Villarreal gave Liverpool a serious scare in yesterday’s Champions League semi-final. Boulaye Dia and former Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin put the Yellow Submarine 2-0 up at halftime, tying the aggregate score across the two legs.
However, ex-Arsenal head coach Unai Emery’s side would prompt a strong response from Liverpool who saw goals from Fabinho, Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane secure their place in yet another Champions League final.
At halftime, from an Arsenal perspective, there was worry. Liverpool face Tottenham at the weekend with the Gunners knowing that should they win at home to Leeds and Spurs drop points at Anfield, a win in the North London Derby would secure them top four and a place in next season’s elite European competition.
Liverpool played the worst half of football seen from Jurgen Klopp’s side in recent memory. Misplacing passes, leaving themselves open and failing to deal with the Villarreal pressure. Tottenham will be travelling to Anfield knowing they need to win the game to put the pressure on Arsenal.
Emery’s kick up the Liverpool backside will hopefully have been enough to remind the Reds how easily a comfortable position can fall away from them. Trailing to Manchester City in the Premier League title race, Liverpool know that they need to win their remaining games to have any hope of claiming another English topflight title.
“I told them to play better than the first!” Klopp said when asked what he said to his side at halftime. “Usually like this, when we don’t find a way into the game, we try to find a situation at half-time which we can show the players that explains it.
“I told [the analysis team] to find one situation of how we did it right in the first half and [assistant manager] Pete Krawietz said he couldn’t find any. It was clear, the start was difficult for us to take. We were impressed by that, and we had no real build-up. We didn’t play in the right spaces and all of a sudden, we were just kicking long balls and trying to force it.
“We had a bit of a moment when we were kind of dangerous but never enough to get some momentum. We explained to the boys what we had to do to get stronger and move smarter. In the first half, we didn’t move enough and couldn’t find the half-spaces in midfield. We were too fixed, there was no flexibility, so we had to mix that up to cause them problems. We played into their hands, so that is what we had to do to change.”
This should be music to Arsenal fans’ ears. Klopp will not allow this type of lapse in performance to arise again with such important games remaining in the season and the opportunity to win four trophies still possible.
The Tottenham game on Saturday being ahead of Arsenal’s clash with Leeds United creates even more theatre. A Spurs defeat is the dream scenario giving the Gunners the possibility of going five points clear of their north London rivals ahead of a derby they could even then afford to lose… not that they should even dare consider that possibility.