Villarreal surpassed expectations to reach the final four after upsetting former champions Juventus and Bayern Munich, and Liverpool was unable to inflict a knockout blow at Anfield.
Still, Unai Emery, a master of strategy in knockout competitions, faces the enormous challenge of engineering a comeback over a Liverpool side that is seeking a historic quadruple of the Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup titles.
Villarreal will rely on an attack that shares with Real Madrid the highest number of goals scored at home in the Spanish league this season (38). At its Estadio de la Cerámica, Villarreal also beat Bayern Munich 1-0 in the quarterfinals and had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Juventus despite outplaying the Italian side.
Emery is hoping that Gerard Moreno can play after he missed the first match with a leg injury, but the Spain striker remains doubtful. Emery rested several starters, including forward Arnaut Danjuma, during Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Alavés that left Villarreal seventh in the Spanish league. For the team from a small town near Spain’s eastern coast, winning the Champions League is the only way back into the competition next season.
Liverpool made five changes from the side that beat Villarreal when it played at Newcastle on Saturday despite being involved in a Premier League title race. The second-place team managed to secure the 1-0 win that kept it a point behind Manchester City, all while star striker Mohamed Salah was only needed on the field for 25 minutes. Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara also only came on in the second half while Ibrahima Konate and Trent Alexander-Arnold didn’t come off the bench at all as the depth of the squad was clear.
Liverpool, which beat Tottenham in the 2019 Champions League final, has already won the League Cup this season and plays the FA Cup final against Chelsea in two weeks.
After the hugely entertaining seven-goal opener, it’s the eagerly awaited second instalment of the record 13-time European champions against the ruthless attacking machine of Pep Guardiola’s City. With City dominating the first leg at home for long stretches, the slender loss ensured the defeat wasn’t as painful for Madrid as it could have been, thanks to another couple of goals from Karim Benzema. Even though he only played the last 30 minutes against Espanyol on Saturday, the France forward still had time to score and complete a 4-0 win. It’s now 42 goals from 42 appearances this campaign — the form that will put him in contention for the Ballon D’Or.
Carlo Ancelotti could afford to rest Benzema for most of the domestic game given Madrid’s league dominance, and a record-extending 35th league title was wrapped up. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and playmaker Luka Modric were among the only regular starters in the starting lineup along with holding midfielder Casemiro, who made his comeback from injury after missing the first leg. His return should help to solidify a defense that was overwhelmed by City’s passing attack in the first leg and was lucky to not concede even more goals.
While Madrid’s players were recovering from Saturday night’s celebrations through the streets of the Spanish capital, City’s squad was resting up after another win in its defense of the Premier League title. Beating Leeds 4-0 kept City a point ahead of Liverpool and Kevin De Bruyne didn’t need to be called on at all.
City lost last season’s final to Chelsea and is seeking its first Champions League title.
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