Villarreal and Liverpool are now just two steps away from being crowned Europa League champions and securing Champions League qualification, and that should be enough incentive for the two sides to give their best when they square off in the first semi-final leg at El Madrigal on Thursday night.
This has been one of the most successful seasons in Villarreal’s recent history, but the Yellow Submarine cannot afford to relax just yet as they can turn it into a feat not to be forgotten. Few weeks ago it seemed that Marcelino Garcia Toral’s side would have no problems clinching the final Champions League berth in La Liga, but despite failing to win any of their last three league fixtures, Villarreal sit four points clear of fifth placed Celta Vigo with three games to go. This means they can be trusted to get the job done, especially since they will not be facing any of the top 6 sides in the final three matches. At the same time, the Yellow Submarine are in a position to lift their first ever European trophy, having recorded a double win over Sparta Prague to make it to the Europa League semis. The game against revived Liverpool will be no easy task, but the fact that Villarreal won last six home games in the competition, conceding just one goal in the process is enough to give them confidence ahead of the clash with the Premier League giants. However, it has to be noted that the Yellow Submarine only won two of seven home matches against English opposition.
The likes of Roberto Soldado, Tomas Pina, Samu Castillejo and Victor Ruiz all returned into action at the weekend and they are in contention to start.
However, Mateo Musacchio and Jaume Costa remain injury doubts, whereas the game will probably come too soon for Leo Baptistao.
Unlike their next opponents, Liverpool are highly unlikely to secure Champions League through league finish, so no wonder the Reds are keen on lifting the Europa League trophy. Besides, who would mind the first European title since the Istanbul final against AC Milan? The Reds have had their share of problems this season, with inconsistency and injuries to star players proving the biggest issues, but the good news is that Liverpool appear to have reached top form in the crucial stage of the season. With Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino back in action and Divock Origi finally proving his worth, the Reds have been thoroughly impressive of late, and had they not become complacent in weekend’s clash with Newcastle United, they would now be on a five-match winning run. Liverpool enjoyed another memorable European night as they came from two-goals down to pip Borussia Dortmund to a place in the semi-finals, but they will be in for another difficult match this Thursday as Villarreal have become a real force to be reckoned with at home over the last few years. The Mamadou Sakho situation could not have come at a worse time as the Frenchman had just reached a good understanding with Dejan Lovren, meaning his back-up Kolo Toure could have his work cut out for him against Villarreal’s pacey attackers.
Mamadou Sakho misses out through suspension, whereas Emre Can and Divock Origi look set to miss the remainder of the season.
Nothing has changed when long-term casualties are concerned, seeing that Jordan Henderson, Danny Ings and Joe Gomez are out as well.
Key Factors to Consider
- The two sides have never met in a competitive match
- A pre-season friendly at El Madrigal in 2008 ended goalless
- Villarreal won last six home fixtures in Europa League
- Liverpool played out four successive draws in Europa League away games
- The Reds are the only unbeaten side in this year’s competition
With several important players sidelined through injury, Villarreal have struggled of late, but they will be almost at full strength against Liverpool and we are backing them to make it seven Europa League wins in a row at El Madrigal. The Reds, on the other hand, have some important missings and they have failed to impress on European travels.
Verdict: Villarreal Draw no bet
Best Odds: 8/11