Juergen Klopp will not underestimate Villarreal and Unai Emery knows they cannot claim to be the underdogs anymore. Wednesday’s Champions League first leg semi-final between Liverpool and the Spanish team is essentially a clash of two shrewd managers who play their cards cautiously. Villarreal have been a surprise package in this season’s competition, having beaten European giants Juventus and Bayern Munich in the knockout stages to reach their first Champions League semi-final in 16 years. Liverpool boss Klopp has alerted his boys to not make the mistake that Juve and Bayern did — the Yellow Submarine cannot be taken lightly.
“There might have been a slight advantage (for Villarreal) where Juve or Bayern might have underestimated them, but that won’t happen with us. They want to be part of the final, but it’s the same importance for us,” Klopp told reporters ahead of the game at Anfield on Wednesday.
“It’s special. It’s crazy — a massive game. So many coaches, players work their socks off their whole lives and don’t get close to this. We have to cherish it and enjoy it.”
The German lavished praise on counterpart Emery, calling him a “world-class coach” whose team are adept at dealing with different game situations.
“We have properly analysed Villarreal. I have proper respect for Unai and them. I watched them properly and wow! Impressive. He is a detail-obsessed manager. Different ways to press and react to different results,” added Klopp.
Liverpool last featured in this stage of the competition three years ago, against Barcelona, and Klopp said that home support, which helped them turn around a 0-3 deficit from the first leg in 2019, would be crucial.
“We need a similar atmosphere and a big performance. I need to be on top of my game, so do the boys, that is fine. If a semi-final in this competition would be easy, something would be really wrong. I can’t wait for it, to be honest,” he said.
“There are moments when we will suffer and I know that. We don’t need to get nervous but we can make them suffer too.”
Liverpool have the chance to clinch an unprecedented quadruple this season after having already won the League Cup and reaching the FA Cup final, while they trail Premier League leaders Manchester City by one point with five games to play.
“It’s very special... how we’ve reacted to last year is very special in itself but still a long way to go. I know how quickly football can change,” Klopp added.
Emery said his team would need to execute a perfect game to eliminate the former winners. The 50-year-old coach believes his team no longer have the element of surprise in their bid to reach their first Champions League final.
“The surprise factor decreases after you do what we did,” Emery said on Tuesday.
The Spaniard conceded that Liverpool, who have won the Champions League six times, would rightfully count themselves as favourites for the tie, but that his side were hungry for more success having won the Europa League last season.
“They are wise and now they know who we are. They know that the tie is going to be difficult and they will be prepared, no doubt about it,” Emery said.
(Written with agency inputs)
Juve’s last-four dash
Juventus substitute Moise Kean struck a late winner to steal a 2-1 comeback win at Sassuolo in the Serie A on Monday and boost his side’s hold on the final Champions League qualifying spot.
The victory moved fourth-placed Juve to 66 points from 34 matches, one point behind Napoli in third and eight clear of AS Roma, who are fifth, in the race for Europe. Sassuolo stay 10th.
The hosts took the lead when Giacomo Raspadori found the mark in the 38th minute. But the visitors levelled through Argentine striker Paulo Dybala.