Liverpool overpower Villarreal to reach Europa League final
Anfield demolition job hailed by Jurgen Klopp as rampant Reds set up showdown with title holders Sevilla
Liverpool 3 Villarreal 0 [Liverpool win 3-1 on aggregate]
On what manager Jurgen Klopp described as an "incredible" night, Liverpool demolished Villarreal to reach the final of the Europa League.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, the Reds overwhelmed their Spanish opponents to set up a mouthwatering clash against title holders Sevilla in the Swiss city of Basel next month.
"It's a nice city, by the way, close to my home," a delighted Klopp told reporters before warning the residents of Basel to prepare for an invasion. "We take 50, 60, 70 thousand Liverpudlians with us, not in the stadium but in the city. Maybe 100,000. Create an atmosphere...and try and give our best in the middle of May for this wonderful club and these wonderful fans."
It was Klopp's players who were wonderful on Thursday evening, producing one of their best performances of the season to blow Villarreal away. The visitors' one-goal advantage was cancelled out after just seven minutes, when Roberto Firmino's cross was deflected into the net by their defender, Bruno Soriano.
Villarreal, who had not lost in the competition since matchday one, had a couple of chances to score a crucial away goal, but Cedric Bakumbu scuffed one opening and was then denied early in the second half by a sharp challenge from Dejan Lovren.
Liverpool got their second goal just after the hour mark, with Firmino again the provider, picking out Daniel Sturridge with a defence-splitting pass that was crisply finished by the England striker. And Firmino was also involved in the third goal, teeing up Sturridge, whose shot was turned in by Adam Lallana.
By then, Villarreal were down to ten men after the dismissal on 71 minutes of Victor Ruiz for a second offence, leaving manager Marcelino to reflect on a disastrous evening. "We've caught Liverpool in their best form of the season, there's not a lot more to say," he said. "They were superior."
Klopp singled out Sturridge for praise just days after the striker caused consternation among Liverpool fans by appearing to snub them after being substituted against Swansea. "Great game from Daniel, great game, and you all see now when Daniel Sturridge is fit, he is an unbelievable striker," he said. "He's such a great player and it's good to have him here at this club."
Liverpool and Sevilla have never before met and next month's clash is an intriguing confrontation between a club with a rich history in Europe and a Spanish side whose domination is more recent. Sevilla have won a record four Uefa Cup/Europa League titles, the first of which came in 2006, and are gunning for an unprecedented third consecutive title, having beaten Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk last season and Benfica in the 2014 final.
Liverpool, however, have won five European Cup/Champions League titles, a feat bettered only by Real Madrid and AC Milan, although their last triumph was in 2005.
While the Europa League is Europe's second tier competition, Klopp stressed the importance of beating Sevilla.
"When I came here, the tournament didn't sound too nice for the people," he said. "Europe is big and a lot of teams want to go to finals, it's not too easy. Now we are there. It's a great opportunity and we will take it as an opportunity."