Liverpool too cautious against Villarreal, says Gary Lim
Liverpool pay price for being overly conservative against Villarreal
SEMI-FINAL, 1ST LEG
(Adrian Lopez 90+2)
From the high of the rip-roaring Borussia Dortmund triumph, Liverpool crashed back to earth with a thud.
Against Villarreal at the Estadio el Madrigal yesterday morning (Singapore time), the team seen as firm Europa League favourites were silenced at the death, knocked out cold by Adrian Lopez's injury-time winner.
Left back Alberto Moreno was the ready-made scapegoat, for deserting his post at the worst possible time.
But the defeat in the first leg of the Europa League semi-final was manager Juergen Klopp's doing.
He recognised the quality of Villarreal, La Liga's fourth-placed side, but made the mistake of paying them too much respect.
The free-spirited play that has been the Reds' hallmark was abandoned, in its place was a scripted performance that emphasised on discipline and control.
The name of the game was avoiding defeat, as Villarreal coach Marcelino observed.
He said: "Liverpool came here and played more cautiously than usual.
"They sat back and looked for counter-attacking opportunities."
Liverpool's unexpected switch in strategy claimed an unlikely victim.
Daniel Sturridge was only recently seen as potentially the man whose return from injury could turn Liverpool's season around.
Yesterday, the striker, with four goals in his last five matches, found himself warming the bench, his place having gone to Roberto Firmino.
The Brazilian is no out-and-out striker, but was picked as Klopp felt that his familiarity with the 4-3-3/4-5-1 system would give the team "a little bit more stability", and also presumably because of his willingness to run himself to the ground.
By the break, it became apparent Liverpool were matching their opponents stride for stride.
Villarreal were good, but not that good.
Klopp's refusal to step on the accelerator betrayed a timorousness side of him rarely seen.
The game was there to be won, but the German kept the leash on his potential match-winner.
Sturridge, who had spent the whole of half-time warming up on the field, didn't even come on as a substitute.
When Klopp decided to introduce a pair of fresh legs to replace Firmino, who was very average on the night, he went for Christian Benteke in the 90th minute.
The big striker's task in the final few minutes of the match, though, was not what one might have expected.
Said Klopp, explaining his decision to bring on the Belgian: "There were one or two situations with set-pieces defensively that Christian could help us with.
"It was not really for attacking."
The Reds' defensive game plan almost worked.
It would have, had everyone on the team stayed on the same page until the final whistle.
Moreno, egged on by his lung-bursting run which nearly resulted in a wonderful solo goal just moments earlier, decided to again wander upfield in search of a dramatic late winner.
Liverpool lost the ball, Villarreal counter-attacked via the space vacated by the Spanish left back to hit the visitors with the sucker-punch.
It's not game over yet, however.
Far from it.
As Klopp pointed out, Villarreal might have celebrated too early.
In fact, he should be relieved that they are only 1-0 down.
At Anfield next week, roared on by the vociferous Kop, a Liverpool obliged to attack may turn out to be a very different animal.
"Villarreal are a good side, but Liverpool are a good side too. If you go out in the semis, then do so kicking and screaming."
— Reds boss Juergen Klopp, promising that his side will throw everything at Villarreal at Anfield
'We'll be ready for you at Anfield'
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp was far from concerned by his side's 1-0 defeat in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final in Villarreal.
Substitute Adrian Lopez capitalised on a momentary lapse in concentration in the second minute of injury time to give the home side the advantage ahead of the return leg in a week's time.
However, on recent evidence - when Liverpool produced a miraculous recovery to knock out then-favourites Borussia Dortmund a fortnight ago - the second leg at Anfield is far from a foregone conclusion.
"Things are possible with 1-0, it is not the biggest result in the world. Villarreal know a lot more about us and they will respect us," Klopp (above) said. "Now we have to find solutions to a few things, but I saw we are in a good way. I saw a lot of things that show we can (win).
"To be honest, it is the first leg. My first thought was, 'Sorry, but it is not over, you have to come to Anfield too and we will be ready'.
"With the help of Anfield, we can do it - but please don't compare with Dortmund."
Midfielder Joe Allen had Liverpool's best chance in the just the fifth minute. But when left back Alberto Moreno, who rifled a late shot into the side-netting with substitute Jordon Ibe better placed in the middle, got caught upfield, it left Kolo Toure exposed to the much-younger Denis Suarez, who squared for Lopez.
"Maybe the youth (inexperience) came through. Until then, it was really a professional performance," added the German.
"After controlling a game in most parts, a 92nd-minute counter-attack sounds like it is - not too good and everyone knows it and it should not happen.
"I've seen some unbelievable mistakes in my career, but I don't think about things like this. It happens.
"It was not too smart. There are lot of things we could ask, but it makes no sense.
"It is not a moment for disappointment. If the players want to be angry for 10 minutes, then do it and move on."
Villarreal manager Marcelino is also not getting ahead of himself.
"We managed a good result, but we don't know if it will be short or not until the end of the tie," he said.
"It was not an unfair result and we didn't beat Liverpool by being lucky."
- PA Sport.