Thursday 28th April. 8:05PM. BT Sport Europe
The long road to Basel is nearly complete, and just four teams remain in the hunt for a place in this year’s Europa League final. As far as English interests are concerned, all eyes will be focused on Liverpool’s trip to El Madrigal.
Jurgen Klopp’s men reached this stage with the most incredible of nights at Anfield against Dortmund. But there’s still plenty of work to do as they look to keep their hopes of winning the trophy alive; Marcelino’s Yellows certainly won’t roll over.
It could be another classic.
Submarino Out To Sink Liverpool
Unlike Liverpool, Villarreal aren’t relying on this competition to gain Champions League qualification, and the Yellow Submarine are firm favourites to grab fourth place in La Liga. Nevertheless, Marcelino’s men would love to lift a major trophy by winning this competition and can give themselves a real boost by winning this first leg here.
Despite their recent poor form domestically, Villarreal’s home form has been fantastic this campaign. This is especially true in the Europa League, where they’ve won all six home ties this season. If they make it seventh heaven against their Premier League visitors, they’ll have every chance of reaching the final at St-Jakob Park.
Villarreal’s biggest strength has been their defensive record. The Spaniards have shipped just one home goal on this run to the last four. With Cedric Bakambu leading the line up top, they boast plenty of danger in the attacking third too.
This is the club’s best chance of finally lifting a European honour, but the pressure is well and truly on. Nevertheless, we’re expecting a big performance from the hosts.
Coutinho And Co To Shine?
With Villarreal, you know what you’re going to get. But Liverpool have been a real Jekyll and Hyde team this season. If Klopp can channel those energies from the two legs against Dortmund, though, the Merseysiders will have a fantastic chance.
Winning this competition is Liverpool’s only hope of playing Champions League football next term, and the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge will be fully aware of the task at hand. However, the visitors are dangerous when they press, and that could be their secret to success in Spain.
Off field matters regarding Mamadou Sakho won’t help, but Klopp has made the Reds look stronger since taking charge and, Newcastle disappointment aside, has been the side’s best spell of the campaign. They’ll be eager to show that promise once again in this crucial first leg.
A win isn’t compulsory, but returning to Anfield with an away goal would be very useful. A score draw or away win would be perfect.
Villarreal v Liverpool Betting
At this stage of the competition, all four teams will feel like the trophy is within touching distance. It’s particularly hard to separate these rivals, which is reflected in the betting odds. As far as this leg is concerned, though, Villarreal have been made the favourites at 11/8 with Bet365. Liverpool, meanwhile, can be backed at 15/8 whilst the draw is 12/5.
Both sides would love to win this first leg, but neither will want to give too much away. We’re anticipating a battle of tactics, especially early on. We’re hoping that this will lead to a game where goals come at a premium.
We don’t think a lack of goal action will stop the drama. Nevertheless, under 2.5 goals looks a safe bet, especially given Villarreal’s defensive record.
The opening stages could be particularly tentative as both teams try to feel their way into this semi-final. Having said that, there is a major incentive to go for goal. Whilst we can’t see it being a high-scorer, we don’t think it will end deadlocked either.
We could have to wait some time for that opening strike, though. The half-time team talks could be crucial, and we think the first goal will come shortly after the interval.