Villareal 1 López 90+2'
Injury time drama again follows the Reds in the Europa League as Villareal uphold their home winning streak while inflicting Liverpool's first loss of the competition.
Jürgen Klopp selected a workmanlike front six for what was expected to be a tough away match to an undefeated opponent. Lucas Leiva anchored midfield alongside shuttlers Joe Allen and James Milner, behind an attacking trident of Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, the latter tasked with being the side's sole creative force on the night. It was a tactic designed to stifle Villareal's creative midfield through hard work and discipline, eschewing the explosive talents of Daniel Sturridge, who was placed on the bench.
The home side displayed their threat early, as the pace of Cedric Bakambu was too much for Kolo Toure to handle in the opening minutes, but the quick through ball into space wasn't accurate enough to find the in-form striker.
After four minutes, Joe Allen missed Liverpool's best chance of the match. Good work down the right from Nathaniel Clyne and Lallana lead to a deflected cross finding the Welshman, but his first-time side-footed effort from 12 yards was hit straight at Sergio Asenjo. Five minutes later, a quick set piece gave an offside-positioned Roberto Soldado an opportunity from a narrow angle, but his shot slipped across goal and past the far post.
The game entered what would be its defining pattern, as both sides attempted to counter-press each other, proved unsuccessful, then harried back to form a defensive block as the opposition slowly built their attacking play. Counters were snuffed out, intensity was high, and proper chances were few and far between. Simon MIgnolet made a good save after a Bakambu backheel caused some consternation in the Reds defensive ranks, and Toure blocked the follow-up. The half petered out as neither side were able to establish dominance.
Jordon Ibe came on for an ineffective (and apparently sick) Coutinho, and Villareal immediately had a chance. Again, a set piece was to blame, as Lallana whiffed on his near-post defensive header and Bakambu powered a header of his own off the woodwork. A Liverpool side missing the size, pace and movement of Divock Origi would take twenty minutes to create their first chance of the second half, as Firmino slapped a shot off the near post after a perfect first touch set him up.
As the match continued on in its now familiar pattern, it started to get chippy. Klopp and Marcelino, both gloriously animated throughout, hugged and made up after a touchline spat caused by a Lucas challenge. Soldado was lucky not to get booked soon after, as what looked like an obvious retaliatory challenge on Lucas came in fast and late, but the referee kept his cards in his pocket, as he did most of the night.
A bit of controversy fifteen minutes from time, as Adam Lallana was pulled down in the box by Eric Bailly as the last man while clear through on goal, but a wrongful offside call pulled play back. A more vigilant linesman, and Villareal might very well have conceded both a penalty and a red card.
Five minutes from time, the game sprung to sudden life. Bakambu was gorgeously played in behind Liverpool's defence, but Mignolet was equal to the Congolese striker's finish with a tremendous save to his right. Off the resultant corner, Alberto Moreno lead a one-man counter, but his composure let him down as he blasted his shot high and wide instead of cutting the ball back for the arriving Ibe in front of goal.
The Reds would regret their wastefulness in injury time, as the excellent Denis Suárez maintained his poise in a similar situation, and played the ball across goal for an unmarked Adrián López to tap home. Both Lovren and Moreno could have done better in tracking the Spaniard, but the failure to defend the counter was a collective one.
Klopp will be disappointed with his team conceding a counter attacking goal in injury time of an away leg, but the rest of the performance was as professional as the club have looked in Europe in a long time. The home side were kept to a single big chance in regular time, had no shots on target from inside the box aside from the goal, and their counters were mostly curbed.
On the attacking end, the lack of a vertical threat made things harder for the Reds than they could have been, and their gegenpressing was ineffective most of the night, but they did well to play out from the back through the Villareal counter press and established good possession on several occasions. In short, they did all they were supposed to in order to bring a solid goalless draw back to Anfield and only failed at the very last second. They now need a goal in the return leg, but with the quarter final drama fresh in the mind, one wouldn't want to bet against them doing just that.