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Liverpool reach Champions League final the hard way, survive early scare at Villarreal to win second leg

Liverpool's Champions League dreams could have become nightmares after the first half. But when the final whistle was blown by head referee Danny Makkelie, the dream of continental supremacy for Jurgen Klopp's squad was still alive and well thanks to the likes of Fabinho, Luis Díaz and Sadio Mané as the Reds booked a trip to the UCL final in Paris on Tuesday. 

After blowing a 2-0 aggregate lead at Villarreal in the first half of the second leg, the Reds exploded for three second-half goals to secure a 3-2 win away from home and reach their third UCL final in the last five seasons. They advanced 5-2 on aggregate. Fabinho, Díaz and Mané each scored in a blistering 12-minute span to turn the tie on its head, stunning the 21,872 fans at the rainy Estadio de la Ceramica after their team had Liverpool on their heels with an exceptional opening 45 minutes. A third-minute goal from Boulaye Dia and a 41st-minute header from Francis Coquelin allowed the Spanish club to believe they could pull it off, but in the end they could not produce enough on either end of the pitch. 

Fabinho could not have picked a better time to score his first UCL goal for the Reds in the 62nd minute, which gave them the 3-2 lead on aggregate. Five minutes after that low strike trickled past Geronimo Rulli, Díaz headed home a Trent Alexander-Arnold cross to end Cinderella's time at the ball. Mané cemented the win with a nifty solo finish 16 minutes from time. 

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A common theme on all three Liverpool goals was the poor execution by goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli and his defenders. It madethings too easy for the visitors, who came to life when it mattered most. 

As a result, Liverpool now await Manchester City or Real Madrid in the final, with those two playing their semifinal second leg on Wednesday. 

Here's what to know about the game:

It was the perfect start from Villarreal

You may recall Villarreal's quarterfinal first leg against Bayern Munich where it took the Yellow Submarine just eight minutes to open the scoring via Arnaut Danjuma. Without the Dutchman on this night due to injury, it took Villarreal just three minutes to go ahead. 

Dia, a 25-year-old French forward in his first season at the club, scored this opener to pull his team back into the tie and give them all of the momentum, capitalizing on a poor opening half from the Liverpool defense:

It was a fantastic sequence by Unai Emery's side, with him working his European magic again, giving them the belief that they could once again slay a giant of Europe. It was also Dia's first career UCL goal.

They just had to get the first goal, and they did, starting what was an impressive opening 45 minutes for the underdogs. 

What was Alexander-Arnold doing?

With the tie hanging in the balance, the next goal was either going to end Villarreal's chances or boost them greatly. That's when Coquelin delivered. The former Arsenal man rose to a cross and headed brilliantly past Alisson to make it 2-2 just before the break. 

But just look at Alexander-Arnold, who did not even jump to defend the header:

Absolutely inexplicable by the English defender, and he knows it. Fortunately for him, he would redeem himself. But to not even try and throw Coquelin off balance was baffling and poor judgement. He either underestimated what the Frenchman could do or just felt like he was too late on a wet and sloppy surface due to pouring rain, but anything other than what he did would have been better.

Rough from Rulli

With the second half beginning, the match could have gone really either way. But the introduction of Díaz saw Liverpool look much more in sync in the attacking third, and that improved possession allowed more players to get forward. That is where Fabinho came in, slipping into the box and getting a fortunate goal that Rulli probably should have stopped:

From there, it was all downhill for the Argentine shot-stopper, and he finished the night knowing he could have done much better on all three goals conceded.

Alexander-Arnold redeems himself

The fullback would not take long to full redeem himself, delivering a perfect cross to Díaz to make it 2-2. Alexander-Arnold, who finished with two chances created and one shot that deflected off Coquelin and hit the crossbar, found the Colombian back post with a signature ball in to give his team the breathing room they needed:

Díaz brought the spark in that second half, but Alexander-Arnold managed to deliver the goods when needed, playing it at just the right time to keep the attacker on.

Magnificent Mané ends it

The match then opened up, and it had to with Villarreal chasing. And it was always going to be Liverpool's from there. With Villarreal clearly rattled and desperate, it was another Rulli blunder that allowed the Senegalese superstar to ice it. Mané was sent through, took a touch past the out-of-place goalkeeper and his defender, and he made it look easy the rest of the way.

With the result, Liverpool will feel

As united as ever. Look, at the break, it wasn't looking good for them. But Klopp brought on Díaz, had his team stick to the plan, and they managed to settle in. With 55 percent possession, nearly 20 percent less than the first leg, they were going to need to be a bit more efficient, and they were. It took longer than they wanted, but it came. They never caved in, they remained poised, and they put on their scoring boots at half time. As a result, they could be just 90 minutes away from their seventh UCL crown.

