The Reds delivered an accomplished performance as they ousted Villarreal 3-0 on the night and 3-1 on aggregate to advance to the Europa League final in Switzerland
When Jurgen Klopp heard Liverpool supporters were planning to welcome the team bus into Anfield like they did for against Borussia Dortmund, his smile was as wide as the attacking ambition his side showed on Thursday night.
“It was great, it was outstanding, it was the first time, it was wonderful,” he said of the reception on the evening the Reds ousted his former club 4-3 in one of the Europa League’s most exhilarating encounters.
“It let the game start earlier than usual. Normally the games start in the stadium, but this game started in front of the stadium. It was great to see, wonderful to feel and pretty, pretty special.”
It was the same again against Villarreal, who arrived at Anfield with a 1-0 lead from the first leg of the semi-final, but saw their confidence sapped by the scenes that greeted them on L4.
Home fans lined the streets two hours prior to kick off – banners proudly waving, red smoke circling, scarves twirling – to inspire Liverpool long before the whistle. Once the players had disembarked to the sound of their continuous chanting, the fans continued their carnival inside the stadium.
The volume was amplified for the warm-up, and Klopp stood facing the Kop, soaking in the support, smiling before beating his chest and heading down the tunnel. He was right, the game had started well before referee Viktor Kassai’s signal.
Villarreal’s nickname, Yellow Submarine, is inspired by their club colours and of course the 1966 Beatles film and soundtrack of the same name. It is fitting that it should be sunk by another merry band from Liverpool.
Anfield had that familiar glorious air around it, not just owing to the stirring build-up, but also because it was the first home game since the conclusion of the Hillsborough inquests, which returned a verdict of unlawful killing. A mosaic reading “96, The Greatest Football Family” covered three sections of the ground, with Villarreal also offering their own tribute to the victims of the 1989 tragedy at half-time.
Fuelled by both aspects, the players did not disappoint in a comprehensive 3-0 triumph.
In the opening minutes, Liverpool were an attacking blur that rattled the visitors. The expansive approach from Klopp’s men did, however, mean Villarreal would be presented with opportunities on the break. On five minutes, Simon Mignolet was forced to save Mario Gaspar’s clip from Roberto Soldado’s knockdown. If the Liga side felt some encouragement from that attack, it was short-lived as Bruno Soriano bundled Roberto Firmino’s ball into his own net under pressure from Daniel Sturridge.
As expected, the hosts showed the ambition, invention and initiative as Villarreal parked their Yellow Submarine in two banks of four, waiting for an opportunity to punish a Liverpool mistake. Every so often, they broke, but without causing too much trouble, before ending up a man down after Victor Ruiz was shown a second yellow.
Liverpool should have had a greater lead heading into the interval, but after half-time, Firmino turned on the class as both Sturridge and Adam Lallana struck to confirm their place in the Europa League final.
The all-round performance from Klopp’s side was accomplished, and when contrasted to the club’s start in this season’s continental campaign, it’s unfathomable that they’ve reached its climax.
That is credit to the manager and the way he’s transformed the mentality and atmosphere around not just the Europa League, but Liverpool in its entirety.
In the aftermath of the victory, he faced all sections of the crowd and punched the air, as supporters responded with a battle cry.
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