Opposition Analysis: The inside track on Liverpool ahead of Champions League date with Villarreal

Villarreal face Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final this Wednesday evening at Anfield. Football Espana spoke to football writer John O’Sullivan to get the inside track on one of the most fearsome and in-form sides in European football.

Which player should Villarreal worry about the most?

The player Villarreal should worry about the most is Mohamed Salah. After a relatively barren run in front of goal, by his own exacting standards, the Egyptian has turned the corner in recent weeks, with his performances markedly better despite the goals not flowing like they were. 

He is often typecast as a poacher and a player who relies on his physical attributes, but Salah has developed into the consummate all round footballer. Not only is he the Premier League’s top scorer, he has also provided the most assists, which is even more impressive when you consider he doesn’t take set pieces. 

Having to deal with both the 29 year old and Trent Alexander Arnold on the same flank could be problematic for Villarreal, like it has been for so many teams before. 

How are Liverpool playing at the moment? 

Liverpool are playing superbly at the moment. In recent weeks, they have defeated Manchester City, advanced in the Champions League by knocking out Benfica and have beaten both of their big domestic rivals, Manchester United and Everton, one of whom was put to the sword comprehensively. 

The signing of Luis Diaz in January has provided a quality option for Jurgen Klopp to rotate in and out and this additional freshness has really boosted the Reds down the home stretch. 

What will Liverpool’s starting lineup look like?

I expect Liverpool to pack an attacking team, given how good Unai Emery is setting up teams in European competition to neuter an opposition’s attack; see the quarter final against Bayern and ALL his Europa League victories for examples of this. 

I think he will go with Alisson; Alexander Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Thiago, Henderson; Salah, Mane, Diaz. 

Given there is the option to make five subs, Klopp does have the scope to change things off the bench in case the game isn’t going to his liking. In that case, I would expect to see Naby Keita coming off the bench to provide extra, creative thrust. 

What’s the final result of the tie going to be?

I expect Liverpool to advance, but narrowly. This competition is more or less Villarreal’s sole pursuit this season and that, coupled with Emery’s European prowess and the Spaniard’s pace on the break with Arnaut Danjuma and Samuel Chukwueze, makes them dangerous opposition. 

The Reds have their eyes on two more competitions aside from the European Cup and such a huge volume of games in a short distance can be hard to maintain composure in. 

However, given their superior quality and the sheer amount of goal scorers in the squad — Diogo Jota, for example, is the league’s fourth highest scorer, even though he isn’t a nailed on starter — I would expect Liverpool to advance, but only be a goal or two on aggregate; 3-1 would be my guess.

Tags Champions League La Liga Liverpool Villarreal
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