Champions League knockout stages and thrillers, always go hand in hand. You want a blockbuster, Champions League knockout stages have provided enough in the past, and it has even now. Quarter-finals of this year’s Champions League saw some crazy results, hence adding some more games to the list of the “UCL memorable nights”.
Now, the scheme of things just gets more spiced up as we keep on getting closer to the showdown – The Final. Semi-Finals kick off on Tuesday, and it is Liverpool vs Villarreal on Wednesday facing for the 1st leg over the 2 legged knockout stage. Fearsome teams, tend to provide fearsome individual battles within the tie itself.
The Reds host the underdogs of this season in Villarreal, at Anfield, as we look at some of the key player battles, leading up to the big clash
ARNAUT DANJUMA (VILLARREAL) VS TRENT ALEXANDER ARNOLD (LIVERPOOL)
The 25-year-old Nigerian born Dutch winger, Arnaut Danjuma, has been one of the key players for the Spanish outfit. While the player has had a great contribution to Villarreal’s good run of form in most of the games, he has also ensured stability to Unai Emery’s side. And his stats are to show for the same- 16 goals and 4 assists in 33 games across all competitions. Not to mention that his solitary goal for Villarreal in the 1st leg of the 2-legged tie against Bayern in the quarter-final of the Champions League, helped Unai Emery’s side to the semi-finals.
Coming up against Liverpool’s assist machine – Trent Alexander Arnold – it could turn out to be a great clash between the two players. Meanwhile, Trent has proved against all the criticisms this season, that he can for sure defend as well as he can attack. His stats are crazy too, for someone who makes constant running shifts up and down the right side for Klopp’s side. The English fullback has assisted a mammoth 18 goals across all competitions and has even contributed for the Reds by chipping in 2 goals.
Concludingly, I think Danjuma could prove to be a troublemaker on that far side of the pitch if Trent fails to keep up on his toes. Overall, it will be an amazing battle to watch out for.
PAU TORRES (VILLARREAL) VS MOHAMED SALAH (LIVERPOOL)
The Spanish centre-back has solidified his status-quo as a beast in defence for Unai Emery this season. Pau Torres, 25 years old, is just bossing the backline for the Spanish side not letting anyone have the slightest of chances. The best spectacle of it was his performance over the 2 legs against Bayern. Just commendable! He did not let Sane even get a shot on his stronger side. Meanwhile, he has also contributed to Villarreal with his heading prowess on set-pieces scoring 5 goals, so far this season. Alongside Albiol, the two have strengthened the defensive fatalities of the Yellow Submarine.
For all it is worth, Pau Torres will be up against a player who has been lethal this season- Mohammed Salah. He has been beyond just a mere one-season wonder that the media and many pundits once claimed him to be. This is the 5th year running that the Egyptian has scored at least 20 league goals in the Liverpool colours, and it will be more than just a task for Pau Torres and Villarreal to stop Salah.
The Egyptian has scored a total of 30 goals and has assisted another 12 goals for the season, in just 42 games- including 8 goals in the 10 Champions League fixtures so far. So, it is far more than a task anyone could have asked for in a single game, but Torres could learn from a few of the Reds’ games where the Egyptian fell short if it helps. But, for sure It is another battle that will be catching the eye of viewers around the globe.
GERARD MORENO (VILLARREAL) VS VIRGIL VAN DIJK (LIVERPOOL)
Gerard Moreno– the veteran striker, often referred to as a player who comes to the rescue of the Yellow Submarines has been lethal this season in particular. The 30-year-old leads the attacking proceedings of Unai Emery’s side. Meanwhile, he picked up a hamstring injury in the midweek but it is yet to be known how grave the danger is. But if he is to feature in the 1st leg of the Semi-final against the English giants then he could prove to be a nuisance for the Reds. His stats surely speaks for it as well with 13 goals and 6 assists in just 26 games across all competitions.
Meanwhile, he will be left hanging upfront, all alone against a force to be reckoned with. Yes! It is, indeed, the Dutch wall- Virgil Van Dijk. I mean, did he even rupture his right anterior cruciate ligament at Everton last season?! To be honest, it does not seem to be the case. So far Van Dijk, alongside the company of Konate and Matip, has kept a total of 28 clean sheets across all competitions whenever he has played a game donning the Liverpool colours.
Not just that, he has been proving to be a nuisance whenever Liverpool are on set pieces- scoring a total of 3 goals so far this season.
To come up face-to-face against someone like Van Dijk takes a lot of inner strength to go by. It is not just a matter of 90 mins, Moreno will have to face the giant in the Liverpool defence for a total of 180 mins, not to mention a few mins of injury time or even extra time One of the veteran strikers in Europe up against, arguably, one of the best defenders in the world right now. It, surely, is meant to spice up.