Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp must have breathed a major sigh of relief after surviving a mighty scare against Villarreal on Tuesday night.
A shocking first-half saw the Spanish side draw level on aggregate after goals from Boulaye Dia and Francis Coquelin where the Reds looked completely lost as Unai Emery’s men put them to the sword. But Liverpool resumed control after the break and deserved to go through after the introduction of Luis Diaz completely changed the game.
Fabinho put Liverpool ahead on aggregate after a shoddy error from the goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli when his shot went through the former Manchester City star’s legs. And Diaz made sure of the result when he latched onto Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross to head home to restore Liverpool’s two-goal lead before another error from Rulli allowed Sadio Mane to net and put the game to bed – but where did Klopp go wrong?
Naby Keita not at it
After scoring the winner against Newcastle, Klopp went with Keita in his midfield in quite the gamble with reliable options Jordan Henderson and James Milner on the bench. It backfired.
Keita had an absolute nightmare first-half and was lucky not to be hauled off before the break, making error after error and nearly giving away a goal when Alisson was close to giving a penalty away. However, as Villarreal’s intensity lowered, Keita regained a foothold.
Failed to match intensity
It did not take a genius to understand that the Estadio de la Ceramica would be rocking tonight and that Villarreal were set to fly out of the traps, but Liverpool failed to match their intensity. They were severely punished after conceding just seconds into the match.
There has been much made of Trent Alexander-Arnold’s defending over the years but he was badly exposed on Tuesday night. Villarreal targeted his flank, where there was an abundance of space throughout the evening.
But Andy Robertson was guilty as well, failing to deal with both goals conceded in a surprise shocker for the Scotsman in the Champions League.
Luis Diaz time
There were some eyebrows raised when Diaz come on at half-time for Diogo Jota over Keita but those doubts were quickly erased after totally dominating the second half. The Colombian was his usual box of tricks while he also gave the Reds an outlet going forward – especially down the left-hand side.
And his performance was rounded off with a brilliant and brave header to give Liverpool back their two-goal lead, effectively ending any hope of a comeback after their nightmare opening 45 minutes. Villarreal can commend themselves for a brilliant fight but they just could not live with the squad depth at Klopp’s disposal.