Carlo Ancelotti believes Real Madrid's history helped inspire their sensational Champions League semi-final comeback against Manchester City on Wednesday.

Los Blancos recovered from the brink of defeat to snatch a dramatic 3-1 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu and book their place in the final in Paris, where they will play Liverpool on May 28.

Ancelotti's side fell 5-3 behind on aggregate when Riyad Mahrez stuck for City in the 73rd minute, but Rodrygo struck twice in the space of 91 seconds to force extra-time.

And the hosts turned the tie on its head when Karim Benzema's penalty set up a showdown with Liverpool and a repeat of the 2018 final, which Madrid won 3-1 in Kyiv thanks to a stunning Gareth Bale cameo.

It was the third successive round in which the 13-time champions came from behind, having done the same against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea in the last 16 and quarter-finals respectively.

Ancelotti is set to become the first manager to oversee five Champions League finals, and the Italian was full of praise for the determination demonstrated by his players.

"I cannot say we are used to living this kind of life," he told reporters. "But what happened tonight, it happened against Chelsea and also against PSG. 

"If you have to say why, it is the history of this club that helps us to keep going when it seems that we are gone. It gives you the strength to follow, to continue, to believe.

"The match was very competitive, but the team has not lowered its arms. Much of the merit is of the players, and of the fans who push inside and outside the stadium - in the previous days as well.

"The game was close to finished, and we managed to find the last energy we had. We played a good game against a strong rival. When we are able to equalise, we had a psychological advantage in extra-time. 

"It was difficult as City had control of the game but at the last opportunity, we were able to go to extra-time."

Ancelotti joined Madrid at the end of last season for a second spell in charge, having led Los Blancos to 'La Decima' during his first stint.

He became the first coach to win all of Europe's big five leagues when Madrid wrapped up a 35th LaLiga title on Saturday, and now can look forward to a reunion with Liverpool, who this time last year would have been considered his biggest rivals while the 62-year-old was in charge of Everton.

Ancelotti led Everton to their first win in a Merseyside at Anfield since 1999 in February 2021, and he is relishing going up against Jurgen Klopp's team once more.

"The feeling is that I am very happy, to participate in another final against a great team, I played against them as a player and as a coach," said Ancelotti, who beat Liverpool in the 2007 final with Milan, but famously lost on penalties to the Reds two years earlier in Istanbul.

"I lived there [in Liverpool] for two years. For me, it's like a derby, I still support Everton."

Carlo Ancelotti will be the first coach to oversee a team in five Champions League finals after Real Madrid's remarkable comeback against Manchester City.

Ancelotti, who returned to Madrid for a second spell in charge at the end of last season, became the first coach to win all of Europe's top five leagues when Los Blancos wrapped up their 35th LaLiga title on Saturday.

But it appeared a shot at a double would be evading Madrid when Riyad Mahrez struck in the 73rd minute at the Santiago Bernabeu to put City 1-0 up on Wednesday and 5-3 up in the tie.

However, two goals in the space of 91 seconds from Rodrygo restored parity on aggregate to force extra-time and then up stepped Karim Benzema to score from the penalty spot and complete one of the most outrageous comebacks in the competition's history.

Indeed, Madrid were responsible for another one of those in the last 16, against Paris Saint-Germain, and they also fought back from the brink against Chelsea. Liverpool are up next.

That meeting with the Reds in Paris will be Ancelotti's history-making fifth Champions League final.

Stats Perform looks at how the other four played out.

2003 - Juventus 0-0 Milan (AET, 2-3 on penalties)

Ancelotti first reached the final of UEFA's elite club competition as a manager 19 years ago, when his Milan team took on fellow Italian giants Juventus at Old Trafford. An infamously dull affair, it ended as a goalless draw after 120 minutes, resulting in a penalty shoot-out. Andriy Shevchenko scored the winning spot-kick.

2005 - Milan 3-3 Liverpool (AET, 2-3 on penalties)

Milan and Ancelotti reached the final again two years later, and it proved a famous night in Istanbul. Milan led through Paolo Maldini and Hernan Crespo's brace, but Liverpool astonishingly hit back in the second half and then went on to triumph 3-2 in the shoot-out, with Jerzy Dudek – who made an outstanding stop in extra-time – the Reds' hero.

2007 - Milan 2-1 Liverpool 

The Rossoneri were back and out for revenge in 2007, and they got it in Athens. Filippo Inzaghi put Milan 2-0 up, with Durk Kuyt's late effort not enough to inspire another comeback.

