Liverpool have booked their place in the Champions League final after coming through a stern examination from Villarreal at the Madrigal, winning 3-2 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate.
It was a game of two halves as Unai Emery’s men channeled the energy of the crowd and carved Liverpool open on two occasions in the first half, restoring parity in a contest they were never in at Anfield — and one of the goals came from the unlikeliest of sources, underpinning the utter chaos of that first half.
Boulaye Dia broke the deadlock in the opening three minutes to send the home fans into raptures before Francis Coquelin scored his first ever Champions League goal, and what a time to get it, heading home on the stroke of half-time.
But, a supposed rocket from Jurgen Klopp in the dressing room roused an exceptionally pedestrian Liverpool, and the quadruple aspirants came out in the second half with the bit between their teeth, placating the Madrigal and tearing the Yellow Submarine from pillar to post in typical fashion.
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Fabinho first netted his first Champions League goal for the Reds, capitalising on a goalkeeper blunder from Geronimo Rulli as the ball squirmed through his legs, before Luis Diaz equalised on the night and quelled frustration from the travelling Kopites.
Sadio Mane put the gloss on a job well done in the second half, rounding Rulli before slotting into an empty net and confirming a trip to Paris later this month. Three different goalscorers, but there was only one man who proved the difference-maker on the night.
Luis Díaz's game by numbers vs. Villarreal:
100% take-ons completed
90% pass accuracy
4 touches in the opp. box
4 take-ons completed (=most)
4 shots (most)
3 x possession won
GAME. CHANGER. pic.twitter.com/q4sNY0FJ4x
— Squawka (@Squawka) May 3, 2022
Diaz came on at half-time and completely changed the complexion of the match, giving Klopp’s lethargic side the creative adrenaline shot it needed as they took on a renewed impetus and vigour. It was a performance that provoked former Red Peter Crouch to describe him as a “complete game-changer” to the BT Sport studio after the match. Host Jake Humphrey added: “The guy’s a joke.”
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Despite being on the pitch for only 45 minutes, Diaz completed more take-ons than any other player on the night (three), registered more shots (four), double his closest challenger Mohamed Salah (two), and added an overall level of energy and creative arrogance that was missing the first half.
If the Reds were coasting in the first half as Villarreal rode the crest of a wave, Diaz ensured they hit full throttle after the restart, taking the game by the scruff of the neck and deciding the match on his own terms. He wasn’t about to let a date in the French capital pass him by
The City of Light. This was Diaz’s night.