The UEFA Champions League is coming to its end. We have reached the semi-finals stage. Last Night we had a classic battle of heavyweights between Real Madrid and Manchester City. Today we have Heavyweights Liverpool coming up against the Underdogs of this season, Villareal.
Villarreal’s journey to the UCL semi-finals has been a story in itself. Villarreal under Unai Emery has forced reckon from the past few seasons. They won the Europa League last season and now they are here in the Champions League Semi-Finals.
Liverpool has been in terrific form in the past few matches. They have eliminated their biggest rival Manchester City from the FA Cup. They are now in pole position to win that competition as well. In the Premier League, they give City a run for their money in each game and the title race is on fire as only one point separates Liverpool and Manchester City on top of the EPL table. Liverpool is coming into this game on the back of a 10-game unbeaten streak across all competition and would want to continue their march towards a historic quadruple this year.
Villarreal is the underdogs and would want to leave a mark on their first-ever UCL semifinal game. The Yellow Submarine is headed by master tactician Unai Emery and we witnessed a magical display by Emery Villarreal in the quarter-finals of this UCL when they knocked out one of the favorites. Villarreal too is coming into this game on a back 5 game unbeaten streak across all competitions. They had 2 convincing victories over Valencia and Getafe in the last few games they played.
Coming to the UCL form of both teams. Villarreal did the unthinkable in the quarter-finals when they knocked out Bayern Munich over a 2-legged affair by a margin of one goal. Liverpool meanwhile also had a decent fight as Portuguese team Benfica stretched them to their limits in the return leg but thanks to their superb 1st leg performance overall Liverpool managed to beat Benfica by a margin of 6-4 in the quarter-finals.
After experimenting with a lot of formations, Unai Emery has finally settled with a 4-4-2 at Villarreal. Mario Gaspar remains the club’s first-choice right-back. At center-back however, Emery has established the formidable partnership of Raul Albiol and youngster Pau Torres. Unai Emery has always had a desire to play out from the back. Villarreal’s formation shifts more into a 2-1-4-3. For purposes of simplifying things, you could also call this a 3-4-3, with Vicente Iborra dropping in between or alongside the two center-backs. It pushes the fullbacks higher, allowing the wingers to come inside. Both of Villarreal’s attackers have a natural inclination to drift inside anyway. This approach allows the two players to do so seamlessly while overloading midfield areas alongside the two central midfielders in behind. It aids in achieving numerical superiority in the build-up, and in their verticality in attacking transitions.
The diamond shape created at the very back-end also allows Villarreal to achieve numerical superiority even against a high press. At varying moments, the two central midfielders may also drop in deep to pick up the ball and join the back-line in the build-up. Their defensive stability has come largely out of the 4-1-4-1 shape, in which they have engaged in a mid-block, shifting and sliding with the play rather than pressing vigorously from the front. They’ve maintained positive possession and numerical superiority in central areas during both build-up and defensive phases of the game while remaining tactically fluid throughout a flurry of formation changes. In this Way, Villarreal’s play unfolds under Emery.
In his years with the Merseyside club, Jurgen Klopp has made them play some beautiful football. Klopp uses the gegen-pressing against teams while not on the ball. It is one of his most unique strategies of him which aids his players in recovering the ball quickly. The coordination between the players is amazing which is required in zonal marking. Klopp’s fullbacks play like typical wingers on the pitch. Their wing play is a sight to behold with Trent and Robertson both sending awesome crosses into the box as well as key passes. Fabinho or Henderson plays the role of a typical ball snatcher while the two central midfielders act as ball carriers into the final third.
Salah is a kind of inverted forward who receives balls on the flank and then cuts inside to create goal-scoring chances. The pace of the attackers enables them to launch swift counterattacks against the flow of play. Klopp also makes the defenders play defense, splitting long balls. Jota is a poacher who doesn’t maintain a constant position to avoid marking but slides in the free spaces well. While attacking, Liverpool forms a 2-3-5 formation which transforms quickly to 5-2-3 off the ball.
Jurgen Klopp has a full-fit squad to choose from for this clash. It would be interesting to see whether Klopp opts for rotation or not in this game. Considering the tight fixture schedule for The Reds over the past few days. We might see a slight rotation in the Liverpool lineup.
Alison, Trent Arnold, Konate, VVD, Robertson, Fabinho, Thiago, Keita, Salah, Mane, Luis Diaz
Unai Emery has a fit squad apart from a 1-2 injury scare. Villareal backup left-back Alberto Moreno is injured and set to miss this game. A major setback for Emery will be his star striker Gerard Moreno is injured and will not be available for this game.
Rulli, Estupinan, Pau Torres, Albiol, Foyth, Coquelin, Dani Parejo, Capoue, Lo Celso, Danjuma, Samuel Chukwueze
Players to watch out for
Since joining Liverpool in January Luis Diaz has left mark on this side. He has come up with goals and assisted at clutch times for the Klopp team. He is unpredictable in his movements, and able to cut in or go wide or hold the touchline. His ball-carrying ability is another plus to his game.
Finally, his stamina is something worth noting. In terms of strength on the ball and not easily shrugged off by physical defenders as well as his ability to last 90 minutes in back-to-back games without getting exhausted. Thus, breaking the tight defense of Villareal Luis Diaz can be Jurgen Klopp’s triumph card.
Arnut Danjuma has been the go-to man for Unai Emery throughout the season. The Dutch international since joining at the start of the season has been Villarreal’s top scorer across all competitions, He has scored 17 goals and provided 11 assists so far. He has a fearless, almost arrogant habit of attempting to break through those barriers, and with a scary combination of speed, strength, and balance, it works more often than not.
This confidence also lends itself to his ability with both feet. He has the reverse Robben-Esque fear factor when coming in on his right foot to devastating effect, but the wariness of the opposition only enables him to drag the ball down the line and produce similarly outstanding service with his left foot.
All in all, we have in for an exciting game of football where on one side we have Klopp ultra-attacking Liverpool while on the other hand, it’s master tactician Unai Emery Villarreal who is defensively well organized and compact.
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Ashutosh Welankar Law graduate by degree. Football lover and blogger by passion.