Jürgen Klopp said reaching a third Champions League final in five seasons with Liverpool felt as good as the first one after his team recovered from a punishing first half to beat Villarreal on a pulsating night in eastern Spain.
Liverpool conceded twice before the interval for a 2-2 aggregate scoreline, the stadium rocking as Villarreal advertised a stunning comeback. But inspired by the half-time introduction of Luis Díaz, Liverpool regained their poise to win 3-2 on the night and 5-2 overall.
Fabinho, Díaz and Sadio Mané scored the goals to set up a final against Real Madrid or Manchester City in Paris, with Mohamed Salah hoping it will be the former. Salah wants to avenge the 2018 loss to Real in the final when he was manhandled out of the game by Sergio Ramos. “I want to play Real Madrid, I have to be honest,” Salah said. “Hopefully we’ll win it from them as well.”
Klopp was overjoyed, particularly at the mental toughness that his players showed in the second half. “Outstanding, massive – it feels like the first one because it’s always so special,” the manager said. “I love it, the sound of it … the whole night.
“It feels so special because it was so difficult for us. Before the game, I told the boys I wanted the headlines to be the mentality monsters were in town. I wanted it from the first moment but the second half was like that. How we came back in the second half was so special. It was a top performance.”
Klopp had wanted to show his players one clip at the interval of something that had gone well in the first half to give them a boost. But the assistant manager, Pete Krawietz, told him there was nothing. Díaz helped to spark the turnaround when he came on for Diogo Jota.
“But Jota was not the problem in the first half – we had 11 problems in the first half,” Klopp said. “The start was really difficult. We looked like we were impressed by them. We had no real build-up and we didn’t play in the right spaces. We played into their hands. Our minds were not right. We felt the pressure. It was a football problem in the first half. And we had to solve it with football.”
Klopp has made history by becoming the first manager of an English club to reach the finals of the League Cup, FA Cup and Champions League in the same season. “It is really difficult – that is why nobody has ever done it before,” he said. “We will make sure we are ready for these finals. We will give it a go. That’s for sure.”