game changer | 

Star man hailed as the Liverpool saviour as they reach the Champions League final

Liverpool booked their third Champions League final in five seasons after a chaotic 3-2 second-leg win in Villarreal saw them progress 5-2 on aggregate.

Fabinho scored Liverpool's crucial first goal. REUTERS/Pablo Morano

Kevin Palmer

Liverpool are another step closer to footballing immortality, but this stride forward was far from straight forward.

Jurgen Klopp's quadruple chasers booked their third Champions League final in five seasons after a chaotic 3-2 second-leg win in Villarreal saw them progress 5-2 on aggregate.

While the three-goal cushion may look comfortable this was a test of their nerve and powers of recovery as an awful first half by their standards saw their first-leg advantage wiped out by debut goals in the competition from Boulaye Dia and Francis Coquelin.

But the half-time introduction of £37.5million January signing Luis Diaz, who has reinvigorated 2022 for Jurgen Klopp’s side, changed the game – aided and abetted by a distinctly ordinary goalkeeping performance from the hosts’ Geronimo Rulli.

The Argentinian had a hand – or lack of one – in all of Liverpool’s three goals from Fabinho, Diaz and Sadio Mane in 12 second-half minutes and was culpable for at least two.

"I've never seen a guy come in and hit the ground running like him," declared former Reds striker Michael Owen on BT Sport. "To pick up the way Liverpool play straight away like he has is incredible. And now there is no question about it, he's a starter."

His fellow pundit Rio Ferdinand echoed those sentiments as he stated: "Diaz was the difference maker. His ability to go one v one. He came on and was mesmeric. His dribbling, how he unnerves defenders, his trickery.

"He's a fabulous player and one of - if not the - signing of the season for me. His team-mates love him and the energy he's giving off."

Liverpool's second half revival sparked speculation over what Klopp said to his players in the half-time break, with Virgil van Dijk insisting the instructions were simple.

"He told us to play football, the Liverpool way, how we have all season," said the Dutchman. "They play a high line so with the speed we have we need to mix it up. Also we need to show how much we want to go to the final. Second half we dominated.

"What we have achieved so far this season cannot be taken for granted. We keep going and have a couple more nice weeks to look forward to. We should enjoy the moment, today, tonight and then focus on Spurs at the weekend.

"Any team that we face in the final of this competition will be a nightmare to play against. We know City but they know us too. We know how intense those games are. Real Madrid is Real Madrid. Such a big club and an in-form striker.

"If you listen to us and the manager that is obvious we don't think about these things (making history). You can dream but you need to be realistic. Football is small margins."

Villarreal’s misery was completed when Etienne Capoue was sent off for a second yellow card for a foul on Curtis Jones late on.

Incredibly this was the first European semi-final away leg the 2019 winners had won since 1985, having lost the last four and conceded 11 goals in total yet still progressed on three occasions.

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