By Gary Fulcher.
Liverpool compete in their first European semi-final since 2009/10 when they travel to Spain to face Villarreal on Thursday evening – 8.05pm kick off UK time – at the Estadio El Madrigal. The Reds will be hoping to go one better than the team who lost the semi-final six years ago, and who were eliminated on the away goals rule by Atletico Madrid with the final score at 2-2.
Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool side lost the first leg in Spain 0-1 thanks to a Diego Forlan goal. In the second leg at Anfield, Aquilani levelled the tie for the Reds in the first half, which is how it finished after 90 minutes, taking the tie to extra-time. Benayoun put the Reds 2-1 up on aggregate only for Diego Forlan to score a vital away goal to seal Atletico’s progress.
This will be Liverpool’s 17th competitive trip to Spain with the last encounter against Spanish opposition coming last season when the Reds faced Real Madrid in the Champions League group stages. Liverpool suffered a 0-1 defeat, our second consecutive loss in Spain by that scoreline to Spanish opponents. Overall the Reds have won seven times in Spain with four of those wins coming during the Benitez era when Liverpool were a force to be reckoned with in Europe, with two of those wins recorded against Barcelona (2-1) at the Nou Camp and against Real Madrid (1-0) at the Bernabeu.
Liverpool became the first side to go 12 games unbeaten in this competition in the same season – from the start of the group stages to the final – following the thrilling 4-3 victory against Borussia Dortmund in the last round. Villarreal lost their opening game in Group E away against Rapid Vienna 1-2 but are unbeaten since, winning eight and drawing three, including winning all six of their home games in the group and knockout stages, conceding just one goal in the process.
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