2014 - Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid (AET)

Perhaps Ancelotti's most famous Champions League triumph to date came in 2014 when, in his first spell at Madrid, he led the club to 'La Decima'. They were trailing 1-0 to rivals Atletico Madrid until the 93rd minute, when Sergio Ramos struck. Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo wrapped up a runaway victory in extra-time.

The Football Association (FA) has charged Frank Lampard with improper conduct after the Everton manager vented his frustrations at not being awarded a penalty against Liverpool.

Everton, who beat Chelsea on Sunday to go back to within two points of safety with five games remaining in their Premier League campaign, lost 2-0 to their quadruple-chasing Merseyside rivals at Anfield on April 24.

Andrew Robertson and Divock Origi punctured Everton's resolve but the Toffees were infuriated when referee Stuart Attwell failed to give a penalty after Joel Matip bundled into Anthony Gordon early in the second half when the game was goalless. 

Lampard told a post-match news conference: "If that was [Mohamed] Salah at the other end, he gets a penalty. You don't get them here. That's the reality of football sometimes." 

The FA asked Lampard for an explanation of his comments last week, which the Chelsea great said he responded to, and the governing body has now issued a charge.

A statement issued via the FA Spokesperson Twitter account read: "Frank Lampard has been charged with a breach of FA Rule E3 in relation to post-match media comments that he made following Everton FC's Premier League match against Liverpool FC on Sunday 24 April 2022. It is alleged that the manager's comments constitute improper conduct as they imply bias and/or attack the integrity of the match referee – or referees generally – and/or bring the game into disrepute."

Lampard has until May 9 to respond. 

Everton are also waiting to discover what punishment, if any, Richarlison will face after the forward threw a smoke bomb that had been launched onto the pitch in the wake of his winning goal against Chelsea back towards the stands, albeit into an unoccupied section of Goodison Park.

Andrew Robertson has described Liverpool team-mate Luis Diaz as "special" after the Colombian helped fire the Reds into the Champions League final.

Diaz arrived at Anfield in January after completing a move from Porto worth a reported initial fee of £37.5million (€45m), with a further £12.5m (€15m) in add-ons, and he has played a key role in Liverpool's pursuit of an unprecedented quadruple.

Despite holding a 2-0 advantage heading into the Champions League semi-final second leg against Villarreal, an out of sorts Liverpool found themselves 2-0 down and level for the tie at half-time in El Madrigal on Tuesday.

However, Diaz was introduced by Jurgen Klopp at the break and his presence immediately raised the levels of his team, who came back to win 3-2 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate, with the Colombian finding the net himself with a header.

Speaking to Liverpool's official website, Scotland captain Robertson was quick to praise the 25-year-old and the quick transition he has made to his new home.

"He has been special," the left-back said of Diaz.

"We have tried to help him as much as we can – all of the players. We know how difficult it is coming into the club in January. We've tried with the coaches and everyone else to get him up to speed.

"He is a special, special player. With the talent he has and the will to win, he just fits us perfectly."

Diaz has five goals and three assists from 21 appearances in all competitions for the Reds so far (13 starts), and he has averaged more dribbles attempted per 90 minutes (5.16) and has a higher successful dribble percentage (61.64) than any other Liverpool forward this season.

It was a game of two halves in Spain, with Liverpool managing just two shots in the first half prior to Diaz's introduction for Diogo Jota, before having 13 attempts in the second half as they turned things around.

"It was tough to take Jots off and I think he has been excellent this season, but Luis came on and made a big difference," Robertson added. "He played on the left, he started pushing them back, started taking the ball, dribbling and everything, it was a really good half from him.

"He has been special since the day he came in, it's a pleasure to play with him and hopefully he'll only get better as well with a full pre-season and things like that.

"I believe he will get better, which is scary, but what he is producing here and now is pretty special as well."

Liverpool's appearance in the final in Paris later this month will be their third in five years, and Robertson acknowledged how tough it is to reach the showpiece event of Europe's premier club competition, which the club has won on six occasions.

"Unbelievable," he said of the achievement. "An incredibly tough tie, it's never easy, but to be in a final is never, never easy no matter what competition you are in.

"To make it the third in the space of five years is incredible from this group of boys, for us as players and fans, and everyone alike, [we] should never ever take this for granted.

"We just enjoy getting to the final. It's so hard to get to Champions League finals, especially the amount of good teams in this competition. To get to the final is an incredible feeling. It's going to be a special occasion and we are looking forward to it.

"We've got a lot of games between now and the end of the season, but our season has been extended for the right reasons and we are so happy about it. We can't wait to try to go and compete and try to make it number seven."

Jamie Carragher believes Jurgen Klopp is "lying" about who he wants Liverpool to face in the Champions League final and extended an offer to Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James to join him in Paris.

