It was another instance of Liverpool having to learn a harsh lesson after throwing away yet another two-goal lead in the Premier League. Since Jürgen Klopp took charge in October, the Europa League has been a tournament where Liverpool have displayed noteworthy concentration, focus, and game management. Yesterday seemed to be serving up the same as the away side looked set to secure a creditable goalless draw at El Madrigal. Villarreal got the goal that sent the home fans into a frenzy, leaving Liverpool with a more difficult task in the second leg at Anfield.
It is easy to forget that this is still Klopp's first season at the club. Losing a League Cup final on penalties to Manchester City, securing some huge results along with improving goalscoring output in the Premier League, and a lengthy Europa League run have added a far different gloss than many would have expected when Liverpool sacked Brendan Rodgers. Whatever happens, this has been a season of progress.
Still, there is Europa League glory still on offer despite the late reversal in Spain. Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund were significant challenges for many reasons, ones that Liverpool managed to surmount. Now there is one more to traverse in order to reach secure a place in Basel's final on 18 May. Although this is a season of learning under Klopp, there is an opportunity to apply those lessons to navigate past one of La Liga's best sides this season.
"We look for the positives now and there is another game," Kolo Touré said after Liverpool lost for the first time in Europe this season. "We had some occasions where we could have scored, but we didn’t. That’s part of the game. In the second leg we showed against Dortmund that we can respond – and we will do it in the next game.
"It was a good display from the team, we played well. We created some chances and we passed the ball very well. At the end they had the crucial goal, but that’s part of the game. We know we can do it, we just need to believe. This game is done now, we just need to learn from the mistakes and try to do the same as we did against Dortmund."
Liverpool achieved what appeared to be impossible when Anfield last hosted a European night, and while the task against Villarreal is not an easy one, it will not be harder than what Liverpool managed to accomplish against Borussia Dortmund. Belief, then, will play a crucial role on the night along with a much-needed slice of resolve from the players and a sprinkling of inspiration from the dugout.