Yet Unai Emery, a master of strategy in knockout competitions, faces the enormous challenge of staging a comeback on a Liverpool side seeking a historic quadruple of Champions League, Premier League titles. League, the FA Cup and the League Cup.
Villarreal will rely on an attack which shares with Real Madrid the most goals scored at home in the Spanish league this season (38). At their Estadio de la Cerámica, Villarreal also beat Bayern Munich 1-0 in the quarter-finals and had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Juventus despite superiority over the Italian side.
Emery is hopeful Gerard Moreno can play after missing the opener with a leg injury, but the Spanish striker remains uncertain. Emery rested several starters, including striker Arnaut Danjuma, in Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Alavés, which left Villarreal seventh in the Spanish league. For the side from a small town near the east coast of Spain, winning the Champions League is the only way to return to the competition next season.
Liverpool have made five changes from the side that beat Villarreal in their Newcastle game on Saturday, despite being in a Premier League title race. The second-placed side managed to claim the 1-0 victory which kept them within a point of Manchester City, while star striker Mohamed Salah was only needed on the pitch 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 squad’s depth was clear.
Liverpool, who beat Tottenham in the 2019 Champions League final, have already won the League Cup this season and will play the FA Cup final against Chelsea in two weeks.
REAL MADRID-MANCHESTER CITY (3-4)
After the hugely entertaining seven-goal opener, this is the much-anticipated second installment of the 13-time European champions against the ruthless attacking machine of Pep Guardiola’s City. With City dominating the first leg at home for long spells, the narrow defeat ensured that defeat was not as painful for Madrid as it could have been, thanks to two more goals from Karim Benzema. Even though he only played the last 30 minutes against Espanyol on Saturday, the French striker still had time to score and earn a 4-0 win. That’s now 42 goals in 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 35th league title was concluded. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and playmaker Luka Modric were among the only regular starters in the starting lineup along with midfielder Casemiro, who returned after missing the first leg. His return should help solidify a defense that were overwhelmed by City’s passing attack in the first leg and were lucky not to concede even more goals.
As Madrid’s players recovered from Saturday night’s celebrations on the streets of the Spanish capital, City’s squad rested after another victory in their defense of the Premier League title. Beating Leeds 4-0 kept City a point clear of Liverpool and Kevin De Bruyne didn’t need to be called up at all.
City lost last season’s final to Chelsea and are seeking their first Champions League title.
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