge matching his fellow attackers in closing down the defence and making use of space after the ball was won. He was involved in all three goals, including netting the second that ultimately sent Liverpool through to the final.