The Reds overcame a scare to defeat Villarreal 3-2 on Tuesday, securing a 5-2 aggregate triumph and punching their ticket to a 10th showpiece in Europe's premier tournament.

Liverpool were trailing 2-0 at half-time before second-half goals from Fabinho, Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane ensured they will meet Manchester City or Real Madrid in this month's final.

It means a remarkable quadruple is still on the cards, with Liverpool having already clinched the EFL Cup and still in the hunt for the Premier League title and FA Cup too.

Manager Klopp insisted he would have no preference over who he faced in the French capital, but former Reds defender Carragher reckons the German would secretly prefer to face newly crowned LaLiga champions Madrid.

"I think he's lying," Carragher said speaking as a pundit for CBS. "I am pretty certain he'd prefer Real Madrid."

Regardless of how many trophies Liverpool end up with this term, Klopp has cemented his status as a legend at Anfield and recently committed his future to the club until 2026.

Carragher thinks that was the right move and is not sure his coaching style would ever suit Barcelona or Madrid, clubs he has in the past been linked with.

He added: "There's lots of great clubs but not another one that suits Jurgen Klopp. Liverpool are not an underdog by any means, they are one of the biggest clubs out there but that thing of when he was at Dortmund and they were fighting against Bayern with no funds, and the same sort of thing against maybe Manchester United and Manchester City in the Premier League.

"I couldn't see him managing a Real Madrid or a Barcelona, I don't think it would suit his style of management.

"I think he needs the intensity of the crowd and that togetherness. He is already and, who knows what Liverpool will have won in four years' time, he is going to be remembered as one of the greatest managers in Liverpool's history and one of the greatest figures in Liverpool's history right up there with the great managers."

Plenty of Liverpool fans will flock to Paris for the final and one particularly famous supporter could be headed to France in the form of NBA great James, who owns a small stake in the club.

And Carragher had an invitation for the four-time NBA champion, who had Tweeted to say: "PARIS HERE WE COME!!!!!!!! @LFC!"

"LeBron, if you want to come to Paris you can join me, and the CBS team, and you can be my guest pitchside," he added.

"I want you next to us in Paris to give us the support that we need to win that seventh European Cup. Come and join us, big man!"

Giovani Lo Celso expressed pain at Villarreal's elimination in the Champions League semi-finals following their 3-2 defeat to Liverpool on Tuesday.

Faced with the huge task overturning a two-goal deficit after the first leg at Anfield, the Yellow Submarine drew level for the tie after a raucous 45 minutes at El Madrigal, via goals from Boulaye Dia and Francis Coquelin.

Liverpool eventually settled after the interval, and the air effectively went out of the tie when Fabinho's shot crept through Geronimo Rulli's legs and in, with the Reds going on to win 3-2.

A January signing for Villarreal, Lo Celso believes the home crowd propelled them to such a fast start but their energy dissipated.

"The first impression is one of pain, and of sadness because we wanted to play that final," Lo Celso told Movistar+ post-match. "We had a very good first half, where we cut off all the circuits for them, we pressed, we created situations, we went 2-0 up.

"The support of the fans who pushed us from the first minute gave us a huge boost.

"In the second half, it was difficult for us to keep up with them, they began to find spaces and there they found the goals."

Luis Diaz's substitution for Diogo Jota at half-time was transformative, and Liverpool found a different gear to eventually win in the 90 minutes and restore their lead on aggregate.

Lo Celso believes Liverpool's class eventually showed, but was proud of his team-mates' achievement of making it this far in the Champions League.

"It was a bit difficult for us to keep up with the rhythm of the first half," he said. "They began to control the game a little more, find spaces and generate situations.

"In the second half, in ten minutes the match escaped us, but I am proud of my team-mates because reaching the semis is no small thing and even more so against such a high-class opponent."

Jurgen Klopp opened up on the half-time team talk that helped Liverpool fend off a Villarreal comeback to reach the Champions League final.

The Reds had arrived in Spain holding a 2-0 aggregate lead thanks to a dominant showing at Anfield but contrived to squander it during a chastening first half at El Madrigal.

However, a much-improved second-half showing punctuated by goals from Fabinho, Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane helped secure passage to a third Champions League final appearance in just five seasons.

And, when asked how he had masterminded that change of fortunes, Klopp told BT Sport: "It feels like the first in 20 [years], it's outstanding, because we made it obviously pretty tricky for ourselves. 

"We knew before that these kinds of things can happen; it's all about in life all the time how you react when things don't go your way. 

"Getting the first goal after two-and-a-half, three minutes, that's obviously not what you wanted, momentum on their side.

