Liverpool v Villarreal - Champions League: Big Game Preview
Liverpool and Villarreal face off in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Wednesday, with Jurgen Klopp's side looking to do the expected business before heading off to Spain next week.
The Reds defeated Benfica 6-4 on aggregate in the quarter-finals to advance to the final four, as Klopp seeks a second Champions League triumph as Reds boss.
They are up against Unai Emery's Villarreal, who have defied expectations by beating both Juventus and Bayern Munich to get to the last four - they are the weakest side left in the competition on paper but it certainly won't be an easy contest for Liverpool.
However, they can be backed at 1/4 to win the first leg, with the draw 5/1 and a Reds win by a two-goal margin 3/1.
Liverpool need to tighten up in defence
Defensively, Liverpool's Premier League record in 2022 has been exceptional, as they are currently enjoying a 14-match unbeaten run in the top-flight.
In that time, they have conceded only six goals with four of them coming in 2-2 draws against Chelsea and Manchester City.
However, they have been a little bit more open in their Champions League knockout games, which might concern Klopp slightly, particularly at Anfield, with Liverpool 4/5 to keep a clean sheet on Wednesday.
Inter Milan won the second leg of the last-16 tie 1-0 on Merseyside, even though that still wasn't enough to take them through, while Benfica cut their hosts open on numerous occasions in a 3-3 draw.
Villarreal will take heart from the fact that it is more than possible to get at Liverpool and one-time Arsenal coach Emery will be trying to spring something of a surprise.
Who will play up front for the Reds?
Unlike two years ago when Liverpool won the Premier League title in style, Liverpool now have genuine world-class options in reserve if the front three get injured.
Gone are the days when they had to rely on the fitness of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino every time in order to succeed - now Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz are in the ranks, as well as Divock Origi.
Diaz in particular has made a sublime impact since joining from FC Porto in January - his pace, energy, and direct running make him perfect for this Liverpool team and it was his introduction in Sunday’s Merseyside derby that helped them turn the screw on Everton.
Now it is a nice headache for Klopp to have in terms of who to select up front and it will be interesting to see which trio he opts for.
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Villarreal will be no pushovers
No one expects Villarreal to progress to the final, but then again not many would have backed them to turn over both Juventus and Bayern Munich.
Emery's team, 8/1 to keep a clean sheet on Wednesday, have been very solid in the Champions League this season and that explains their place in the semi-finals.
In the quarter-final, they kept a clean sheet in a fantastic 3-0 win away at Juventus, before they shut Bayern out in the first leg of their quarter-final in Spain - no mean feat at all.
Villarreal know that Liverpool have shown vulnerabilities defensively and it will be fascinating to see whether the former Gunners boss will try and get at the Reds, or play more pragmatically in order to take a draw to the Estadio de la Ceramica.
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