Liverpool will go into their Champions League tie against Villarreal as heavy favourites tonight. However, Jurgen Klopp will install into his side complete concentration and knows all about the wily Unai Emery from his time at Arsenal.
In the final months of Emery’s reign at Arsenal, he faced a formidable Liverpool – hellbent on winning the Premier League and still high on their Champions League victory months before. It was, to say the least, a rough time to face Klopp’s Reds.
And so it transpired, a routine win for Liverpool at Anfield in the third game of the season back in 2019. Mohamed Salah netted a brace after Joel Matip broke the deadlock before half-time.
Lucas Torreira would grab a consolation in the last 10 minutes after the points were already in the bag. In those final throes, there was something that resembled a balanced football match but Klopp was surprisingly blase despite the drop in intensity.
“It was a performance full of power, energy, greed and passion, which I think you need against a team like Arsenal.” the German said afterwards. “The last 10 minutes I saw the possession – 53 to 47 per cent or something like that – but over 80 minutes it must have been completely different.
“We were completely in charge of the game. We are not Disneyland, we do not need to excite everyone in every second.”
Much has been made of Liverpool and their intense style of play that could lead to a bit of steam being let off at the end of the 90 minutes. It was evident in their 3-2 win over Manchester City in the FA Cup earlier this month when they were three goals up and also against Benfica when the Reds relinquished a 3-1 lead.
However, that myth was dispelled days later when they thrashed Manchester United 4-0 – with two late goals added to their obliteration of the Red Devils. It will be the mindset going against Villarreal, who have proved tricky customers in the Champions League.
European juggernauts Bayern Munich and Juventus were guilty of taking them lightly and their players will now be watching tonight’s match at home rather than be out the pitch themselves. Emery seems to be have mastered European competitions, winning the Europa League an incredible four times – three with Sevilla and one with Villarreal.
That blueprint seems to be working in the Champions League now, as well, and Liverpool will have to up their game or fall foul of the same mistakes that Julian Nagelsmann and Massimiliano Allegri committed. It might not be Disneyland, but expect fireworks.