Last week, Villarreal handed Liverpool their first loss in their Europa League campaign, a difficult 1-0 defeat away from home that puts the Reds in a difficult position heading into the second leg of the semi-final knowing they need to win by two goals to ensure advancement.
On another night, though, it could have been Liverpool taking a one-goal advantage into the second leg. On the run of play last week, it probably should have been. And it’s that strong play despite the fact that they lost that has Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen feeling bullish ahead of round two.
"Villarreal will have their work cut out," Allen said in an interview for UEFA’s official website. "There was an extremely fine line between us imposing our gameplan in the first leg and getting a 1-0 win ourselves and the way the match actually turned out. On another night we would have won."
That they didn’t, though, speaks to just how good Villarreal are at playing a frustrating, defensive brand of football. Despite being the home side, Villarreal set up like they were underdogs on the road, packed deep, countering cautiously, and never truly coming out of their defensive shell.
Their late goal only came because Liverpool had every player bar Kolo Toure and Dejan Lovren pushed into the final third in stoppage time as the Reds desperately pushed for their own late winner. It’s likely to be a similar situation at Anfield on Thursday night, and Villarreal will be confident.
Liverpool, though, are confident too. Confident that with the help of the crowd and having gained first-hand experience from facing them last week, they can break down the stubborn Villarreal defence and get the goals they need to take them to the Europa League final in Basel on May 18th.
"I’m confident we’ve got enough to win this second leg and put them out," Allen added. "As hard as it was to concede that goal, particularly so late, I really thought we all gave a good account of ourselves. We did our preparation well and we learned a great deal for the game at Anfield."