What started as a great month for Liverpool with victories over Dortmund and Everton has been marred by the draw against Newcastle United and the drug-related issue star defender Mamadou Sakho got himself into.
But they will have to get down to business this week when they face a tricky challenge against Spanish opponents Villarreal in the semi-final of the Europa League. With a UCL spot in the domestic league far out of reach for both clubs, the Europa League provides a great opportunity to get into the elite competition next season so it will be an intriguing fixture worthy of a semi-final.
Marcelino has done a good job with the La Liga outfit which stands in 4th place in the points table. They were held to a goal-less draw against Real Sociedad at the weekend and will be hoping to keep another clean sheet against Liverpool in this fixture.
Here is the preview of this semi-final clash. It also includes team news, predictions, expected line-up and betting odds.
The first leg of the semi-final clash in the Europa League between Villarreal & Liverpool will be played on Thursday the 28th of April, at the Estadio El Madrigal in Vila-real. The kick-off is scheduled at 8:05 pm BST (12:35 am IST on Friday).
The La Liga outfit have been hit by an injury crisis in recent times. They could be missing as many as three first team players for this home clash. Leo Baptistao is a definite absentee nursing an injury while Jaume Costa and Mateo Musacchio will under-go a late fitness test to take part in this game. Other than that, Marcelino has all his fringe players to call on for this tie.
Liverpool will also miss a number of star players for this clash. Henderson, Can, Origi, and Ings are all out of contention for a long time while Mamadou Sakho who finds himself in an un-necessary drug abuse issue will not make the trip to Spain on mutual understanding with the club. However, Belgian international Christian Benteke will be back in action and might make the bench on the night.
Areola; Mariom Bailly, Ruiz, Rukavina; Suarez, Castillejo, Bruno, Trigueros; Soldad, Bakambu
Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Toure, Moreno; Allen, Milner; Lallana, Coutinho, Firmino; Sturridge
Cedric Bakambu vs Kolo Toure:
The Villarreal forward has been in red hot form in Europe this season scoring 9 goals so far in the competition. His pace and ability with the ball at his feet have troubled even the best of the defenders in the league and the veteran Kolo Toure who will have to play in place of Sakho will have his work cut out. Bakambu will surely try to use his pace to run behind the Ivorian who will have a tough night in Spain.
Daniel Sturridge vs Ruiz
The England striker has been in impeccable form this month scoring and also assisting a number of important goals for his side. He will take his confidence into this game and will hope to striker again against Villarreal. However, with Ruiz in good form, it will not be easy for him to find the net. This will be an intriguing battle to look out for in this game.
This will be the first meeting between Villarreal and Liverpool in Europe.
Villarreal are winless in their last 10 games against English opposition (D6 L4) whilst Liverpool have lost three of their last four games against Spanish clubs.
This will be Liverpool’s fourth European semi-final against a Spanish side; they’ve progressed from two of those but were eliminated last time versus Atletico Madrid in the 2009/10 Europa League semi-finals.
The Yellow Submarine have only failed to score in one of their last 31 Europa League matches (including qualifiers) whilst Liverpool have only scored in three of their most recent six games played in this competition versus Spanish opposition.
11 players have scored for Liverpool in the 2015/16 Europa League; a competition-high this term.
Jurgen Klopp is yet to lose a European tie in charge of Liverpool; winning five and drawing five.
Klopp was the victorious manager in his only previous major semi-final in European competition as a coach, seeing off Real Madrid over two legs (W1, L1) in the 2012/13 Champions League.
Cedric Bakambu has recorded braces in three of his last four Europa League appearances for Villarreal.
Liverpool have performed well in recent times but showed their defensive frailties at the weekend against Newcastle. Villarreal will surely look to take advantage of this and will try to break Liverpool early in the game. Klopp, with the injuries and missing players, will be happy with a scoring draw away from home.
Villarreal 1-1 Liverpool