Sturridge stands tall on the big stage
Daniel Sturridge’s omission from the starting line-up for last week’s first leg raised more than a few eyebrows, and it has become clear in recent weeks that the England forward has not been entirely happy with his lot at Anfield.
His failure to acknowledge the fans after Sunday’s 3-1 league defeat at Swansea drew criticism, while his injury record has raised questions as to whether he can be relied upon for the long term.
Yet there are few better forwards in the Premier League than a fully fit Sturridge and, given his chance from the start last night, he showed he was up to the big occasion. Moments after testing keeper Alphonse Areloa with a snapshot from a tight angle, Sturridge was clinical to strike from close range to give Liverpool the aggregate advantage and send Anfield wild.
Bailly absence hurts Villarreal
Eric Bailly’s influence in Villarreal’s central defence was crucial to frustrating Liverpool in last week’s first leg.
The Ivory Coast international’s absence because of a hamstring injury was keenly felt last night. Yet while Villarreal looked less certain without Bailly, the blame should not necessarily be placed on the shoulders of Mateo Musacchio, his Argentinian replacement. Villarreal’s back line as a whole wobbled early, not helped by an erratic display from French goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, selected ahead of Sergio Asenjo, who had played in the first leg.
Any hopes of quietening the Anfield crowd were dashed after Bruno Soriano’s own goal. From then on, Villarreal’s resilience was tested to the limit.
Klopp’s players show spirit of adventure
If Jurgen Klopp’s team selection for last week’s first leg smacked of caution, here he showed the positive approach that the club’s fans demanded.
Liverpool’s front players were outstanding on a night when goals were needed; it was an attacking display in stark contrast to the caution they showed in the first leg.
When the pressure was on, Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho, and Daniel Sturridge all deserved plaudits, but the Brazilian’s performance, particularly in the second half, deserves special mention.
His run to the byline to set up the third goal, scored by Adam Lallana, was particularly impressive. Perhaps the former Hoffenheim forward was seeking to prove a point after being left out of his country’s squad for this summer’s Copa America.
Villarreal’s Kop gamble falls flat
Perhaps Jurgen Klopp’s pre-match words about the Anfield atmosphere got to Villarreal coach Marcelino Garcia Toral. Perhaps his players felt the pressure of trying to defend a slender first-leg lead with a first European final in sight. Either way, the visitors’ apprehension was laid bare by the way they decided to try to quieten the crowd by electing to defend the Kop in the first half after winning the toss.
If Marcelino hoped that would disrupt Liverpool’s rhythm, he was wrong. Perhaps he had not realised that in one of Anfield’s most memorable European semi-finals, against Chelsea in the 2005 Champions League, Liverpool had also been made to attack the Kop in the first half. They scored early that night too.
Roberto Soldado’s combustible first-half display suggested the visitors were on the edge; Victor Ruiz’s silly second-half red card was a signal they had tipped over it.
Liverpool defence finds touch of discipline
Liverpool’s back line has been a source of alarm for the club’s fans all season; and this was not an entirely stress-free evening for them.
Simon Mignolet had to make an early save, while Alberto Moreno could well have conceded a penalty in the second half for an awkward challenge on Denis Suarez. But against a visiting team playing two up front in search of a precious away goal, Liverpool showed far more solidity than they had on that rollercoaster evening against Borussia Dortmund at Anfield in the quarter-finals. The result, in the end, was a much more comfortable victory, and the reward is a trip to Basel for the Europa League final on May 18. Klopp’s first season at Anfield may yet end in glory.
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