"After the first half I told the boys, 'Yes, they have momentum but they don't own it! In one situation we can get it back.'

"We were calm because I accept it 100 per cent that if Villarreal plays the second half like they play the first and we played the second half like the first then they will be in the final.

"The perception was like this, everything looked more like they will score the 3-0 than we will score the 2-1 but we are still here so we could give it a try and that's what we did."

The German went on to reveal that his half-time rallying cry also featured elements of important tactical advice to his players.

He explained: "The problem with the half-time was that we knew what was wrong because it was obvious, but we didn't have the situations to show where we did it right.

"Respect to Villarreal, I have to say; stadium, team, coach, it's unbelievable what they set up, they put us under pressure. 

"[It was] man-v-man all over the whole pitch, we didn't play football at all, we didn't get momentum back.

"We have to play in the right spaces, we have to force ourselves in the game to start playing football. 

"[When] we broke the lines and we found Naby or Trent in the half-spaces and the front three were more flexible and not fixed in their positions, all of a sudden we were in the game, scored goals and made it happen. 

Liverpool's final opponents will be confirmed on Wednesday when Real Madrid and Manchester City do battle in the second leg of their semi-final tie.

Of his side's prospective opponents, Klopp added: "Yes, I will watch it! Whoever it will be, it will be massive. 

"Whoever wins tomorrow night will deserve the result and then we'll face each other in Paris."

Mohamed Salah would rather face Real Madrid than Manchester City in the final of the Champions League in Paris as they target the quadruple after seeing off a spirited Villarreal performance in the last four.

Liverpool survived a huge scare in Spain to reach their 10th European Cup/Champions League final, with Fabinho, Luis Diaz, and Sadio Mane scoring second-half goals after Villarreal wiped out the Reds' first-leg lead in an unbelievable first half.

Liverpool have become the first team to reach the finals of the European Cup/Champions League, the FA Cup, and the League Cup in a single season, and trail City by just one point in an absorbing Premier League title race.

The Reds' incredible form has led to talk of Jurgen Klopp's team lifting four major trophies at the end of the campaign, with Salah hoping to complete the quadruple against Madrid having been substituted after suffering an injury in Liverpool's 2018 final loss to Los Blancos.

"Yeah, [it's a target] for sure," he told BT Sport. "Maybe not in the beginning of the season if I'm honest, because I always focus on the Champions League and the Premier League, but now we are close for everything, so why not? 

"I think after we beat City in the semi-final of the [FA] cup [Liverpool believed it was possible], but in the Champions League, from the beginning we were playing unbelievable games, we had a really tough group and we beat everybody, so I said from that time we could win the Champions League this year.

"I want to play Madrid, I have to be honest. City is a really tough team, we played against them a few times this season, but I think if you ask me personally, I would prefer Madrid.

"Because we lost in the final against them, I want to play against them, and hopefully win against them as well."

Salah assisted Fabinho's vital 62nd-minute goal in Spain, taking his tally to an incredible 45 goal contributions in all competitions this season (30 goals, 15 assists), and the Egypt international revealed he had set himself a target of 40 goals before the campaign began.

"I just give the team everything, we have to focus for the team because we fight for everything, we won one trophy already, we are in the final, we continue to fight for the Premier League and we are in a final against Chelsea [in the FA Cup]," he added.

"I just focus, and try to train hard. I know what I want at the end of the season, so hopefully I can get what I want. 

"Before the season starts, I know what I want from the season, individually and collectively. The collective is the most important, [but] I'm nearly there, I have a big expectation for myself. 

"Honestly, I never said this before but before the season started, I was like 'okay, I'll go for 40 goals this season, and 10 or 15 assists'. I need to focus on the goals now!"

Reds defender Virgil van Dijk, meanwhile, hailed winger Diaz for his impact after the January arrival changed the game as a half-time substitute, but refused to join Salah in stating a preferred final opponent.

"The way he goes one versus one, it doesn't really matter who he is facing, he just goes at you without any fear," Van Dijk said of Diaz. "And if he loses it, he wins it back and goes again. That is very difficult to defend.

"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 [Karim Benzema]."

Liverpool's Champions League final opponents will be revealed when Pep Guardiola's City travel to the Spanish capital on Wednesday, attempting to defend a 4-3 first-leg lead to set up an all-English final.

Trent Alexander-Arnold offered a scathing assessment of Liverpool's first-half performance at Villarreal but is willing to accept an occasional bad 45 minutes as long as they recover as they did to reach the Champions League final.

Villarreal drew level on aggregate, going up 2-0 on the night, before goals from Fabinho, Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane in the second half restored Liverpool's lead and progression to May's final in Paris.

