Having faced Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund on their way to the semi-finals of the Europa League, Liverpool know that should they now make it past Villarreal, they will have more than earned their spot in the final. It hasn’t been an easy road for the Reds, and manager Jürgen Klopp isn’t expecting things to get easier now that the tournament is in its final stages.
"They are a strong team and are fourth in the Spanish league," Klopp told UEFA’s official website. "They are having a wonderful season, they are a wonderful club in a small city. It is clear there are a lot of smart people behind their success. We have to play brave football. We are now in the semi-finals. We got there because we deserved it, and now we have to show we are strong enough to go through."
Villarreal may not be in the top echelon of La Liga sides, but they have quietly gone about having a very solid season for themselves, and they should qualify for next season’s Champions League on the strength of their league form. They have also impressed in Europe, something that has become the norm not just for the Yellow Submarine but for Spanish sides in general in recent seasons.
Anyone taking them lightly because they aren’t one of Spain’s big three hasn’t been paying attention to Europe in recent seasons, where La Liga has consistently topped the rankings thanks not just to Barcelona and the two heavy hitters from Madrid. UEFA’s confederations have earned more than 20 points four times in the past five years—and all five occasions it’s been La Liga coming out on top.
Based on results, Spain’s representatives have been a full third better than England’s over the past five years, and it hasn’t just been a case of one good year or a few lucky results. Dortmund and United may have been difficult tasks, but Villarreal have earned their own spot in the semi-finals, and recent results in Europe have proven just how dangerous even the second tier La Liga sides can be.
Liverpool, though, know all this. Klopp knows all this. And Liverpool will set out to score goals and try to win on Thursday evening, just as they set out to win when they faced Dortmund on the road in the first leg and outplayed the favoured Germans on the way to a draw that felt harsh on the visitors. Just don’t ask Klopp to say his Liverpool side will be looking to play a bit of heavy metal football.
"When I was younger, I called it things like 'heavy metal football,’" the Liverpool manager said. "I have no idea any more why I said that. But I do like the spectacular. When I am in a room with people I try to make sure the atmosphere is not worse when I am there. When I am involved in a game, I try to help ensure it is more enjoyable than when I am not involved."