Liverpool ease through to Europa League final

Liverpool 3-0 Villarreal (agg: 3-1)
Jürgen Klopp could end his first season at Anfield with a trophy after the Reds overturned a 1-0 deficit to set up a date with holders Sevilla.

Semi-final highlights: Watch Liverpool ease past Villarreal
Semi-final highlights: Watch Liverpool ease past Villarreal
  • Second-half goals from Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana take Liverpool into final
  • Reds through to fourth decider having lifted the trophy in 1973, 1976 and 2001
  • Villarreal's first-leg lead wiped out inside seven minutes by Bruno Soriano own goal
  • Villarreal comeback hopes end with Víctor Ruiz's dismissal on 71 minutes
  • The winner will face holders Sevilla in the final in Basel on 18 May

Liverpool reached the 12th final of their illustrious European history with a resounding 3-0 victory over Villarreal at Anfield.

Bruno Soriano's early own goal cancelled out the visitors' first-leg advantage, and Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana completed the turnaround in the second period as Liverpool, three-time UEFA Cup winners, booked their place in the UEFA Europa League final in Basel in 13 days time.

It was richly deserved for Jürgen Klopp's side, who pinned Villarreal back from the start and rarely gave them any respite. Villarreal looked a beaten team even before the sending-off of Víctor Ruiz in the 71st minute after he was shown a second yellow card.

Jürgen Klopp hails Liverpool's perfect performance
Jürgen Klopp hails Liverpool's perfect performance

Liverpool made the perfect start when Nathaniel Clyne's low ball across goal was picked up beyond the far post by Roberto Firmino, who drove low into the danger zone. Sturridge failed to connect but Soriano behind him deflected the ball into his own net.

Liverpool's intensity was something to behold in the early stages as, roared on by the Anfield crowd, they pressed relentlessly. Lallana could have had a second goal but scuffed at James Milner's brilliant ball in.

Villarreal had actually missed an early opportunity when Mario Gaspar forced a low save from Simon Mignolet but it was not until the last seconds of the half that they threatened again. Cédric Bakumbu failed to properly connect inside the Liverpool box.

James Milner on the lure of lifting the trophy
James Milner on the lure of lifting the trophy

Villarreal had not lost in the competition since matchday one yet when there was a sniff of a chance for Bakumbu at the start of the second half, Dejan Lovren denied him with an outstanding challenge.

At the other end Alphonse Aréola saved from Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, but in the 63th minute Sturridge got the second goal. Roberto Firminho's lovely flicked pass split the Villarreal defence and Sturridge shot under Aréola and in off the post.

Firminho was involved in the third goal too when he pulled the ball back from the byline to Sturridge, whose scuffed shot was turned in by Lallana.

High tempo
Villarreal could not live with the tireless pressing of Liverpool, especially in the first half when Klopp's men tore into the Spanish side, with the likes of Lallana and Firmino pushing them back and giving them no space to construct their moves. At times there were four red shirts pushing back the men in yellow as Liverpool seized an initiative they never looked like relinquishing.

Exciting James Milner
Milner does not do glamour. He is a low-key Yorkshireman who has inspired a Twitter account called Boring James Milner. Yet Liverpool's stand-in captain rivalled Firmino and Lallana for man of the match. He was outstanding, making crunching tackles, showing quick feet, driving his team forward. There was a moment when he took a knock in the first half and limped around for a few moments but typically he soon shrugged it off. They are made of tough stuff in Yorkshire.

Weight of history
Football fans read more into these things than football players but Liverpool are a club who appear to draw inspiration from their history. Liverpool are the eighth-best team in the Premier League judging by the current standings. Villarreal are the fourth-best in Spain. But with a noisy Kop behind them, Liverpool dominated this game and won their 12th European semi-final. Villarreal lost their fourth.

Tributes outside Anfield
Tributes outside Anfield©Getty Images

High emotions
This was Liverpool's first home game since the new inquest into the Hillsborough disaster ruled that the 96 supporters who perished at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final had been killed unlawfully. There was an emotional preamble with singers from the Love & Joy gospel choir singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. At half-time Margaret Aspinall, a prominent campaigner, spoke on the pitch and the Villarreal fans produced a lovely gesture with a banner in bright yellow with the number 96 – it earned warm applause from Anfield's Main Stand.

©Getty Images
©AFP/Getty Images
©AFP/Getty Images
©AFP/Getty Images
©AFP/Getty Images
©Getty Images
©AFP/Getty Images
©Getty Images
©AFP/Getty Images
©Getty Images
©Getty Images
©AFP/Getty Images
©Getty Images
©AFP/Getty Images
©AFP/Getty Images
©Getty Images
©Getty Images