Villarreal 2-1 Dinamo Zagreb (3-1 agg): Emery to face Arsenal as Moreno helps secure semi-final spot

By Sports Desk April 15, 2021

Unai Emery will face former employers Arsenal in the Europa League semi-finals after his Villarreal side eased past Dinamo Zagreb, with a 2-1 result at home clinching a 3-1 aggregate triumph.  

Gerard Moreno's penalty in the first leg gave the LaLiga side a slender advantage and the in-form striker was on target again on Thursday, taking his tally for the season in all competitions to 25.

Paco Alcacer scored the opener as Villarreal made it eight successive wins in the competition - they will host the Gunners in the first leg on April 29, with the return fixture a week later.

Zagreb had stunned Tottenham with a second-leg comeback in the previous round and while Mislav Orsic did pull a goal back, the Croatian champions saw their involvement in the tournament come to an end.

Villarreal had already seen Samuel Chukwueze clatter a left-footed volley against the post before eventually opening the scoring in the 36th minute.

Alcacer rewarded the home team's dominance with a tap-in finish, though the goal was only awarded after the involvement of the video assistant referee as Chukwueze - who squared the ball for his team-mate to score - had initially been ruled offside.

Moreno added a second prior to the half-time interval, quickly reacting to a sharp save by Dinamo goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic to impressively convert the rebound on the turn.

Orsic - Dinamo's hat-trick hero against Spurs - had twice gone close before eventually beating Geronimo Rulli, slotting home on the angle after exchanging passes with Bruno Petkovic.

However, it was Villarreal went the closest to scoring again, Chukwueze striking the woodwork for a second time before Livakovic denied him a goal his performance deserved with a superb save.


What does it mean? Emery gets Gunners reunion

Villarreal have never made it to a final in a major European competition but Emery is the ideal man to see them end that wait.

The Spaniard lifted the Europa League trophy three times while in charge of Sevilla, plus also made the final in 2019 with Arsenal – a game that ended in a 4-1 defeat to London rivals Chelsea in Baku.

Emery was sacked by the Gunners in November of that year following a seven-game winless run. In contrast, he is set to make a return to Emirates Stadium with his current team in fine form.

Dinamo undone by Moreno

Moreno has now scored nine times in his past seven outings, a red-hot run that includes a goal for Spain against Kosovo. Only Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski have been involved in more goals in all competitions in 2021 than the former Espanyol forward (17 goals and six assists) in the top five European leagues.

Chukwueze stars for hosts

Alcacer and Moreno scored but Chukwueze was Villarreal’s star performer. The only thing missing was a goal, though it was not for a lack of trying – he had six shots, albeit only two were on target.

What's next?

Villarreal - who sit seventh in the LaLiga table, just a point behind fifth-placed Real Sociedad - travel to Levante on Sunday, while Dinamo host Istra 1961 in domestic action on the same day.

Related items

  • Solskjaer will rotate Man Utd side to reduce injury risk in five-day Premier League run Solskjaer will rotate Man Utd side to reduce injury risk in five-day Premier League run

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer accepts he will have to rotate his Manchester United side to avoid injuries in a daunting run of three Premier League games in five days.

    The Red Devils face Aston Villa on Sunday before hosting Leicester City on Tuesday, with Liverpool then visiting Old Trafford 48 hours later for the match that was rearranged following protests against the United owners last weekend.

    It will be the first time United have played three league games in five days since April 1992. On that occasion, they beat Southampton 1-0 at home before drawing at Luton Town and then suffering consecutive defeats to Nottingham Forest, West Ham and Liverpool. They ended up losing the title to Leeds United by four points.

    While winning the Premier League will be beyond them if leaders Manchester City beat Chelsea on Saturday, second-place United still require four more points to be certain of a top-four finish and have a Europa League final to come on May 26.

    Solskjaer is concerned about a repeat of the results they suffered 29 years ago and is eager to make sure his players do not become burned out.

    "I've never seen that schedule before in modern-day football," he said. "I've looked through and I know Man United in 91-92 had a very similar run-in and you can see how the results deteriorated.

    "If I'm going to look after the players, I'm going to make some decisions. I've got to look after the players, that's the biggest thing, [avoiding] injuries to players and that's too much of an injury risk.

    "This year has been so difficult, but we're happy to put games on. It's so important to be safe with security around, I understand all this, it's got to be safe for the players.

    "We want to try to put a good product out there. At the moment, it looks difficult, but knowing these boys, they'll take the challenge head-on. Knowing me, I'll take the challenge head-on too but I cannot risk the players, so there has to be rotation.

    "It has to be a lot of rotation and decisions made on the day of the game. We can't prepare for the games like other teams, when they get a week or two, or maybe five or 10 days."

    United were in Rome on Thursday, where they secured a place in the Europa League final with an 8-5 aggregate win despite losing the semi-final second leg 3-2.

    They must now prepare to face Villa, who have beaten United just once in the past 44 Premier League meetings and in none of their previous 21 such games at Villa Park.

    "I trust my players to get a result," Solskjaer said. "First of all, Sunday is a big game for us. Sunday is a massive game and we're looking forward to it after the boost of [reaching] a final, which will probably give us energy, hopefully give us energy and then let's see what we do on Tuesday and Thursday.

    "We've just got to take it day by day and hopefully we can play those games."

  • Tuchel braced for Guardiola showdown in Champions League final dress rehearsal Tuchel braced for Guardiola showdown in Champions League final dress rehearsal

    Thomas Tuchel is braced for "the most difficult game" against Pep Guardiola's Manchester City as Chelsea prepare for a Champions League final dress rehearsal. 

