The UEFA Europa League semi finals are both set to be played on Thursday night, but without doubt the most intriguing of the ties is the mouth-watering clash between Liverpool and Villarreal. Jurgen Klopp’s Reds travel to El Madriga stadium with the task of preventing Villarreal from making it seven Europa League home wins on the bounce, and they go there with the mantle of favourites to win the whole competition.
Their favouritism may be in part due to the dramatic and herculean effort to overturn the deficit against Borussia Dortmund in that memorable 4-3 victory in the quarter final second leg, but one can’t help thinking they have been overestimated slightly by layers and punters alike. Since his arrival mid-way through the season Klopp has had a massive impact at Anfield, but his side’s defensive vulnerabilities are still on show and they have been dealt a couple of blows with the absence of Origi and Sakho. The former succumbed to an ankle injury while the latter is not available for selection after failing a drugs test.
On face value this game looks like it will be a blood-pumping, fast-paced and high-scoring encounter. Villarreal have won their last six Europa League games at home, beating the likes of Sparta Prague, Napoli and Bayer Leverkusen. They’ve also notched a healthy ten goals in the course of those victories. Liverpool meanwhile are winless on their travels in this competition since a 1-0 win at Rubin Kazan in November, but they’ve scored 16 goals in winning four of their last five matches and are a match for anyone going forward.
However, we would advise an air of caution when approaching the betting as the importance of the tie, the tactical shape of the two sides, and the personnel involved could lead to a more cagey affair. We need look no further than the Manchester City versus Real Madrid semi-final on Tuesday night for evidence of how these semi finals can sometimes turn into stalemates.
A Tactical Affair
The Yellow Submarine, despite that impressive win record, will not go all out attack against Liverpool – in fact they rarely do – but will set up with their usual solid 4-4-2 system. They tend to remain compact in the centre of the pitch, relying on the full backs and wingers to patrol the wings, while breaking forward with pace and directness. It’s a system that Leicester have employed to such devastating effect in the Premier League this season and Liverpool will have to be on guard when possession breaks down.
Villarreal may be too strong tactically for Liverpool and are the call at a generous +156 with Marathonbet
One area that Jurgen Klopp will look to exploit is width through his marauding full backs Clyne and Moreno. As Villarreal’s wingers tend to stay relatively high up the pitch there is the opportunity to create an overload against their full backs, but ironically this may also be the Reds downfall. Sturridge, Firminho and Coutinho will need to work intelligently in the channels to bring the full backs into play, but if moves break down with the left and right back pushed up the pitch, Villarreal will move quickly to try and isolate Bakambu against one of the Liverpool central defenders.
The Key Men
The Yellow Submarine use their forward players intelligently to give the prolific frontman opportunities in behind opposition defences, and Lucas may actually prove to be the key man for Liverpool rather than the usual suspects of Sturridge and Coutinho. The Brazilian stopper will sit in front of the two central defenders with the task of protecting and preventing the likes of Soldado dropping deep to receive the ball. With Sakho ruled out, Klopp will turn to Toure or Skrtel to fill the gap, but both are short of match fitness. If Villarreal are able to get Bakambu through on goal by breaking quickly after regaining possession, he rarely disappoints and looks the most likely scorer on the night.
Width will be the key for Liverpool and the two full backs can also have a big influence on the game. If Klopp asks them to stay deeper to prevent Villarreal from taking advantage of space however, Liverpool could be rather blunt going forward with plenty of possession across the back four but very little penetration.
Villarreal to beat Liverpool
Thursday 28th April, 20:05 GMT
Cedric Bakambu to score at anytime
Thursday 28th April, 20:05 GMT