Aldo: Daniel Sturridge must start if Liverpool are to make Europa League final
THE post-mortem following Liverpool's 1-0 Europa League semi-final defeat against Villarreal has focused on Daniel Sturridge’s omission from the team - but I still expect him to play a vital role getting Jurgen Klopp's side to the final.
It was a surprise to see the Liverpool boss leave Sturridge on the bench in the final half hour of the game in Spain, as an away goal could have been decisive in the tie.
Sturridge cannot have been impressed to see Christian Benteke coming on in the closing stages as he spent his night warming the bench and he has hinted as much in his comments after the game.
We don't know how the lad reacted when he was told he would be on the bench and it may be that Klopp felt it was best to leave him out if the reaction was not what he wanted.
I know how I would have felt to be left out of a game of that magnitude and sat back to watch my team line-up without a regular striker: I'd have been seriously pissed off.
So it wouldn't surprise me if Sturridge was annoyed and as none of us know what went on behind the scenes on Thursday night, we are speculating here without having the full picture.
Klopp has insisted that he was right to leave Sturridge out and said he would not change the decision if he had to make it again.
A manager has to stand by his selection and Klopp was clearly keen to back the players who have done well for him away from home in the Europa League this season.
He has taken a cautious approach to away matches in this competition and it has paid off, so he probably didn't see a need to change.
Sturridge is also a player who is never far away from an injury and with Divock Origi now out for the season, Liverpool need their top striker to be fit when it matters most.
Hopefully Daniel lines out at Anfield tonight, desperate to impress and with a point to prove.
Klopp would argue that he is wrapping up Strurridge in cotton wool and I would be amazed if he is not the first name on his team-sheet for the second leg at Anfield.
Tonight's season-defining clash will be decided by the quality of Liverpool's finishing.
Sturridge has proved himself to be the best striker Liverpool have got when he is at his best.
Klopp will know that he could be the man to win Liverpool the Europa League trophy.
It was a big blow to concede that last minute goal in the first leg in Spain and it has given Villarreal something to hang on to.
Yet I still strongly fancy Liverpool to get through in what will be a cauldron of an atmosphere at Anfield.
The noise would have been incredible if the tie was locked at 0-0 going into the second leg but the fans now know the team need them even more to push the players over the finishing line.
We often hear managers say their fans can be the 12th man in big matches, yet that catchphrase is given a whole new perspective when you are talking about a massive European night at Anfield.
It's all to play for and even though I didn’t see too much from Villarreal in the first leg to make me think they are a step ahead of Liverpool, this will not be a night to step on the accelerator from the off.
The crowd will be urging Klopp's side to go after Villarreal, but we need to be wary of giving them a chance to score first as the away goal could be crucial in the destiny of this tie.
Patience could be the key for Liverpool as I firmly believe they have enough in their locker to score a few goals against this side, who looked very ordinary for most of the first leg.
Alberto Moreno made a costly error as he burst forward in the final minutes looking to start an attack and Liverpool paid a price for his naivety as he left a space in the back line that was exploited by the Spanish side.
While I don't want to criticise the lad too much, this is not the first time Moreno has allowed his enthusiasm to get the better of him at a time when Liverpool needed to hold firm and see the game out.
Hopefully Moreno learns from his mistake and I'm sure he will be urging his team-mates to dig him out of a hole with a big win on Thursday to set Liverpool on their way to another European final.
Another annoying sideshow in the first leg of the tie was the pathetic performance of Villarreal striker Roberto Soldado.
Tottenham wasted £26m signing a striker who turned out to be a massive flop in the Premier League and he was shown up for being a pain in the arse the other night.
Soldado was rolling around, trying to get Liverpool players booked or sent off and he made a real show of himself.
He will be laughed out of town by 35,000 Liverpool fans if he tries that act on again at Anfield and I hope the match officials are wise to his antics.
To conclude, I am looking forward to the second leg with hope in my heart, to pinch a line from a song we will hear at Anfield on Thursday.
Villarreal are not as good as the Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund sides Liverpool beat in the previous two rounds of the Europa League and if we score first, I'm convinced a place in the final will be secured.
Qualification for next season's Champions League is now just two games away and Liverpool have to reach out and grab it.