- Substitute Adrián López wins it at the last as Villarreal put on late rally
- Cédric Bakambu earlier hit post and had late effort saved superbly
- Roberto Firmino has low shot pushed on to upright for Liverpool
- Villarreal end Liverpool’s unblemished run; Yellow Submarine now unbeaten in 12
- Second leg takes place next Thursday, with the final in Basel on 18 May
Substitute Adrián López won it at the death for Villarreal, turning in Denis Suárez’s selfless cross to end Liverpool’s unbeaten run in this season’s UEFA Europa League.
Deep into added time, Bruno Soriano fed Suárez who sped past the exposed Kolo Touré and, as the goal opened up, squared for López to pass into the net.
The livelier side to start with, Liverpool’s best opening of the first half fell to midfielder Joe Allen, who planted a shot at Sergio Asenjo in the fifth minute. Villarreal warmed to their task gradually; Roberto Soldado shied one across the face of goal, and Tomás Pina drew a save from Simon Mignolet after a move that tied Jürgen Klopp’s side in knots. Alberto Moreno then blocked a Mario Gaspar shot and Soldado bent another one outside the post.
Cédric Bakambu headed against the outside of a post from a corner just after the restart, and Gaspar whipped a shot over the bar as Villarreal’s quick feet bamboozled the Reds again. Defending deep and breaking fast, Villarreal drained Liverpool of much of their menace, but Asenjo rescued them in extremis on 65 minutes, pushing Roberto Firmino’s low shot on to his left-hand upright.
Bakambu might have won it on 87 minutes as the Liverpool defence momentarily opened up, but Mignolet saved superbly. However, Marcelino’s side were to have the last word.
Analysis from Graham Hunter at the Madrigal
Only one player on the pitch at El Madrigal witnessed Villarreal’s infamous first major UEFA semi-final – the 1-0 aggregate loss to Arsenal in the 2005/06 UEFA Champions League. That survivor was Kolo Touré, once a Gunner, now an Anfield Red. The oldest player on the pitch at 35, there was concern that he might be susceptible if Villarreal moved the ball at high pace. However, he oozed assurance and intelligence until he was left exposed in the final seconds.
The midfield battle
The Madrigal faithful are used to silky football from local hero Bruno Soriano, so some of them might say that this was not one of his ‘seven marvels of the world’ performances. Stand-out it was, though, the 31-year-old demonstrating control, changes of pace, calm and appropriate risk-taking with passes. It was imperative that Lucas, to an extent, and particularly Allen worked with the same precision, gusto and quality as the Spaniard. It made for a fascinating match-up.
The big talking points of the game might have been saves. The best? A tie: Sergio Asenjo low to his left from Firmino to push the shot on to a post in the second half, Mignolet from Bakambu when a winner seemed sure in closing minutes. However, both were upstaged by Bruno whose exquisite pass found Denis Suárez, who teed up Adrián for the goal which turned this tie upside down.