Liverpool reached their first European final for nine years with a comprehensive 3-0 win over a ten-man Villarreal side who lost their heads in the red-hot cauldron of Anfield.
Having arrived with a reputation for defensive discipline Villarreal were overcome in this Europa League semi-final second leg by whirling dervishes with a renewed hunger for silverware and a wall of noise rolling down off the Kop.
A banner on the Kop simply read “European Elite”, and while this competition may not be where a club of Liverpool’s history are used to playing, it offers a path back to the big time with a win in Basle later this month – in addition to a trophy. The opponents there will be Sevilla.
The hosts made the breakthrough with their first serious attack seven minutes in. Nathaniel Clyne’s cross from the right caused consternation in the visitors’ defence, Roberto Firmino’s return produced panic and, under pressure from Daniel Sturridge, midfielder Bruno diverted the ball into his own net.
Sturridge was clinical when Firmino popped the ball through a crowd of legs, cleverly staying onside to poke a shot through Areola’s legs.
Villarreal’s task was made more difficult when Victor Ruiz, booked in the first half, was sent off for a second yellow card after standing on Adam Lallana.
Firmino tested Areola from distance but Moreno’s push on Suarez inside the penalty area could have ended Liverpool’s dreams in one moment of madness. To their relief, no spot-kick was awarded.
A trip to Switzerland was secured nine minutes from time when Firminofound space on the left to cross for Sturridge and Lallana swivelled to turn the ball home.