Liverpool v Villarreal: Reds can break Emery's resistance

Liverpool welcome Villarreal to Anfield for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final showdown. Mark O'Haire picks out his favourite fancy from Wednesday night.

Liverpool earn Merseyside spoils

Liverpool warmed up for Wednesday night by moving back to within one point of Premier League leaders Manchester City thanks to a 2-0 home success over Everton in the Merseyside derby. The Reds were made to work hard to breakdown a well-organised and disciplined Toffees side, striking twice in the final half-hour of action at Anfield.

Jurgen Klopp's quadruple-chasing side demonstrated patience to break down Everton's stubborn resistance with Andy Robertson arriving at the far post to head home and break the deadlock after 62 minutes. Substitute Divock Origi then tormented the Liverpool's near neighbours once again when he headed in Luis Diaz's bicycle kick with six minutes left.

Klopp changed only two from the starting line-up that faced Manchester United last Tuesday night, with Diogo Jota and Naby Keita drafted in for Jordan Henderson and Luis Diaz. Roberto Firmino was the Reds only absentee but the Brazilian forward is expected to be available again this midweek with the hosts available to select from a full squad.

Villarreal well rested

Villarreal enjoyed a weekend off due to the Copa del Rey final in Spain but were 2-0 victors in their local Castellon derby with neighbours Valencia in their most recent outing. The Yellow Submarine have forced themselves back into the race for a European spot in La Liga, putting together back-to-back domestic triumphs to sit within reach of the top-six.

Arnaut Danjuma got the ball rolling early on for Unai Emery's much-changed outfit, with a calmly converted spot kick, before the Dutch star doubled Villarreal's lead inside the first 20 minutes. Danjuma was inches away from netting a hat trick before the break in an impressive display, although the Yellow Submarine were forced to be without star man.

Striker Gerard Moreno wasn't in the Villarreal squad against Valencia with fears he may have suffered a relapse of a previous muscle injury. But Emery dampened the suggestion his issue was serious, and the Spaniards are expecting to have their key forward available for the trip to Merseyside. Francis Coquelin has returned but Alberto Moreno is sidelined.

Reds difficult to resist at Anfield

Liverpool and Villarreal have crossed swords once before in continental competition. The duo faced off in the Europa League semi-finals back in 2015/16 with the Yellow Submarine winning the first leg 1-0 in Spain before suffering a one-sided 3-0 reverse when travelling to Anfield to face Jurgen Klopp's charges six years ago.

Liverpool 1.32 have taken top honours in 19 of their last 23 matches across all competitions (W19-D3-L1), as well as 17 of 21 Anfield encounters going back to the beginning of November. The Reds haven't lost a match that matters since December at Leicester in the Premier League, and on home turf that record extends back to March 2021.

Villarreal 12.00 are reigning Europa League champions and Unai Emery's men have knocked out European giants Juventus and Bayern Munich en-route to only their second-ever Champions League semi-final. The giant-slayers will set-up in a rigid 4-4-2, prioritising a solid and well-drilled structure with the pace Arnaut Danjuma during counter-attacks.

Goal line set too high?

Over 2.5 Goals is as short at 1.60 here with the market anticipating a strong showing from Liverpool. However, I'm not convinced this first leg will follow such one-sided expectations with Unai Emery well capable of setting Villarreal up to limit the potential damage. The Yellow Submarine have the ability to keep this contest competitive at Anfield.

With the Spaniards sitting deep, providing two low blocks, Liverpool may have to work hard for a result here. But the Reds' own defensive resilience also deserves plenty of praise - the Merseysiders have accumulated 20 Premier League clean sheets this term - leading towards a potentially lower-scoring showdown. With that in mind, Under 3 Goals 1.86 is of interest.

However, I'm happy to take the larger odds on offer and instead back Liverpool to win and Under 3.5 Goals at 2.24. Jurgen Klopp's troops are the current favourites to lift the Champions League trophy and may pack too much punch for Villarreal to handle.

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