Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool caught by a late Villarreal sucker punch in cauldron of noise

Villarreal 1-0 Liverpool

By Simon Hughes

The noise from the terraces of the Madrigal was enormous and sudden. It had seemed that Liverpool had executed another streetwise performance on foreign soil in the first leg of the Europa League semi-final clash with Villarreal. Yet in injury-time, the complexion shifted.

From a simple long pass, the pitch opened up for Denis Suarez. Simon Mignolet was exposed and Suarez was able to square for substitute Adrian to score.

Jurgen Klopp is not unbeaten in Europe this season any more and Liverpool will have to recover from the shock of defeat quickly if they are to reach the Europa League final in Basel.

There was a sense this did not require passion levels to be of the uncontrolled standard that saw off Borussia Dortmund two weeks ago. If a sensible and patient performance was necessary, it was certainly achieved, but for the closing seconds.

Since knocking out Dortmund, Klopp has lost Emre Can and Divock Origi to injury and Mamadou Sakho to suspension after he failed a drugs test. He's without captain Jordan Henderson too. When Philippe Coutinho did not reappear for the second-half here because of illness, the challenge became even greater.

Klopp's selection was conservative but imaginative and perhaps necessary too. Despite being in goalscoring form, Daniel Sturridge was named as a substitute and Joe Allen was nominated from the start.

Kolo Toure, meanwhile, was chosen ahead of Martin Skrtel in defence; Klopp clearly trusting that the Ivorian's experience was enough to deal with the speed and hustle of Cédric Bakambu.

Lucas was picked in Liverpool's deepest midfield role and that gave Toure protection. It took Marcelino, the Villarreal boss, half an hour to realise that it might be a good idea to occasionally switch the starting positions of Bakambu and Roberto Soldado.

And yet Toure was having a good game. Twice he sprung across his 18-yard box to intercept danger and twice he read the situation perfectly.

Coutinho and Roberto Firmino were struggling to get involved but the battle for control in midfield was being won. Villarreal were especially attack minded down the left and Liverpool's best opportunities consistently came from the space in behind.

From that path, Liverpool should have taken a lead when Nathaniel Clyne and Adam Lallana combined to serve an unmarked Allen near the penalty spot. Allen's subsequent effort, however, was poor.

Villarreal's best chance came when a hurried clearance from Lucas ended up with Simon Mignolet saving Tomas Pina's curling shot.

There was not much for Liverpool to be worried about. Coutinho's exit came as a blow and Villarreal sensed an opportunity from the start of the second-half, forcing a corner from which Bakambu headed against the post.

A number of Clyne's crosses were not meeting team-mates.

In Clyne's defence, Firmino, who struck a post on the hour mark, was intelligent in his movement between the halfway line and the 18 yard box but he did not seem to know where to be at the crucial moment.

If Liverpool really wanted to win, Sturridge would have been used. Instead, the England striker remained on the bench, with Christian Benteke sent on instead with a duty of holding possession.

In the final seconds, however, Liverpool could not hold on to what would have been a valuable draw.

VILLARREAL: Asenjo, Pérez Martínez, Bailly (Musacchio 76), Ruiz, Costa Jordá, Dos Santos (Castillejo Azuaga 72), Pina, Soriano Llido, Suárez, Soldado (Adrian 74), Bakambu. Goal: Adrian 90

Subs not used: García Sánchez, Areola, Trigueros Muñoz, Rukavina.

LIVERPOOL: Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Touré, Moreno, Milner, Lucas, Allen, Lallana, Firmino (Benteke 90), Coutinho (Ibe 45). Subs not used: Sturridge, Skrtel, Smith, Ward, Chirivella.

Rating: 7/10 Man of match: xxxxxx

Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)

Villarreal 1

Liverpool 0

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