It will be Liverpool's third Champions League final under Jurgen Klopp, following a defeat to Real Madrid in 2018 and triumph over Tottenham in 2019.

Speaking after a thrilling 3-2 win, Alexander-Arnold made reference to the tricky paths that led to those finals, asserting the volatile nature of Tuesday's victory was just a continuation of a theme.

"We never tend to make these Champions League semis easy for ourselves, thinking back to Roma away, Barca at home and now here – difficult, very difficult," Alexander-Arnold told BT Sport post-match.

"We never played football that first half. We never picked up any of the second balls at all, and they kind of played the game the way that they wanted to, and we allowed them to do that.

"Second half, we came out and played the way that we needed to play, and controlled the game a lot better. One bad half over two legs, we can concede that as long as we got the job done."

With the win, the Reds will face the winner of Wednesday's semi-final second leg between Real Madrid and Manchester City.

"It's always nice to get the job done on the Tuesday," he said. "We can watch the game tomorrow, knowing that we're going to be there, and who we're going to play.

"I'm sure it will be a good game. If it goes by anything last week, we'll be in for another amazing game. Either opponent kind of deserves to get to the final, so we'll see who we'll get."

Given the stakes involved, Champions League semi-finals don't tend to be fertile ground for managers to learn lessons about their teams.

But for Jurgen Klopp, Tuesday's win over Villarreal provided more than just a ticket to the showpiece fixture of Europe's premier cup competition in Paris later this month.

It also handed the German several important insights into his squad that may prove key to a quadruple bid that was extended by victory in Spain.

Klopp probably did not appreciate the start of that learning process – an unexpectedly poor first-half performance he would prefer to forget.

In possession of 'the most dangerous lead in football', it was key that the visitors did not concede an early goal that would boost the home crowd's belief. 

And yet they conspired to do exactly that, twice failing to prevent crosses before Boulaye Dia poked home to ignite El Madrigal.

That early goal set the tone for a first half that saw Liverpool harried (65.5 per cent passing accuracy) and bullied (45.6 per cent duels won) out of the game for large periods.

And so they could have no complaints over going in at half-time level on aggregate fearing that Villarreal would become only the second team to overcome a two-goal deficit in a Champions League semi-final.

Liverpool were, of course, the ones who pulled off that previous comeback, overturning Barcelona's three-goal advantage en route to winning the 2018-19 edition of the competition.

Yet, with their first-half attempts to prevent history repeating itself having failed, it seemed inevitable that changes were coming at the break.

Perhaps the only surprise was that Klopp limited himself to just one alteration, introducing Luis Diaz in place of Diogo Jota but leaving his starting midfield trio alone.

However, it was hard to argue with the results of that minor tweak: a consummate second-half performance that turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 win.

That outcome is good news for Diaz, whose match-high four shots and well-taken goal underlined the brilliance of another sparkling outing.

But it might not be for Jota, who won just two of six duels and completed six of nine passes before getting the half-time hook.

There were also contrasting fortunes in midfield, where Naby Keita provided the most notable recovery from a midfield three that looked lost in the opening 45 minutes.

With Jordan Henderson going through a vigorous warm-up just after half-time, it did not look like the Guinean would last much longer.

But, as was the case with his colleagues in the engine room, he went up a level en route to posting 21 passes in the opposition half, three tackles, and 11 possession regains (more than any other player on the pitch) by full-time.

With the big games coming thick and fast in the weeks ahead, the consequences of these performances are likely to stretch beyond simply securing Liverpool's third Champions League final appearance under Klopp.

As he guides an unlikely quadruple bid towards a dramatic conclusion, the manager now has an even clearer idea of which players he can rely on to deliver on the biggest of stages.

 

Liverpool overcame a spirited Villarreal performance to book their spot in the Champions League final with a 3-2 away win, netting three second-half goals after seeing their first-leg lead wiped out in Spain.

Boulaye Dia handed Unai Emery's men an early lead in front of a boisterous home crowd, before Francis Coquelin stunned the below-par visitors by wiping out their aggregate lead on the stroke of half-time.

But Liverpool grew into the game after their dismal start, and after Geronimo Rulli failed to make a routine stop from Fabinho's effort, half-time substitute Diaz headed home to send Jurgen Klopp's men to the final.

Sadio Mane raced clear to round Rulli and roll home a late third to make the result safe before Etienne Capoue was sent off late on, keeping the Reds on course to cap an incredible season by winning four major trophies.

After failing to record a single shot on target at Anfield, the Yellow Submarine needed just three minutes to open the scoring, Dia tapping home after Capoue turned Pervis Estupinan's delivery across goal.

