Liverpool 3 Soriano (OG) 7', Sturridge 63', Lallana 81'
An early goal put Liverpool at ease and set the stage for what ended up a dominant win, as Villarreal lost their heads in the fiery Anfield atmosphere.
Jürgen Klopp went full heavy metal with his line-up, determined to cancel out Villarreal's first leg lead as quickly as possible. Daniel Sturridge played as a lone striker ahead of a attacking trident consisting of Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana, while Emre Can returned from injury to star in the double pivot alongside captain James Milner. With Mamadou Sakho suspended, Kolo Toure joined the usual first-choice suspects of Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne in the back four.
Despite a few early scares from the visitors - Simon Mignolet saved a Mario Gaspar effort after Soldado was allowed to chest the ball down in the Reds' box and Jonathan dos Santos blasted another effort high a minute later - Klopp got his wish. After some aggressive counterpressing in the clamorous athmosphere set the tone for what Liverpool would be looking to do, Can strode forward 60 yards and released Clyne in space down the right. The fullback's first-time cross was palmed across to Firmino, whose cross in was touched by Sturridge and then bundled into the back of the net by Bruno Soriano. Liverpool were even and on the front foot.
The Reds were aggressively harrying the visitors at every opportunity and were dominating possession. On thirteen minutes, The Real Hamez threaded a beautiful through ball into Lallana's path, but the English international sliced his shot wide of the far post. The same man served up a glorious corner ten minutes later, whizzing across the face of the goal, but no Liverpool player was able to make a connection.
Frustration seemingly got the the Villarreal players, and Victor Ruiz was the first to go in the referee's book for dissent. Soldado and Denis Suárez applied for bookings as well, with several instances of dirty play and petulance, but the Hungarian referee decided to instead caution Clyne for a clean challenge. Soldado was finally booked towards the end of the half when he cynically hacked Coutinho down from behind and the mood on the pitch got increasingly chippy. A blatant shirt pull on Lovren set Bakambu up for a shot from 12 yards, but Mignolet collected the bobbling effort as the half ended.
Villarreal came out zealously in the second half, and Lovren needed a heroic tackle to stop Bakambu from getting clear through on goal. The Reds soon reasserted themselves, though, and shots from Coutinho and Milner were saved by Alphonse Aréola. Daniel Sturridge, meanwhile, was looking mobile and menacing with the ball at his feet, but decision making let him down time and again, as he chose shots from difficult spots over playing the ball to an open team mate.
The increasingly annoying Soldado made his last impact on the match ten minutes into the half, as he purchased a cheap free kick by backing into Toure and going down like a bag of rocks upon contact, then heading the resultant set piece wide after straight-arm pushing Moreno in the back.
This would prove to be Villarreal's last threat - and indeed, shot - on Liverpool's goal, as the Reds completely took control of the match in the final thirty minutes. A Lallana and Studge counter attack ended in a corner. The aftermath of said corner saw Firmino chest the ball down outside the box and slip Sturridge in with a deft touch. Alone with the goalkeeper, Sturridge made no mistake and tucked the ball in off the near post. Body language experts across the planet will certainly debate for decades what his celebration revealed about his emotions in the moment.
Another counter saw Firmino roulette his way past Soldado, but Moreno sliced his shot wide from outside the box. A few minutes later, a late stamp on Lallana's foot saw Ruiz booked for a second time and rightfully sent off. The air went completely out of the away side and the Reds were on cruise control for the remainder of the match. Firmino and Sturridge both had chances saved, before the former skinned Mateo Musacchio down the left, went to the touchline and cut the ball back for Sturridge. The striker mishit his shot, but Lallana was on hand to tuck it home from 5 yards with a graceful spin and toe poke.
With the tie now over for all intents and purposes, little of note happened. Joe Allen, Christian Benteke and Lucas Leiva all came on for the Reds, Sturridge and Lallana both had good chances well saved, and Suárez was finally booked in the 94th minute, to ironic applause from an otherwise ecstatic home crowd.
EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL YOU GUYS! Yeah, that was a comprehensively professional performance from Liverpool against a top European side. Klopp made no bones about what his game plan was going to be when the line-up was released, and his players delivered. In the Anfield cauldron, the Redmen rarely gave their opponents a moment's peace, and the team-wide effort to win the ball back whenever it was lost was impressive throughout the entirety of the match.
Emre Can was majestic in the midfield general role, setting the tempo of the game on offense and busting heads on defense, without compromising his positioning. Milner put in a vintage performance both ways, as did Lallana. Firmino was terrific throughout, creating all three goals and terrorising the Villarreal defenders whenever they were on the ball. Lovren was stuck to Bakambu for the full 90 minutes, never giving the striker a sniff, and Clyne delivered another terrific performance, locking down his flank and bombing forward at every opportunity. Sturridge looked dangerous, and notched a goal and an assist, but his decision making let him down on a few occasions, and he could've had more of both.
The second cup final of the Klopp era is now a fact, and it has only taken seven months. Regardless of the wobbles the team has experienced in the league, especially recently, this kind of knock-out competition nous is something that has been missing since Benítez was sacked in 2010, and fans should be overjoyed to have it back. That game is the only really important one left in the season, and beating consecutive champions Sevilla in Basel on May 18th is going to make a massive difference to the club's spending and drawing power in the summer.