The odds are stacked heavily in Liverpool’s favour after what was a frustrating first-leg. Many criticised Villarreal’s defensive approach but I disagree with the naysayers: the approach was correct, even if the execution was poor.
At full time, I thought that 2-0 wasn’t the worst scoreline to come away with considering the performance, and the tie is far from over. One goal at Estadio De La Ceramica suddenly opens it all up.
Going anywhere without Gerard Moreno has been a struggle for Villarreal all season, let alone away to one of the best sides in the world, but the problems went beyond one missing striker.
Here’s the biggest three areas Villarreal need to improve upon from the first leg and how they can rectify it in front of the home fans, in what promises to be a special occasion regardless of the result.
Playing into pressure
One of the most frustrating things about the first leg was how many unforced errors there were.
Liverpool are one of the most dangerous sides in the world when it comes to pressing, and sustaining attacks, and you cannot afford to be sloppy with the ball against them.
Unai Emery was tearing his hair out watching some of the attempted passes from his side, especially from Dani Parejo, who is otherwise an incredibly reliable performer.
“We’ll have to produce a perfect game, reach excellence or get close to it to be able to do something that no one has done to them,” Emery stated ahead of the second leg, and he’s spot on.
A perfect game is needed to beat Liverpool, and a perfect game simply does not involve the horror show defending seen at times last Wednesday.
Against Bayern Munich the counterattacks were perfectly executed and spot on.
At Anfield, the midfield failed to gain any foothold into the game, and the back four were facing an onslaught of pressure as a result.
A solution today stems from the back. Goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli is someone who has faced a lot of criticism, some totally fair and some harsh.
Against Liverpool, his tendency to punch, as well as some shoddy decisions with his feet, caused the rest of the team to panic, and subsequently play their way into danger unnecessarily.
Rulli needs to play it long, and the defence cannot afford to keep the ball near their box when playing under such relentless pressure.
Simple passes into space is what created Chukwueze’s goal against Bayern, and the same needs to happen today.
Even when Villarreal did beat Liverpool’s press on a few occasions, there was simply no outlet upfront.
Gerard Moreno potentially returning could be crucial. His hold-up play will be paramount to keeping the ball further up the pitch, and help to build counterattacks.
Arnaut Danjuma and Chukwueze were both ineffective simply because of their inability to keep possession. Danjuma was wasteful and Chukwueze was anonymous, completing just four passes in the entire game.
With the possibility that Danjuma could be set to miss out, Emery really does have a selection headache, but if Gerard is even remotely fit, he simply has to start.
Manu Trigueros was a brighter spark in an otherwise disappointing defeat to Alaves at the weekend, and may have given himself a case to start the second leg.
With Francis Coquelin potentially still carrying a knock, Trigueros may be an ideal solution to try and gain more composure in midfield.
If he was to start on the left in the 442, he would add that bit of technical quality and experience to help Villarreal build more attacks, and whilst he is less defensively adept than Coquelin, he could provide a spark of inspiration to step up in a big moment.
Trigueros has been a reliable servant for years, often delivering on the biggest occasions, and deserves to be part of the biggest one yet.
Alternatively, Pedraza on that left-wing to provide a speedy option on the counter may not be the worst idea, and he did inject a bit of life into the side when he came on at Anfield.
There are so many potential changes for Emery to make that it’s almost impossible to decide on a lineup, but I think the 4-4-2, which shifts into a 4-3-3 in possession, is still the way to go today.
Rulli; Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Estupinan; Lo Celso, Parejo, Capoue, Trigueros, Gerard, Danjuma.