Liverpool kept their quadruple dreams alive by reaching the Champions League final with a crazy 3-2 win at Villarreal.
Heading into the second leg at the Estadio de la Cerámica, Liverpool were expected to swagger their way through to the final having secured a fairly straightforward 2-0 win last week.
Yes, Unai Emery’s men had made it frustrating and awkward at times during the clash at Anfield, but Pervis Estupiñán’s own goal and a Sadio Mane strike ultimately gave the Reds the advantage.
Villarreal jangle Liverpool nerves
And given that Villarreal are just about as weak as Champions League semi-final opponents gets on paper, Kopites didn’t have too many worries going into the second 90 minutes in Spain.
However, they really should have been worried because the ‘Yellow Submarine’ proceeded to fly out of the blocks with two goals in the first-half to completely flip the tie on its head.
In fact, Liverpool didn’t even have three minutes to settle into the game as Villarreal showed the exact brand of intensity and attacking football that they’ve been accused of lacking under Emery.
That’s because the hosts caused carnage amongst the Liverpool defence with a well-worked move that culminated in Étienne Capoue switching the ball to Boulaye Dia for a close-range finish.
It truly was the rockiest possible start for Liverpool and the worst was still to come before the interval despite Thiago Alcantara jangling Villarreal’s nerves by knocking the dust off the crossbar.
Villarreal draw level
The hosts shocked the footballing world by going 2-0 up within 45 minutes to level the scores on aggregate with former Arsenal and Charlton Athletic man Francis Coquelin notching the leveller.
Capoue once again turned provider as his brilliant cross into the penalty area found the head of Coquelin, who directed the ball past Alisson Becker and sparked scenes of yellow-clad delirium.
All in all, it made for a surreal situation where Liverpool looked to have bottled what appeared to be the most stress-free Champions League semi-final second leg that anyone could have wished for.
Liverpool get back on track
As such, you just know that Jurgen Klopp gave his Liverpool team the kick up the backside that they needed, and bringing on Luis Diaz for Diogo Jota proved to be an inspired decision.
From the moment that Trent Alexander-Arnold rattled the bar, you knew that the Reds had woken up at long last and they finally bagged the goal that they needed with half an hour to play.
With Fabinho unexpectedly finding himself out on the right wing, Mohamed Salah slipped the ball into his path and the resulting shot was enough to wiggle its way through Gerónimo Rulli.
Luis Diaz changes the game
And that seemed to be the catalyst for Liverpool returning to the omnipotent form that we’ve come to expect from during the 2021/22 season with Diaz, in particular, turning up the quality.
As such, it couldn’t have been more fitting that the Reds’ January signing was the man to put Liverpool out of reach, heading through the goalkeeper having reached Alexander-Arnold’s cross.
Weak-foot cross from Trent.— Watch LFC (@Watch_LFC) May 3, 2022
Fabulous header form Diaz.
What a goal 🙌pic.twitter.com/KjNW6gHYOh
Clanger from Rulli
From that point onwards, the wheels really did start to fly off for Villarreal as Rulli suffered his second clanger of the night, allowing Sadio Mane to score with some erratic positioning.
The Villarreal goalkeeper effectively produced a terrible Manuel Neuer impression by coming miles off his line, only to bungle the clearance and allow Mane to find the back of an open net.
Mane passes the ball into an empty net after rounding Gerónimo Rulli! ⚽️— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 3, 2022
Liverpool have turned this around with such ease in the second half!
Three goals in the space of 12 minutes 🌪#UCL pic.twitter.com/XsohPejL2j
And things only unravelled even more for the hosts from thereon out with Capoue swiftly going from zero to hero, concluding a night that had seen him deliver two assists with a sending off.
The former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder gave the referee no choice but to send him for an early bath when his decision to bulldoze into Curtis Jones necessitated a second yellow card.
The quadruple dream lives on
As such, the final whistle drew the curtain on a crazy night in Spain on something of a sour note, but make no mistake that Villarreal still put in a heroic display against stronger opposition.
The electric impact of Diaz off the bench and some costly errors from Rulli might ultimately have changed the game, but both teams could hold their head up high after an entertaining fixture.
And while Villarreal pat themselves on the back for a truly incredible Champions League run, Liverpool look forward to a third final in five seasons and the potential of a quadruple. Remarkable.