Liverpool vs Villarreal match report: Reds suffer late sucker punch as Adrian Lopez scores injury-time winner

Villarreal 1 Liverpool 0

Simon Hughes
Estadio El Madrigal
Friday 29 April 2016 08:40 BST
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Adrian Lopez celebrates his late winning goal for Villarreal
Adrian Lopez celebrates his late winning goal for Villarreal (Getty)

The noise from the terraces of the Madrigal was enormous and sudden. It seemed that Liverpool had executed another streetwise performance on foreign soil under Jürgen Klopp. Yet in injury time, the Mediterranean air changed completely.

Perhaps it was tired legs that afforded Villarreal’s captain Bruno Soriano the space to steady himself and clip a raking pass over the head of Kolo Touré and towards Denis Suarez, the former Manchester City midfielder.

The Spaniard’s first touch was perfect because from there the pitch in front opened up for him and he was able to square for Adrian. With Simon Mignolet exposed, the substitute, on loan from Porto, was able to score the winner.

Liverpool had been caught out by the simplest of counter attacks. In just a couple of seconds, the probability of their involvement in next month's the Europa League final reduced considerably.

“It had been a professional performance,” Klopp insisted. He was right about that. He was right to assert that Liverpool had contained the game for long periods too. Despite the way the defeat was confirmed, he remains confident of progression to Basel being secured.

Liverpool defender Nathaniel Clyne battles for the ball (Getty)

“I saw we are in a good way,” he added. “Things are still possible. One-nil is not the biggest result in the world.

“Not so long ago, we were an English team with a big name and no quality. Now we are [considered] an English team with a big name and better quality.

“They have to come to Anfield. We will be ready. It will be a completely different game.”

Klopp was attempting to drive home the idea that the tie has only reached the half time. There is a sense he knows how significant the atmosphere at Anfield can be considering its impact in the last round when his former club Borussia Dortmund were swept away in the fever of the occasion.

There was a sense here, indeed, passion levels did not need to be of the uncontrolled standard that saw off Dortmund two weeks ago. Inside and outside this stadium, the drums, trumpets and balloons dyed a Spanish feria atmosphere. If a sensible and patient display was necessary, it was certainly achieved, but for the closing seconds.

Klopp’s team selection was conservative. Despite being in goalscoring form, Daniel Sturridge was named as a substitute and Joe Allen was nominated from the start for the first time in an important game when there were other options.

Touré, meanwhile, was chosen ahead of Martin Skrtel in defence; Klopp trusting that the Ivorian’s experience was enough to potentially deal with the speed and hustle of Cédric Bakambu, who is the Europa League’s second top scorer this season and is someone who might become an Atlético Madrid player in the summer.

Lucas was picked in Liverpool’s deepest midfield role and that gave Touré protection. It took Marcelino, the Villarreal manager, half an hour to realise that it might be a good idea to occasionally switch the starting positions of Bakambu and Roberto Soldado, getting Bakambu closer to Touré.

Liverpool quickly settled into a pattern. Philippe Coutinho, who because of illness had to be replaced at half time by Jordon Ibe, had struggled to get involved before and yet the fight for control in midfield was being won by the away team. Villarreal were especially attack minded down on the left of the pitch and Liverpool’s best opportunities consistently came from the space behind.

From that route, Liverpool should have taken a lead when Nathaniel Clyne and Adam Lallana combined to serve an unmarked Allen near the penalty spot. Despite rehearsing such situations for more than 10 minutes in the warm up, Allen’s subsequent effort, however, possessed neither the placement nor power to beat Sergio Asenjo.

Liverpool’s problems in the first half were self-inflicted. Villarreal’s best chance came when a hurried clearance from Lucas, whose discipline and common sense had otherwise contributed towards Villarreal not being able to exploit Bakambu’s pace, ended up with Simon Mignolet saving Tomás Pina’s curling shot.

There was not much for Liverpool to be worried about. Marcelino admitted taking “many precautions” because he was aware of the impact an away goal might have on the final outcome, as it ultimately did for Liverpool over Dortmund.

Though Coutinho’s enforced exit came as a blow, the routine thereafter went something like this: Touré to Lucas, Lucas to Allen or James Milner; then onto Clyne, only for the move to terminate when the right back’s cross did not meet a teammate.

In Clyne’s defence, though Roberto Firmino’s movement between the half way line and the 18 yard box was intelligent, having been used in different positions by Klopp over the last month, he did not seem to know where to be when there was a necessity for him to be located in the zone where maximum punishment is inflicted.

If Liverpool really wanted to win the game, Sturridge would have been used. When Christian Benteke was used instead and dispatched with an instruction to hold the ball up, it felt like Liverpool had settled for a draw. But for a lapse in concentration, it would have been achieved.

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