Liverpool bounced back after an early scare to defeat Villarreal 3-2 and advance to their third Champions League final in five seasons.
Villarreal looked set for another shock upset after opening up a two-goal first-half lead to make up for their 2-0 first-leg loss in England, but the modest Spanish club couldn’t keep up and Liverpool came from behind to advance. . 5-2 on aggregate.
After Boulaye Dia and Francis Coquelin put Villarreal ahead in the 41st minute, Fabinho, substitute Luis Diaz and Sadio Mané scored in the second half to lead Liverpool to the final for the first time since winning their sixth European title in 2019.
Based in a city of 50,000 in southern Spain, Villarreal had eliminated Juventus in the round of 16 and Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals.
Unai Emery’s team played with a man down since 86 after Étienne Capoue, who assisted in both of Villarreal’s goals, was sent off with a second yellow card.
Liverpool will play the final on May 29 (AEST) in Paris against Premier League rivals Manchester City or 13-time European champions Real Madrid.
Those two teams will meet in Madrid with City defending a 4-3 win in the first leg in England.
The win also keeps alive Liverpool’s hopes of a “quadruple” – winning all four major trophies in one season.
The visitors dominated in the first leg but looked lost on Tuesday when Villarreal came out pressing early. The locals won almost all the balls 50-50 and stayed close to the Liverpool area without giving up much space for counterattacks.
It didn’t take long for Villarreal to close the gap from the first leg when Dia opened the scoring from close range after a pass from Capoue in the third minute.
Villarreal wanted a penalty after Giovani Lo Celso’s clash with Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker, but moments later they scored the second goal with former Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin’s header into the top corner after a well-placed cross from the right by Capoue. . .
The Liverpool defense was unprepared for both goals, leaving room for the Villarreal players to shoot into the net.
Liverpool, who had dominated the first leg at Anfield but only secured a 2-0 lead, regretted failing to beat their opponents last week.
A stunned red team entered the break to face coach Jürgen Klopp. Their team speech at half-time must have worked, as the Reds came out firing in the second half, while the Villarreal players stepped into the shell and allowed the visitors to take control.
The English club came close when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s shot deflected off a defender and hit the crossbar in the 55th minute, and Liverpool secured the first goal in the 62nd minute with Fabinho’s low shot passing between the legs of goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli. .
Liverpool took advantage of Villarreal’s mistake and Luis Díaz, who helped turn the game around after entering the break, equalized with a header in the 67th minute.
With Liverpool two goals ahead on aggregate, Villarreal began to lose their heads and Mané completed the turnaround in a breakaway in the 74th minute after beating Rulli outside the area and shooting from behind the open door.
Returning to the Champions League may be difficult for Villarreal as the team is currently outside the qualifying zone in the Spanish league.
This was only the fourth appearance in Europe’s top club competition for the club. They had also reached the semi-finals in 2006, losing to Arsenal. They were a quarter-finalist in 2009, losing again to Arsenal.
With Villarreal eliminated, Shakhtar Donetsk are set to earn an automatic place straight into the group stage next season. The place was left open because the winner of this season will be Liverpool, Madrid or City, which has already qualified through its position in the league.