Gerard Moreno saw a close-range header blocked as the visitors produced a dreadful first-half performance, and the Reds' advantage, which looked to be decisive prior to kick-off, was wiped out when Coquelin sparked wild scenes by heading Capoue's cross into the top-left corner.

Trent Alexander-Arnold struck the top of the crossbar with a deflected effort as Liverpool improved after the break, before Fabinho drilled a low shot through the legs of Rulli to restore the visitors' aggregate lead after 62 minutes.

Diaz went close to bending home a superb second moments later, but was on hand to nod home Alexander-Arnold's cross after 67 minutes and put the Reds back in full command of the tie.

The tie was settled once and for all when Mane took advantage of another Rulli error after 74 minutes, rounding the keeper well outside his area before rolling home to secure Liverpool's progress, with Capoue then dismissed for a second yellow card after fouling Curtis Jones.

Liverpool fans are a creative bunch, particularly when it comes to making up songs for their idols.

The latest favourite of the Kop is a little ditty about Jurgen Klopp to the tune of 'I feel fine' by The Beatles, though it has also been re-worked to be about the Reds' manager's wife Ulla after her husband revealed the part she played in convincing him to sign a new deal at Anfield.

While Klopp appreciates the sentiment, he has always said he prefers to hear songs about his players, and there are plenty of those too.

You have to be quite a special player to get your song before you have even signed for the club, though, and it was testament to the excitement around the arrival of Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich in 2020 that not only did he already have a song by the time he was signed, but he even whistled it in his own announcement video.

It is a fairly simple number, as most of the best football songs are, where fans just sing "Thiago, Thiago Alcantara!" to the tune of 'Cuba' by the Gibson Brothers.

Arguably the best part about it, though, was the accompanying video that found its way onto social media, which showed Thiago's head superimposed over a woman walking by, while three men, made up to be Klopp, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, danced in the background.

Reds fans certainly feel like dancing right now, seeing their team still in the hunt for an unprecedented quadruple in early May, with the EFL Cup already in the bag, and Thiago is very much at the centre of the march on the remaining three fronts in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup.

The 31-year-old had a tricky first season in England, having to contest with playing in stadiums with no fans, then picking up an injury that kept him out for several months, before returning to a team whose season had fallen apart after practically the entire defence had also been wiped out by injury.

Thiago showed his class by the end of the campaign to help Liverpool qualify for the Champions League, and although some still cast doubt on his suitability for Klopp's team, he has certainly proven his importance this year as the Merseysiders look to cement their legacy as one of the best teams of all time.

He has continued to suffer from injury issues, and has so far only managed to start in 15 of Liverpool's 34 Premier League games, but it is clear to see the difference he makes when he is available.

In those 15 games, Liverpool have won 14 (93 per cent) and drawn one, which was the recent 2-2 at title rivals Manchester City. When Thiago has not been in the starting XI, the Reds have won 11 of those 19 outings (58 per cent), drawing six and losing two.

They have conceded just four times in the 15 games he has started, compared to 18 in the games without, while averaging 2.9 goals for per game when he starts opposed to 2.3 when he does not.

It is only really of late that the player has been getting recognition for his impact, which is not entirely surprising as he has certainly stepped things up in recent games.

It is not the first time he has done so towards the business end. In 2019-20, his final season at Bayern, he came through to play a crucial role in the German giants' run to the Champions League final, starring in the 1-0 win against Paris Saint-Germain in Lisbon as the Bavarians went on to win a Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League treble.

Thiago has finally been able to put a run of games together at Liverpool without being interrupted by injury, and Klopp's team are very much reaping the benefits.

He is not a player you particularly want to measure by numbers alone, such is the beauty with which he plays the game when in top form, but it is equally hard to ignore the increase in his figures of late.

Having not even attempted 100 passes in a game this season beforehand, in his last three starts, Thiago attempted 113 against Manchester United, completing 108, attempted 121 against Everton, completing 119, and attempted 103 against Villarreal, completing 99, as Liverpool went on to win all three with relative ease, not conceding any goals.

Speaking of which, it is not just his passing that makes him one of the best midfielders in the game. He has also shown the best of his defensive ability, particularly in the Champions League.

Of midfielders to have attempted at least 10 tackles in the competition this season, only Villarreal's Giovani Lo Celso (86.67) and Thiago's Liverpool team-mate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (83.33) have better tackle success percentage than his 81.82.

As well as increasing his already impressive medal haul, one other inspiration for producing such fine form could be Thiago wanting to give Spain boss Luis Enrique something to think about ahead of the World Cup later this year.

