VILA-REAL, Spain, May 4 – Liverpool held off an emotional comeback from Villarreal to reach the Champions League final on Tuesday as second-half goals from Fabinho, Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane secured a 5- aggregate victory 2.
Trailing 2-0 in the first leg, Villarreal raised hopes of a remarkable turnaround on the return to the Estadio de la Ceramica after Boulaye Dia finished in the third minute and Francis Coquelin headed in another for tie at 2-2.
But Jurgen Klopp launched Diaz for Diogo Jota in the interval to breathe life into Liverpool and it worked, with the visitors scoring three times in 12 minutes to kill revival Villarreal and advance to their third Champions League final in five years.
Liverpool will await the winner of Real Madrid and Manchester City, who will play their second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday, with City leading 4-3 since the opener last week.
City or Madrid will offer a tougher test than Villarreal, but after a grueling experience at Anfield last week, Unai Emery’s side delivered a spirited performance that rocked Liverpool and showed why they knocked out Juventus and Bayern Munich to reach the semi-finals.
Liverpool were careless, perhaps even complacent, in the first half but sensational in the second, finding an intensity and pace that Villarreal were simply unable to match.
Diaz, who started on the bench but was an integral part of the fightback, was excellent again and could soon be an automatic starter for Klopp.
A banner draped behind the Villarreal goal at one end read ’90 minutes of our dream’ while before kick-off the stadium announcer shouted ‘it’s possible, the comeback is possible!’
And if anyone inside the pitch was still skeptical, they received an injection of confidence in the third minute when Pervis Estupinan swung a cross from the left to Etienne Capoue at the far post.
Under pressure from Andy Robertson, Capoue skewed his finish horizontally, landing perfectly for Dia to come to the side.
Liverpool threatened at the break at times, Mohamed Salah rolling Estupinan down the left and feeding Jota down the middle, but Geronimo Rulli was quick to rush in and win the ball back.
But Liverpool lacked their usual control and precision, with Alisson Becker kicking the ball into touch before Naby Keita’s misplaced pass to his own defense nearly netted Giovani Lo Celso a penalty.
The second goal came four minutes before half-time as Pau Torres fired a long through ball that Capoue could run on.
Capoue’s first touch went away from him but he recovered, controlling and moving away from Robertson before latching a superb cross with his left foot to the back post, where Coquelin climbed over Trent Alexander-Arnold and headed inside.
The half-time whistle drew huge cheers from the home fans, whose side were tied, and a change from Klopp as Diaz replaced Jota.
Liverpool looked like a battered side with a reprimand after the break. They were now rushing to take throw-ins, eager to regain the intensity they had previously lacked.
Alexander-Arnold’s deflected shot from range looped over the crossbar. Diaz flew at the far post. And then Fabinho fired, latching on to a pass from Salah and shooting early in the legs of Rulli, who looked like he had been expecting down the middle.
It was a more familiar Liverpool, reaching a level Villarreal could not match, and five minutes later they scored a second, restoring their two-goal lead on aggregate.
Alexander-Arnold had too much space on the right and fired a cross into the area where off-balance Diaz aimed an excellent header down and inside.
Seven minutes later, Liverpool delivered the final blow, as Rulli rushed to shut down a ball thrown forward but failed to get there first.
Mane sprinted clean and rolled into an open net before Capoue was sent off, earning a second yellow card with six minutes remaining.