Villarreal are on their second historic run in the Champions League, making the fairy-tale seem a little more ordinary. With 3,000 fans on their way to Liverpool for their semi-final first leg, around 6% of the town’s population will be there.
Many are trying to come to terms with the fact that the seventh-placed team in La Liga have dismissed both Juventus and Bayern Munich on their way to the semi-final.
One of the keys to that run has been a strong defensive solidity, with the Yellow Submarine conceding just twice over the two goals across those ties. Veteran centre back Raul Albiol has been part of the bedrock on which that record is based, but signalled a different key to their progress.
“We work a lot on the games, we are very clear what we want in every match and that is very important. In addition, the team is very stable emotionally, that’s one of they keys. We work a lot, but the key is having a very cool head in all of the knockouts. We’ve been through good moments and bad ones, but the key is having had a cool head and being united in the moments in which the tie can escape. Being strong in the face of difficulty is what has got us here.”
Albiol was speaking to Diario AS ahead of the Liverpool match and almost word-for-word coincided with Carlo Ancelotti’s analysis of his Real Madrid team. Even if they can’t call on the same resources, there may well be something in the idea that Villarreal have a similar mental approach.
“The goal from Juve at the start and the goal from Bayern there, they are two moments in which not being as mentally strong as we are, the tie would have gotten away from us. In those moments, the team demonstrated that despite taking a blow, it stays on its feet and united, that’s fundamental in the Champions League.”
“We’ve seen better teams that are out because of a bad 20 minutes. At this level, you can’t even have five bad minutes.”
That mental strength and the ability to hold firm in the face of waves of attack will once again be key against Liverpool. In many ways it’s hard to see a way they can knockout Jurgen Klopp’s juggernauts, but the same argument could be made about the Bayern Munich match. One thing is for certain, Villarreal will give themselves a chance.