    The two clubs came through their respective semi-finals to secure an all-English showdown in Istanbul later this month, but first they will do battle in the Premier League on Saturday.

    Tuchel got the better of Guardiola when the sides met in the last four of the FA Cup last month, with Chelsea running out 1-0 winners as they seek a trophy double this season.

    But City have a treble in their sights as the EFL Cup winners seek a victory that would wrap up the top-flight title this weekend and Tuchel knows the Blues, fresh from Wednesday's 2-0 triumph over Real Madrid, will be up against it at the Etihad Stadium.

    "If you play against Pep you know the most difficult game has arrived because he has coached the best teams in Europe and he leaves his footprint and style of play," said the German, who also took Paris Saint-Germain to last season's Champions League final.

    "His teams are always super hungry to win and he transforms them into a winning machine.

    "It was like this at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man City. They are the benchmark in the Premier League but it is our job to close the gap for 90 minutes.

    "Once you arrive against Pep you know the level is high and you have to be at your best coaching level to give your team full confidence and play at the best level.

    "They are used to winning and are a very regular team at the highest level."

    Chelsea have a poor recent record at City, losing on their last three trips by an aggregate score of 9-1, while the hosts have not lost at home to London opposition since 2018 against Crystal Palace.

    Although none of the last 11 meetings have ended in a draw, both sides have shown an aptitude for solid defending this season, City keeping 18 clean sheets in 34 league games, while Chelsea boast 11 in 15 top-flight fixtures under Tuchel.

    Asked if this domestic meeting had taken on added significance in light of the continental clash that awaits, Tuchel added: "I'm not so sure. The possibility is that they can become champions so their ambitions and determination will not be lower.

    "They have the upper hand because they had one more day to recover and don't have to travel, we saw how big an impact that can have in the FA Cup.

    "We have to deal with it and I think that the final in Istanbul will be pretty unique no matter what the score is tomorrow, no matter if we win or they win or if we draw. 

    "I try to prepare the game in a normal way and the challenge right now is to get the tiredness out of our legs and our brains. The target is to be in good shape tomorrow and then we'll see."

    One player Chelsea will be wary of is Kevin De Bruyne, who has scored four goals in against them in the Premier League – the most of any player against the Blues who had previously played for them in the competition.

  • Koeman: Touchline ban is about something personal Koeman: Touchline ban is about something personal

    Ronald Koeman believes there is something personal behind the decision to hand him a touchline ban.

    Barcelona confirmed this week they are to appeal to Spain's Administrative Court of Sport (TAD) after head coach Koeman's ban for Saturday's potential LaLiga title decider with Atletico Madrid was upheld by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

    Koeman was hit with a two-match suspension after being shown a red card for comments made to the fourth official during his side's shock 2-1 home loss to Granada last Thursday.

    Barcelona had hoped to have Koeman back for the massive game at Camp Nou, but it was announced on Wednesday that their appeal was not successful, prompting the club to try again with TAD.

    "Yes, I think it was personal," said Koeman.

    "Because saying 'what a character' in Spanish or 'what a person' in English is not insulting. 

    "It is not a reason to sanction. So yes, there is something else behind it.

    "Better not talk about the referees because, in general, the RFEF puts one of the best referees in for these games. 

    "It is hoped that he [Mateu Lahoz] gets his decisions right, but you don't have to think about the referees. You have to think about yourself and plan.

    "Hopefully the decisions of the VAR are fair for us and for Atletico."

    Barca go into the match at Camp Nou two points behind leaders Atletico, with Real Madrid also trailing Diego Simeone's men by that margin in a thrilling title race.

    Ahead of the crunch clash, Barca confirmed Ansu Fati's injury comeback has hit another setback, as the Spain forward had to undergo another knee operation, his fourth procedure.

    Fati suffered a serious meniscus injury in November, having scored five goals across 10 appearances for Barca across all competitions.

    The 18-year-old was initially forecast to return in March, but his long spell on the sidelines and problems with his injury had even led some to question whether Fati would be able to have a long career in the game.

    "Poor kid," said Koeman. "I have not yet spoken with Ansu. I did speak with him before his trip to Porto [for the operation].

    "It takes a long time and there are things that have not gone well with his recovery - I don't want to go into that anymore, but five or six months is a long time.

    "Now the most important thing is that he is going to recover, he is going to get well and that he will be with us. Too bad it is for next season.

    "It has been important that we missed a player like him, but the most important thing is that he recovers well to continue playing."

     

    Koeman knows the stakes are high in the title race and Barcelona have a good record against their opponents, losing just one of their 21 previous LaLiga games against Atletico, winning 14.

    "I have not changed my mind; if we win every game we will be champions," he said of the four remaining league fixtures.

    "I don't think it [this result] is decisive because there will be three games left, but of course it is important. It is not decisive.

    "They are both very good teams and we are fighting with two more teams as well [Real Madrid and Sevilla]. 

    "We have to be good with the ball because Atletico closes well and defends well. We have to be good with the ball to create opportunities and be effective."

    Barca are looking to avoid losing home and away in the league against Atleti for the first time since 2005-06, Simeone's men having won 1-0 in the last meeting in November.

    But aside from that rare blip against Granada, Koeman's side have the momentum. They have collected a league-high 49 points in 2021 (W16 D1 L2), eight more than Atletico in this period.

    Lionel Messi has scored 20 goals (excluding penalties) in LaLiga in 2021, vastly outperforming an expected goals figure of 11.

    Opta data shows he has the biggest positive differential (nine) for any player in the top five European leagues since the start of year.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.