Sadio Mane grabbed the winner as Liverpool hit back from two down to book their place in the 2022 Champions League final following a rollercoaster 3-2 victory at 10-man Villarreal.
The Senegalese forward notched his 21st goal of the season on 74 minutes to cap a remarkable turnaround after Unai Emery’s men had threatened a stunning comeback from the 2-0 first-leg defeat at Anfield.
The home team’s belief was ignited within three minutes of kick off as Boulaye Dia tucked in his first ever Champions League goal from close range after Etienne Capoue fired a left-wing cross back into his path.
Villarreal's Senegalese forward Boulaye Dia (R) celebrates after scoring a goal during the UEFA Champions League semi final second leg football match between Liverpool and Villarreal CF at La Ceramica stadium in Vila-real on May 3, 2022. (Photo by Paul EL
Image credit: Getty Images
Liverpool’s defence was continually opened up in a disjointed first 45 and Villarreal deservedly levelled the tie four minutes before the interval when former Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin powered a superb header into the top corner.
The Merseysiders desperately needed to steady the ship and moved 3-2 up on aggregate when they pulled one back through Fabinho just past the hour.
Substitute Luis Diaz then made it 2-2 on the night with a fine header before Mane completed a 5-2 triumph on aggregate with the 139th goal of Liverpool’s season – their highest ever in a single campaign.
Villarreal’s misery was compounded when Capoue was sent off for a second bookable offence and Liverpool eased through the final five minutes to book a final showdown with either Manchester City or Real Madrid in Paris on May 28.
Liverpool’s quadruple quest now turns back to the Premier League title race on Saturday night when they entertain Tottenham. Villarreal host third-placed Sevilla in La Liga on Sunday.
Liverpool overcome worst half of the season to prevail. The pundits were suggesting this would be a second-leg procession to the final, such was Liverpool’s dominance at Anfield and the quality Klopp’s men have shown all season. How wrong they were. It was a quintessential game of two halves. Villarreal deservedly levelled the tie in a first half where they dominated and the Reds threw in what was surely their worst 45 minutes of the season.
Liverpool's players celebrate after Brazilian midfielder Fabinho scored a goal during the UEFA Champions League semi final second leg football match between Liverpool and Villarreal CF at La Ceramica stadium in Vila-real on May 3, 2022. (Photo by Paul ELL
Image credit: Getty Images
Klopp no doubt responded with a few choice words and a substitution that made a huge difference at the interval. Diaz has been a revelation since signing from FC Porto and he further underlined his growing importance by inspiring a stunning second-half revival that saw Liverpool reach a third Champions League final in five seasons.
It's also a third final of this season for Klopp and Co, who have lost just three times in all competitions this term, with that bid for immortality still somehow on track as we head into a defining month that will now come down to just six matches.
Man of the match
Luis Diaz (Liverpool). The Colombian is a real handful on that left flank and set about taking the game to Villarreal as soon as he emerged for the second period. He helped set the tone for a revival and deservedly netted his fifth goal for the club to secure a spot in the final. It's fair to say it's not been a bad start to his Anfield career.
VILLARREAL, SPAIN - MAY 03: Luis Diaz celebrates with Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool after scoring their team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Leg Two match between Villarreal and Liverpool at Estadio de la Ceramica on May 03, 2022
03’ – GOAL! – Villarreal 1-0 Liverpool. Boom! Tie ON! Dia tucks in from close range after Capoue had met a left-wing cross and rolled it back across the six-yard box (Liverpool lead 2-1 on aggregate).
38’ – VILLARREAL CHANCE! The home side spring forward following an error by Keita. Lo Celso is played through on Alisson but the keeper comes to the visitors' rescue with a crucial block.
41’ – GOAL! – Villarreal 2-0 Liverpool. All square in this semi final! Coquelin rises brilliantly to head into the top corner from Capoue's lovely cross. (2-2 on aggregate)
56’ – LIVERPOOL CHANCE! Alexander Arnold sees a speculative 30-yard strike take a deflection and bounce off the bar after Liverpool caught Villarreal out with a quick free kick.
62’ – GOAL! – Villarreal 2-1 Liverpool. Fabinho saunters into space on the right side of the area on to Salah's pass. He considers a low cross but opts for a low shot that somehow squirms through the keeper's legs (Liverpool lead 3-2 on aggregate).
67’ – GOAL! – Villarreal 2-2 Liverpool. Diaz ghosts into the middle of the area to nod Alexander Arnold's header past Rulli (Liverpool lead 4-2 on aggregate).
74’ – GOAL! – Villarreal 2-3 Liverpool. Mane caps the comeback by rolling the ball into an empty net after beating Rulli to a ball over the top and racing clear (Liverpool lead 5-2 on aggregate).
Boulaye Dia's goal after 2 minutes and 51 seconds is the earliest Liverpool have conceded in the CL since April 2018 (01:57 vs Manchester City).
All five of Villarreal's shots tonight came in the first half, while 13 of Liverpool's 15 efforts came in the second half.
Liverpool have become just the fourth team to reach as many as 10 European Cup/Champions League finals, after Real Madrid (16), AC Milan (11) and Bayern Munich (11).
Liverpool have become the first ever English club to reach the final of the European Cup/Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup in the same season.
Klopp has reached the CL final for the fourth time as a coach, equalling the record set by Marcello Lippi, Sir Alex Ferguson and Carlo Ancelotti.