Europa League in-focus: Liverpool heads to Villarreal

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Liverpool and Villarreal begin their UEFA Europa League semifinal on Thursday with a match-up in Spain.

The Reds will be favored to advance from the tie should they be able to breach a fairly steady Villarreal back line.

Led by backs Victor Ruiz and Mario Gaspar, the Yellow Submarine has allowed less than a goal per La Liga match this season. Gaspar isn’t bashful to join in the attack, either.

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But Villarreal finds its joy through Cedric Bakambu. The 25-year-0ld Congolese striker has 12 goals and three assists in La Liga, adding a remarkable 12 more goals in Europa League play. But he’s streaky, now goalless in three matches after scoring 10 in 8.

One of the keys to Liverpool’s success will be their fullbacks treading the line between aggression and reckless pushing forward. Nathaniel Clyne has the ability to make Villarreal’s outside players pay for sloppy play, but has to be sure not to open gaps for the Spanish side’s outside talent.

If Liverpool can manager Bakambu, and that is a significant if, the Reds should find a relatively easy path to the final. Real Madrid controlled Villarreal 3-0 in a recent meeting and while Jurgen Klopp doesn’t have the Reds at Real’s level, his attack could mirror the La Liga giants in some ways.