What could have been for Villarreal

Admirable. It was never likely that they would be able to pull this off, especially after what they did to Bayern, but boy did they give it their best shot. They had the Reds on the ropes, and in the end there was just not enough quality. 

For decades to come, Villarreal fans will be able to share the story of what 2021 and 2022 were like. From winning their first European trophy last year in the Europa League to making their second and most surprising run to the UCL semifinals, they showed that La Liga is not facing its demise, rather it is fostering its revival. 

What's next?

Manchester City and Real Madrid will play on Wednesday in their second leg, and the winner of that tie will face Liverpool on May 28 at 3 p.m. ET at the Stade de France. You can see all of the remaining UCL matches on CBS and Paramount+.

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Liverpool went behind early but it would be no problem as they won 3-2 on the day

Goals from Fabinho, Luis Diaz, and Sadio Mane canceled out Villarreal's goals as the second half saw Liverpool steamroll the Yellow Submarine. A day to forget for Rulli as Liverpool books their place in the Champions League final.

May 3, 2022, 8:55 PM
May. 03, 2022, 4:55 pm EDT
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Jurgen Klopp gets to empty the bench now

It's all but over as the second half dominance continues. Liverpool are now up to ten shots taken during the second half while Villarreal hasn't been able to get a sniff at the ball.

May 3, 2022, 8:43 PM
May. 03, 2022, 4:43 pm EDT
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Rulli is caught out again and Liverpool get a third via Mane

Alas, it's a tale of two halves as Liverpool go ahead by three goals on aggregate. That spot in the final is coming. 

May 3, 2022, 8:35 PM
May. 03, 2022, 4:35 pm EDT
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It's a whole different team! Diaz scores to level things on the day restoring Liverpool's 2-0 advantage 

What a super sub performance from Diaz to put Alexander-Arnold's cross away. This may be out f reach now.

May 3, 2022, 8:27 PM
May. 03, 2022, 4:27 pm EDT
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Some comfort now for the Reds

That gives Liverpool a little bit of breathing room now, but they aren't stopping. They want a second and to put the sword to the Spanish side. The Reds are dominating the ball now and have control, but the next goal, if there is one, will be absolutely massive.

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Fabinho opens the scoring for Liverpool, it's 3-2 Reds on aggregate

Salah plays him in and Fabinho megs Rulli on the opener, plenty of ways to score a goal in this one.

May 3, 2022, 8:21 PM
May. 03, 2022, 4:21 pm EDT
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How rare is it for Liverpool to concede goals from open play crosses?

Coquelin's goal was only the fourth that Liverpool have conceded from an open play cross all season.

May 3, 2022, 8:15 PM
May. 03, 2022, 4:15 pm EDT
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Diaz is already making a difference

He's giving Villarreal fits as he is able to help Liverpool maintain possession. While it hasn't led to a goal yet, the reds do look better in posession.

May 3, 2022, 8:13 PM
May. 03, 2022, 4:13 pm EDT
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Second-half mentality for both:

Villarreal: The hosts have to continue pushing. They must keep along this path and not change their plan. By becoming defensive, they open the door for Liverpool to get back into it. 

Liverpool: Klopp isn't waiting. Luis Diaz is on as Jota comes off. The Reds are looking for an individual moment of brilliance if they cannot manage to gain control, and the Colombian can do just that.

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Here comes Luis Diaz

Diogo Jota only goes a half as Liverpool needs directness to break Villarreal down. We're in for quite a finish here.

May 3, 2022, 8:04 PM
May. 03, 2022, 4:04 pm EDT
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Oh Villarreal! Coquelin gets their second goal!

We're level after head scratching defense from Liverpool. Capoue has been everywhere and lost Robertson so Coquelin could head it into the net.

May 3, 2022, 7:43 PM
May. 03, 2022, 3:43 pm EDT
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Lo Celso goes down! But no penalty!!

Surely this will be looked at but Alisson does get the ball and Lo Celso seemed to be looking for the penalty as he did go down easily. Moreno is receiving treatment during this stoppage as well which is worrisome 

May 3, 2022, 7:40 PM
May. 03, 2022, 3:40 pm EDT
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Liverpool are finding their feet a little as the match grows on

While the reds still aren't comfortable against the press, they are limiting Villarreal's chances as the match gets closer to halftime with will make them feel better about the tie. Jurgen Klopp will want his team to have a better handle in possession but as long as they're ahead on aggregate all is well.

May 3, 2022, 7:37 PM
May. 03, 2022, 3:37 pm EDT
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Liverpool finally had a chance but can't make it count

Salah got through as Estupinan slipped on the wet pitch but Jota couldn't put the ball in the net. The danger was eventually taken care of due to a foul on Rulli but it shows that Liverpool are only one pass from breaking things open at any time.

