Liverpool vs Villarreal: Can Unai Emery's defensive game plan cause another upset?

Villarreal have been the giant killers in this season's Champions League, having overcome the likes of Juventus and Bayern Munich in the previous rounds.

Villarreal players in a file photo; Credit: Twitter/@VillarrealCFen
By Sreejith C R | Apr 26, 2022 | 3 Min Read follow icon Follow Us

Villarreal have been the giant killers in this season’s Champions League, having overcome the likes of Juventus and Bayern Munich in the previous rounds to reach the semi-final stage. Unai Emery’s side produced a defensive masterclass to secure upset victories against giants of European football. The La Liga side will travel to Anfield to take on Liverpool in the first leg of the competition’s semi-final fixture on Wednesday. 

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Emery has set up a very strong  defensive unit that is extremely difficult to break down. The Europa League champions defeated 2020 Champions League winners Bayern 2-1 on aggregate in the quarter-finals.

In the first leg at El Madrigal, Arnaut Danjuma’s early strike separated the two sides. And then, at the Allianz Arena, Samuel Chukwueze’s late strike canceled out Robert Lewandowski’s opener to advance to the semi-finals of the competition for only the second time in their history. Over the two legs Emery’s side registered just two shots on target and managed to find the back of the net from those two.

Sitting back deep in their own half and hitting the opposition with quick counter-attacks has been their strategy throughout the tournament. The back four led by Raul Albiol and consisting of Foyth, Pau Torres and Pervis Estupinan is very compact, not giving any space to the opposition to work with. While the  midfielder’s Giovanni Lo Celso, Etienne Capou, Dani Parejo and Franci Coquelin sit in front of back four, making it a nine-man defence. 

However, whenever they get an opportunity to counter, Parejo plays a crucial role as the Spaniard’s quick and precise attacking passes allows the likes of Danjuma and Moreno to raid the opposition penalty area. Important thing is that they are able to find the back of the net from a minimal number of chances. 

Thiago Alcantara could be the key man

Liverpool would be a slightly different challenge as the Reds have a bit more creative spark in their ranks unlike, Bayern and Juventus. The Villarreal team is extremely disciplined at the back and you need a bit of creativity to open up the defence, therefore midfielder Thiago Alcantara might prove to be the key man. The Spaniard’s ability to play quick inter-passes and deliver defence-splitting balls could prove to be the difference. 

Apart from that, Jurgen Klopp’s side are pretty lethal from set-piece situations. The big central defender Ibrahima Konate has already netted in each of the last three games and he is a serious threat from dead ball situations. 

It is going to be Liverpool’s attack versus Villarreal’s defence on Wednesday and if the Reds can find the back of the net early on, then we might see an open game of football as Emery’s side would be forced to come out of their comfort zone, which their opponents failed to do in the previous rounds. 

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