Liverpool survived a first-half scare to reach the Champions League final with a 3-2 win at Villarreal on Tuesday, for a 5-2 aggregate victory, after the night had threatened to turn sour for Juergen Klopp’s side.
The visitors fell 2-0 down with an insipid first-half performance before fighting back with three goals in a 12-minute spell after the break to advance to their third European Cup final in five seasons.
The Premier League side had won 2-0 in England, but looked in danger of coming unstuck on a rain-soaked pitch in Spain, as the hosts pegged them back with goals from Boulaye Dia and Francis Coquelin.
Liverpool, however, came out transformed after halftime and goals from Fabinho, Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane sealed the deal, with Villarreal ending the match with 10 men following a late red card for Etienne Capoue.
Klopp’s side will meet either Real Madrid or Manchester City, who contest the second leg of their semi-final on Wednesday, in the showpiece in Paris on 28 May. City lead 4-3 from the first leg.
Roared on by their faithful fanbase who were packed into their modest stadium, Villarreal opened the scoring after three minutes with a close-range strike from Dia that was greeted by a chant of ‘Yes we can!’ from the home supporters.
Villarreal had been lifeless in the first leg at Anfield, but looked a completely different team as they tore into Liverpool with the same aggressive game that had knocked out Juventus in the last 16 and beaten Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals. Their relentless pressure forced Liverpool into mistakes they do not usually make, with the visitors’ passing accuracy of 66% the lowest they have managed in the first half of a game in all competitions this season.
Villarreal levelled the tie with a close-range header from Coquelin and looked on the verge of a miracle comeback.
The hosts even had a penalty appeal waved away by referee Danny Makkelie in the 38th minute when Liverpool keeper Alisson Becker came out to smother the ball and then bundled into Giovani Lo Celso inside the area.