Liverpool’s reward for their incredible victory over Borussia Dortmund a fortnight ago is a Europa League semi-final with dark horses Villarreal, one of two Spanish sides left fighting in the competition.
Given how that memorable last eight clash panned out, it would be something of a shame if Liverpool do not go on to lift the trophy. They have beaten the tournament favourites, but manager Jurgen Klopp will be ensuring that his players are fully focused and aware of the considerable threat that Villarreal will pose, determined that they can get a positive result to take back to Anfield.
The Premier League has taken a total backseat as youngsters have been given their chance, but there has been disruption in the Liverpool ranks in recent times after Mamadou Sakho was revealed to have failed a drugs test in the aftermath of the Round of 32 tie with Manchester United. The Frenchman had been one of the players in form and had established a growing centre-back partnership with Dejan Lovren, with both of them making vital contributions at the other end by scoring against Dortmund.
On the face of it these two teams appear to be fairly evenly matched, so it could come down to how two star strikers will fare; one on each side. With Divock Origi absent through injury Liverpool will turn to Daniel Sturridge, who looks to be somewhere close to full sharpness after another frustrating season spent largely on the treatment table. He has scored in each of his last three games now and in doing so has given served a reminder of his immense quality.
As for Villarreal, they have a prolific centre forward themselves in Cedric Bakambu, whose record in the Europa League is one of the main reasons why the club have got this far. Signed last summer from Bursaspor, the 25-year-old has scored nine goals in 11 matches so far during the competition, so will be the man that Liverpool look to nullify most.
Currently fourth in La Liga, Villarreal are on their way to rediscovering the level which saw them reach the latter stages of the Champions League in the mid-to-late 2000s, and will provide a real test for Liverpool. But there is something about the Reds that suggests that they could succeed this year under the guidance of Klopp. It promises to be a very intriguing tie.
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