Villarreal v Liverpool

Conor McGregor tells hockey player to ‘put him through the net!’

Villarreal will look to continue their remarkable tournament form as they take on new cup favourites Liverpool in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final on Thursday.

Competition: UEFA Europa League
Date: 28 April 2016
Semi final
Kick-off: 19:05 (GMT)

Venue: Estadio El Madrigal (Villarreal)

Referee: D. Skomina
Assistants: J. Prapritnik, R. Vukan
Additional assistants: M. Jug, S Vincic
Fourth official: M. Jones

Head-to-head summary:

Sunderland 0 0 0 0
Arsenal 0 0 0 0

(Note: This is the first-ever meeting between these two sides in European competition).

Previous encounter:

Players to watch:

Bruno (Soriano) will look to help his team gain and keep possession as often as possible in the midfield. There are few players in Spain who do this better than the 31-year-old club legend.

The Reds would do well to forget about the Roberto Soldado they faced when playing Tottenham. The striker and his partner, club top scorer Cédric Bakambu, make up one of the most deadly combinations in La Liga this season.

Daniel Sturridge has literally not stopped scoring goals since his return to regular first-team football. The England international only came on as a substitute in his team’s now-famous quarter-final victory over Borussia Dortmund earlier this month, and has found the net three times in the Reds’ Premier League campaign since. His form, along with the injury to Divock Origi, means he’s a certainty to make the starting line-up.

James Milner has provided five assists in as many matches from the midfield. The 30-year-old is one of Liverpool’s most experienced players and seemingly never runs out of breath. The visitors will be very reliant on his work-rate.

Team form and manager quotes:

Villarreal’s recent league form has been somewhat disappointing, having only taken a single point from their last three matches. However, their performances in the Europa League have been nothing short of astonishing.

Their 2-4 away win over Sparta Prague in the second leg of the competition’s quarter-final was their eleventh consecutive match without a loss, and they have won all of their last six home matches in the competition.

“Liverpool may be favourites rather than us because of their history and the fact they have knocked out Borussia Dortmund, who along with Sevilla were favourites to win the competition. But we do not consider ourselves to be worse than them and we will do everything to eliminate them,” Villarreal manager Garcia Toral told reporters in a pre-match press conference.

“They are a very good team, with many extraordinary players. They play a very intense style and have a great counter-attack. They press very high and will not let us play easily. We need to find solutions to overcome that first line of pressure. If we get it we will take a great step [towards the final]. We can say that we have a similar style than them.”

Liverpool’s form, on the other hand, has been terrific across all competitions. The Reds have only lost one out of their last 12 matches and have won four of their last five.

This remarkable consistency is only amplified by the magnitude of the win over Dortmund three weeks ago. It was the kind of result that would have lifted the spirits of even an underperforming side for the rest of the tournament. Imagine what it’s done to a team of Liverpool’s quality. They will be very tough to beat.

“They are a pretty strong team and are fourth in the Spanish league,” Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp told when asked about the threat posed by Villarreal. “They are having a wonderful season, they are a wonderful club in a small city.

“It is clear there are a lot of smart people behind their success. We have to play brave football. We are now in the semi-finals. We got there because we deserved it, and now we have to show we are strong enough to go through.”

Jürgen Klopp ahead of Thursday: "Momentum is not about having the best squad ready to play. Momentum is to be ready to fight." #LFC

A photo posted by Liverpool Football Club (@liverpoolfc) on

Team news:

Both of the hosts’ recent absentees, Mateo Musacchio and Jaume Costa, have returned to training recently and are likely to be available for selection.

Leo Baptistao (unspecified) is unavailable due to injury.

Liverpool are without Divock Origi (ankle), Emre Can (ankle), both of whose seasons appear to be over. Mamadou Sakho is available for selection, but will not be in the squad while being investigated by UEFA for a failed drugs test.