Mark O’Haire’s Europa League Tips – Villarreal v Liverpool
Liverpool face a testing trip when they travel to take on Villarreal in the first-leg of their Europa League semi-final.
Jurgen Klopp’s men will be supremely confident having come from 3-1 down to secure a stunning 4-3 aggregate victory over Borussia Dortmund in the previous round.
Villarreal, though, have been beaten in just two of their last 21 matches on home turf in all competitions – and Marcelino’s men boast a 100% record at home in the Europa League thus far this season, with six wins from six matches.
Indeed, Villarreal have conceded just one Europa League goal and the La Liga outfit will know that another clean sheet against the Merseysiders could see them take a significant step towards next month’s showpiece final.
The loss of Divock Origi to injury is certainly a big blow to the Reds, for the 21-year-old Belgian star had scored five goals in five games – including in both legs against Dortmund – before falling victim to Ramiro Funes Mori’s crunching challenge in the Merseyside derby.
However, Klopp’s charges will surely take heart from the timely return to fitness – and form – of England striker Daniel Sturridge.
The 26-year-old striker has seen his season ravaged by injury – again – but, having struck in each of his last four starts for Liverpool, Sturridge will be desperate to make his mark.
Klopp’s side have not struggled for goals in recent weeks, notching 16 in their last five matches and the men from Merseyside will fancy their chances of, at least, grabbing a vital away goal at El Madrigal.
The defensive deficiencies, though, that have plagued Liverpool all season were clear to see again at the weekend, as Newcastle came from 2-0 down to claim an unlikely point at Anfield.
The Reds, too, will have to do without the services of the suspended Mamadou Sakho when they face Villarreal and the 26-year-old France international will undoubtedly be a big miss for the visitors.
Villarreal were held to a goalless draw on Sunday, but had scored in all but one of their nine home fixtures prior to that and Marcelinho will be able to call upon the services of one of the tournament’s top scorers as his side seek to build a first-leg lead to take to Merseyside.
Only Athletic Bilbao’s Aduriz has scored more Europa League goals than Congolese striker Cedric Bakambu this term, with the Villarreal front man grabbing a brace in three of his last four outings in the competition.
Bakambu has notched 11 goals in his last 12 matches for club and country and the 25-year-old front man will hope to continue his scoring streak against the Reds.
Jurgen Klopp has yet to taste defeat in this competition since taking over the Anfield hotseat from Brendan Rodgers, having won five and drawn five of his 10 Europa League ties in charge of the Reds.
However, Thursday’s tussle looks to be a tough assignment given the Yellow Submarines’ impressive record at El Madrigal and…
Marcelino’s men are the value (6/4) to take a first-leg lead into next week’s return leg in Merseyside.
Villarreal to win (6/4)
*Prices correct at time of publication.