This is not going to be news to many of you on the Villarreal side of this tie, but Gerard Moreno is probably going to miss the first leg due to injury. We’ve been without our superstar forward for about half the season, and it looks like he will miss the first leg here as well.
A similar thing happened when Villarreal played Juventus, and through the first 160 minutes of that tie we were drawn with the Turin side 1-1, only for Gerard to come on the pitch and see his side ease to a 4-1 victory on aggregate. The real question for discussion today is what will Emery do to compensate for the absence of the Spanish forward?
I believe, most likely, what we are going to see is either Manu Trigueros or Gio Lo Celso as part of a nominal ‘front two’. In either case they would provide much of the same sort of deep dropping buildup play that makes us so dangerous when Gerard is on the pitch. Unai Emery has not trusted his traditional number 9s for a while in this campaign, so I would be very shocked to see Boulaye Dia or Paco Alcacer feature from the opening kickoff.
With Yeremy Pino certainly out of this one, whichever of the two midfielders that does not start up top will probably see himself out on the right. I do not see Unai Emery risking Samu Chukwueze’s defensive record against a team as dangerous on the flanks as Liverpool.
I would expect that it is Trigueros up top. He has 8 goals so far this season and has a remarkable knack for making late runs into the box. If Gerard isn’t 100% fit, then most of the goal for this first leg becomes about just surviving until we get to play at home.