La Roja will be among the favourites in Qatar, though such are the riches in midfield they can boast, Thiago has found himself largely out of the squad since last year's rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament, where he only played 66 minutes as Spain reached the semi-finals.

During the tournament when questions were raised as to why the former Bayern and Barcelona man was not featuring more, Luis Enrique said: "Thiago is a very good player. You know and everybody knows about his quality, but we are a strong team and I try to give them minutes.

"He's helping the squad a lot because he's an experienced player and we are very happy to have him in the squad.

"After that, I have to decide and my decision speaks much better than me."

It could be that the Spain head coach is trying to leave space for young prospects such as Pedri and Gavi to come through, but at a major tournament like the World Cup, you would imagine those two and others could only prosper from sharing a squad with someone like Thiago.

The player's club boss certainly thinks so, with Klopp telling reporters at a news conference ahead of Liverpool's Champions League semi-final second leg in Villarreal: "When Thiago is in the shape he's in now, he would play for any team in the world and that is Spain as well.

"They are an incredibly talented team but the shape he's in, he'd play for every national team. Thiago needs to be fit and gain rhythm and he can show his best form."

Thiago will take to the field in Spain on Tuesday to try and guide himself and his team to another Champions League final, with Liverpool leading the Yellow Submarine 2-0 from the first leg.

As he has proven in recent weeks, Thiago's best form is quite a thing to witness, and whether it is in the red of Liverpool or the red of Spain, it is well worth singing about.

Former Villarreal star Robert Pires believes Liverpool are "the best team in Europe", but insists the Yellow Submarine can overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit to reach the Champions League final.

After a routine Liverpool win at Anfield last Wednesday, Villarreal will attempt to become just the second team to overturn a two-goal first-leg deficit in a Champions League semi-final (after Liverpool's 4-3 aggregate win over Barcelona in 2019).

Villarreal did not manage a single shot on target in their away reverse, but Pires' former club did win their only previous home game against Liverpool in European competition (a 1-0 win in 2015-16's Europa League semi-finals).

Although Pires said quadruple-chasing Liverpool are the best team on the continent, he does not think the result is a foregone conclusion on Tuesday.

"Of course Villarreal can go through," he said in comments reported by AS. "We know how complicated it is, we cannot deny that. We know the level of Liverpool and their quality, they are very good and very strong, but Villarreal has not said the last word.

"For me, Liverpool is the best in Europe at the moment and that makes it a great challenge. For this reason, Villarreal, which is a very solid team, suffered a lot in the first leg. But they came out alive, and knowing Emery and the quality of this team, I wouldn't be comfortable.

"To that they must add a bit of luck, we know that these comebacks must have that point of fortune to turn the tie around. I tell people that if the player feels that the fans are with you and push, anything is possible. 

"Hopefully Villarreal will reach the final in Paris. That is my wish, I would very much like it to be."

 

Villarreal have never lost a home match in the Champions League knockout stages, although they have drawn five of their seven such fixtures.

Before Pires joined the Yellow Submarine, for whom he made 131 total appearances across four seasons, he lined up as an opposition player for the club's only previous Champions League semi-final appearance, with Arsenal.

The Gunners reached the final with a 1-0 aggregate win after clinging onto a goalless draw in Spain, with Jens Lehmann saving Juan Roman Riquelme's late penalty, and Pires said his memories of that contest make him believe Villarreal will provide Liverpool with a stern test.

"This team is not eliminated, far from it," he added. "I played the other semi-final with Arsenal and we also had an advantage, so we hoped to get through without suffering. And the reality was very different.

"We suffered like dogs in that game. We came from eliminating Juventus and Madrid, we were very confident and secure, but we arrived here and had a really bad time. I don't know what happened to us, but it was the game in which we suffered the most of all. 

"That's why I think Villarreal can give Liverpool a cane. I know, I've lived it."

Villarreal are unbeaten in 12 home matches in all competitions, winning eight, and recorded an incredible 1-0 success against Bayern Munich in their last home Champions League outing.

Real Madrid and Villarreal have it all to do when they host Manchester City and Liverpool respectively in the second legs of their Champions League semi-final ties in midweek.

Fresh off the back of winning a second LaLiga title in three seasons, Madrid are aiming to overturn a 4-3 deficit against City following last week's thrilling first leg in Manchester.

That was the joint-highest scoring semi-final first leg in the competition's history, along with Liverpool 5-2 Roma in 2017-18, and more drama awaits in the Spanish capital.

Villarreal face an even bigger task, meanwhile, as they trail Liverpool 2-0 through an unfortunate Pervis Estupinan own goal and a Sadio Mane strike at Anfield.

