Both Europa League semi-final ties hang precariously in the balance as we look forward to Thursday's ties. Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool side had their hearts broken in the 92nd minute against Villarreal at the Estadio Madrigal and will need to overturn a 1-0 deficit at Anfield.
Shakhtar Donetsk and Sevilla played out to an enthralling 2-2 draw. It’s all still to play for as the sides prepare to do battle in Spain this week. Who will book their place in the final in Basel on 18 May? Let’s get straight to it!
Liverpool 7/10 | Draw 5/2 | Villarreal 39/10
For all of his heavy metal football, Jurgen Klopp went into last week’s first leg tie with a rather conservative approach. Leaving Daniel Sturridge out of the match day squad altogether, he played Robert Firmino in as a false nine role, flanked by Coutinho and Adam Lallana. Joe Allen, Lucas Leiva and James Milner playing as a narrow three-man midfield.
The plan nearly worked a treat as the Reds did well to limit chances, absorbing Villarreal pressure well. Simon Mignolet was on hand to deny Cedric Bakambu late on. The Spaniards would eventually grab the all-important goal in the 92nd-minute as Dennis Suarez set up Adrian for the simplest of tap-ins at the far post.
All eyes will be on Anfield this Thursday, however, where Liverpool will be quietly confident of turning over the one-goal deficit. Klopp gave the majority of his stars the day off on Sunday as the kids contrived to go down 3-1 at the Liberty Stadium against Swansea City. The Reds’ German manager won’t read too much into that defeat, and will be banking on the likes of Coutinho, Firmino, and Lallana to create the sort of chances that Daniel Sturridge feeds off.
That won’t be easy against one of the best defensive sides in Europe this season. Villarreal have been nothing short of spectacular in all competitions this term. The Yellow Submarine have only conceded 31 goals in a league that’s renowned for having some of the best-attacking talent in the world.
Marcelino Garcia Toral will probably approach this game in much the same manner that he did the first. They’ll likely play with the same 4-4-2 formation that they adopted in the first leg with Bakambu and Roberto Soldado up front. The two banks of four behind them will play narrow as anything, banking on their ability to absorb wave after wave of Liverpool attacks.
Verdict: Liverpool to win at 7/10 (90 min)
Whether or not Liverpool will be able to keep a clean sheet against the Spanish side remains to be seen. I do think that Klopp’s men will have too much quality at home and should be more than capable of beating the Spaniards in front of an expectant Anfield.
Sevilla 13/20 | Draw 3/1 | Shakhtar Donetsk 7/2
Sevilla hold all of the aces heading into their second tie of their semi-final against the Ukrainian giants, having grabbed a late equaliser through the boot of Kevin Gameiro. With two away goals to their name, Unai Emery will be in buoyant mood as his charges prepare to play the second leg in front of their partisan home support.
The hosts went down disappointingly over the weekend as they suffered a somewhat embarrassing away defeat to struggling Espanyol. They can be forgiven, however, for having one eye on the Europa League as they bid to become the first team to win the competition three times on the trot. One thing is for sure, their fans will be expecting them to deliver the trophy following a disappointing league campaign which sees them languishing in seventh position.
Even if they are wobbling in the league, Sevilla are the undisputed bosses of the Europa League. Their pedigree in this competition is second to none winning the competition back-to-back in 2014 and 2015 as well as in 2006 and 2007. Pedigree alone won’t see them to the final this year as they still have to navigate a difficult home tie against Ukrainians on Thursday evening.
Mircea Lucescu and his side will be buzzing following their 3-0 demolition of Dynamo Kyiv over the weekend. Of course, they could have done without the violent brawl that broke out following Eduardo’s second goal of the evening. A whole host of players were sent off for both sides – whether or not UEFA will take action against Shakhtar duo, Taras Stepanenko and Oleksandr Kucher – who were both sent from the pitch for violent conduct – remains to be seen.
Right, looking ahead! I think that this will be the better of the two games to watch if you aren’t emotionally or financially invested in either tie. Both sides possess a wealth of attacking talent and aren’t afraid of getting bodies into the box.
Verdict: Draw (90 min) + both teams to score at 34/10
I simply can’t separate these two sides. Both have had issues at the back, however, their collective wealth of attacking talent and flair simply can’t be ignored. I’d not be at all surprised to see this game end in a high-scoring draw, but to play it safe; stay away from the finer details and back the Draw + Both Teams To Score at 34/10.