May 3, 2022, 7:26 PM
May. 03, 2022, 3:26 pm EDT
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Villarreal in command

This is such an encouraging start for the hosts. The Reds don't feel truly rattled, but they are certainly uncomfortable in the early moments. The press is giving them trouble though, but the spots are there to recover and go on the counter. 

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15' Moreno is close for a second goal!

It was a weak header but close to being a hand ball from Robertson. Villarreal are getting into the box with ease and Liverpool's defense will need to tighten things up sooner than later.

May 3, 2022, 7:18 PM
May. 03, 2022, 3:18 pm EDT
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Perfect start

Well you cannot ask for a better start than that for the hosts. Firmly back in the tie after a shock goal three minutes in. Capoue did so well at the far post to get a touch and put the ball across the face of goal, with Dia doing the rest. Game on in Spain. Incredible.

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Both teams have started with energy today

Dia has proven to be a worthy replacement for Danjuma getting scoring going already but it has been energy from the defense that is really making Villarreal tick. Liverpool hasn't completed 60 percent of their passes but Villarreal can't keep up this energy can they?

May 3, 2022, 7:11 PM
May. 03, 2022, 3:11 pm EDT
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It's Villarreal!!!!

Stop the presses as the Yellow Submarine have gone ahead only three minutes into things!!! What a start from Dia!

May 3, 2022, 7:05 PM
May. 03, 2022, 3:05 pm EDT
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It's almost time for kickoff

About ten minutes until things are underway.

May 3, 2022, 6:47 PM
May. 03, 2022, 2:47 pm EDT
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What to watch

Keep an eye on Parejo in the middle. The veteran has been good for Villarreal with his distribution, he can score a banger on a set piece, but at times he can also be a liability. Much too often he can be seen holding on to the ball for too long, and that results in a silly turnover and allowing the other team to go on the counter. If he does that here, the Reds can make them pay and have this match over early. He must get rid of the ball quicker.

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How Villarreal can pull off a miracle...

Well, first, it's going to be like mission impossible. They have to be at their very best, but they also face the pressure of having to attack, leaving their defense exposed. After not threatening once in the first leg, the possession-first approach where the counter is the play in attack, well that won't cut it. They have to be aggressive and take chances, otherwise they have absolutely no chance in pulling this off. Beating Bayern was one thing, but this Liverpool side is stronger, more united and will be ready to kill this one off by halftime. 

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As you were for Liverpool

After getting rest for key members of the team against Newcastle on the weekend, Jurgen Klopp isn't messing around with his lineup throwing everything he has at Villarreal. An absolute first team squad is rolling into Spain looking for a trip to the Champions League final. 

May 3, 2022, 6:24 PM
May. 03, 2022, 2:24 pm EDT
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A comeback without their top scorer?

It's gonna be tough sledding for Villarreal as Danjuma misses the match due to injury. While Moreno's return gives them an outlet up top, he's more of a workhorse than a goal scorer these days. It was already going to be a tough job for the Yellow Submarine but it just got about ten times harder.

May 3, 2022, 6:14 PM
May. 03, 2022, 2:14 pm EDT
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Team news

Villarreal: Rulli; Foyth, Albiol, Pau Torres, Estupinan; Lo Celso, Parejo, Capoue, Coquelin; Moreno, Dia.

Liverpool: Alisson, Robertson, Van Dijk, Konate, Alexander-Arnold; Thiago, Fabinho, Keita; Jota, Mane, Salah.

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By Jonathan Johnson

Villarreal: After last weekend's loss to Alaves, Emery and his side remain four points off the European places with time running out. Champions League success would guarantee a return next season but that seems unlikely at present. A continental berth sliding down via Real Betis appears most likely for El Submarino Amarillo.

Liverpool: The quadruple is very much still on for the Merseyside giants, but Klopp will be aware that Villarreal were obdurate until they were undone by a fortuitous opener last week. Granted, their second goal was brilliant, but this one might need one more goal to be sure that it is over and that a place in Paris is secure.

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How to watch Villarreal vs. Liverpool

Date: Tuesday, May 3 | Time: 3 p.m. ET | Live stream: Paramount+
Location: Estadio de la Cerámica -- Villarreal, Spain
Studio coverage: Kate Abdo, Thierry Henry, Jamie Carragher and Micah Richards
Commentators: Peter Drury and Jim Beglin
On-site reporters: Peter Schmeichel, Jules Breach and Guillem Balagué  
Odds: Villarreal +390; Draw +290; Liverpool -145; O/U: 2.5 (via Caesars Sportsbook)

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Looking at predictions for this leg the team sees Liverpool keeping their aggregate lead

Most likely to score: Mohamed Salah. Mane was on target last time, but it required the Egyptian's brilliance to unlock the Villarreal defense. Do not be surprised if the Senegalese returns the favor for what could be a tie-settling goal.

May 3, 2022, 5:41 PM
May. 03, 2022, 1:41 pm EDT
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