However, only once before have the Reds won both legs of a knockout stage tie against Spanish opposition in the Champions League or its former guise as the European Cup.

So will it be an all-English final in Paris on May 28, or can the LaLiga pair turn things around on home turf?

Ahead of the second legs, Stats Perform digs into some of the best Opta numbers around the two semi-final ties.


Villarreal v Liverpool

To put the size of Villarreal's task into some perspective, only once before – Liverpool versus Barcelona in 2019 – has a team overturned a two-goal first-leg deficit at this stage of the Champions League.

Villarreal are unbeaten at home in Champions League knockout ties, albeit having won just two of their seven such games. The bad news, though, is that across those seven matches, neither side has managed to score more than once on any occasion.

If they are to have any hope of advancing then Unai Emery's men need to display far more attacking impetus than was on show last week, having attempted only one shot and failed to hit the target at Anfield. The last team to fail to record a shot on target across two legs of a Champions League semi-final was Deportivo de La Coruna in 2003-04, against Jose Mourinho's Porto.

Should Liverpool see the job through, they will become only the fourth side to reach the final of the European Cup/ Champions League on 10 or more occasions after Real Madrid (16), Bayern Munich and Milan (both 11), with their current tally of nine the most of any English side.

Jurgen Klopp's side have been formidable on the road in Europe this season, scoring 15 goals and conceding five across their five away Champions League matches, all of which have ended in victory. Should they win on Tuesday, they will boast the longest 100 per cent away record by any team in a single European Cup or Champions League campaign.

After netting in the first leg it is likely that Mane will again be selected in Liverpool's star-studded front three. The Senegal international has scored 14 knockout-stage goals for the Reds in the Champions League, leaving him one short of Chelsea legend Frank Lampard's record for the most for an English club.

 


Real Madrid v Manchester City

The omens are good for City as they have progressed from nine of their previous 10 knockout ties in the Champions League after winning the first leg, the only exception being against Monaco at the last-16 stage in 2016-17 after squandering a 5-3 advantage to lose 6-6 on away goals.

Madrid have been eliminated from all five previous Champions League semi-finals in which they have lost the first leg, meanwhile, though they have advanced from two of their past three knockout ties when losing the first leg – against Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 quarter-finals and versus Paris Saint-Germain in this season's last 16.

Los Blancos, the competition's most successful side, have lost their past two Champions League games, though only once before have they lost three on the spin. Head coach Carlo Ancelotti, incidentally, has never lost three in a row with this his 178th match.

A draw would be enough to see City through, but they have won their last three matches against Madrid in the Champions League and could become the third side to win four in a row against them in UEFA's showpiece competition, the only previous sides to have done so being Ajax (between 1973 and 1995) and Bayern Munich (between 2000 and 2002).

City boss Pep Guardiola has had his fair share of battles with Madrid down the years, not least in the Champions League. The Catalan coach has won four matches against Los Blancos in the competition – only Ottmar Hitzfeld (seven) has won more – with half of those wins coming at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Karim Benzema has rescued Madrid a number of times in Europe this season, the Frenchman having netted nine times in the knockout stage alone. Only former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo (10) has ever scored more in a single season, while Benzema could become the fourth player to score in both legs of the quarter-finals and semi-finals in a single season after Fernando Morientes (2003-04), Neymar (2014-15) and Edin Dzeko (2017-18). 

While Benzema has rightly received plenty of plaudits, strike partner Vinicius Junior has himself played a huge part in Madrid's charge for a record-extending 14th European Cup. The 28 open-play chances created by the Brazil international is the most of any player in the Champions League since Dusan Tadic (36) in 2018-19.

Trent Alexander-Arnold knows Liverpool must not be complacent when they start the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Villarreal on Tuesday with a "dangerous" 2-0 lead.

Jurgen Klopp's side are strong favourites to face Manchester City or Real Madrid in the final at the Stade de France after a Pervis Estupinan own goal and Sadio Mane's strike at Anfield last week put them in command

Liverpool are the only side to reach the final after losing the first leg of a semi-final by two goals or more, overturning a 3-0 deficit with a sensational 4-0 victory over Barcelona three years ago.

The Reds are unbeaten in 12 matches and make the trip to El Madrigal on a five-game winning streak - keeping clean sheets in their past four victories.

Alexander-Arnold says they will not arrive in Spain thinking it is already job done as they prepare to face a side that dumped Juventus and Bayern Munich out.

The full-back said: "Anything can happen in football, they're a top-quality side who can beat world-class teams.

"We've seen that with Juve and Bayern. They play up to the underdog so we cannot get complacent. An old cliche, only half-time. Next goal is vital in this tie."

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