Despite being currently sat fourth in La Liga, with Champions League qualification already assured, Villarreal face a real battle secure a place in next month's Europa League Final.
Anfield will be a cauldron on Thursday night, and the team from Castellon will face one of the most intimidating atmospheres in Europe.
The Jurgen Klopp effect and the ability of the home support to generate a powerful atmosphere that mirrors the Anfield of old means Marcelino’s Yellow Submarine will need to be on top form. Villarreal have though been imperious in Europe this season, losing just once away to Rapid Vienna back in September, and they have plotted a clear course to the final in Basel.
However, Liverpool have provided their toughest test in the competition so far, and Villarreal’s 1-0 first leg victory was snatched just as the game looked set for a stalemate.
On paper Villarreal have the better players and the more fluid system, and the creative and attacking threat of Denis Suarez and Cedric Bakambu caused the Reds real problems at El Madrigal last week. But the force of Anfield has caused some real European heavyweights to under-perform, and Villarreal will needed to be on guard against this.
Liverpool warmed up for their semi-final clash with a disappointing 3-1 defeat at Swansea City, although most of those likely to face Villarreal,did not make the trip to Wales. Villarreal also rested most of their regulars for the 2-0 win at Valencia on Sunday, with Roberto Soldado the only survivor from the XI that beat Liverpool, so fatigue is unlikely to be an issue for either side.
The key for Villarreal to secure a place in the final is to attack the defensive weaknesses that have plagued Liverpool all season, expose the absence of Mamadou Sakho - banned after failing a drug test - and the defensive uncertainty in the team.
Sakho has been Liverpool's best defender this season, however as a defensive unit they have struggled for cohesion and consistency. Set pieces are a real weak point, the preference for a zonal marking system restricts the likes of Dejan Lovren and Kolo Toure from winning aerial duels.
The likes of Soldado, Eric Bailly and Victor Ruiz can be a real threat in this regard as too often Liverpool fail to deal with direct balls into their box, a point brutally exposed by Swansea at the weekend.
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