Although Unai Emery believes Liverpool are the world’s best team, he insists his Villarreal squad are relishing Tuesday’s semi-final clash.
Villarreal boss Unai Emery says his side are excited to pit themselves against “the best team in the world” in Liverpool, as they try to overcome a two-goal deficit in the Champions League semi-finals.
The Yellow Submarine enter Tuesday’s decisive second leg against Jurgen Klopp’s men 2-0 down after the first meeting at Anfield last Wednesday.
To reach the final in Paris, Villarreal must become only the second team to overturn a two-goal first-leg deficit in a Champions League semi-final after Liverpool did so in 2018-19, losing 3-0 to Barcelona at Camp Nou before recording an incredible 4-0 home triumph.
But Villarreal struggled against Klopp’s in-form Reds last week, attempting just one shot and failing to hit the target, and they could become the first team since 2003-04 (Deportivo La Coruna against FC Porto) to fail to record a shot on target across two legs of a Champions League semi-final tie.
Having previously described Klopp’s outfit as the “best-ever” Liverpool team, Emery has now labelled them the finest side in world football, but insisted his players are relishing the prospect of competing with the Reds.
“We are very excited. The favourites were better at their stadium, but we managed to defend well,” Emery said.
“The team is psyched up to play our match and have our chances against the best team in the world. To live this moment, with all our people and against a rival, and passing this test would be excellent. I don’t know if we’ll be able to.”
Emery is no stranger to thrilling Champions League comebacks, having been on the receiving end of one of the most famous turnarounds in history when his Paris Saint-Germain lost 6-1 at Barcelona after winning the first leg 4-0 in 2016-17’s last-16.
However, the former Arsenal boss said a lot of things have changed since that classic contest, highlighting that neither team would benefit from the scrapped away goals rule on Tuesday.
“A lot of things change from the game against PSG against Barca, even things that are not in our hands. It does not favour [either team] that there is no longer the double value of away goals,” he added.
“The first thing that changes is that we play at La Ceramica with our fans. We have to win, but we have to play a brutal defensive game and find our game from there.”
In reaching the Champions League semi-finals for the second time in their history (the other in 2005-06), Villarreal have relied on a strong home record: Emery’s men are unbeaten in seven home knockout games in the competition’s history, although five of those ended level.
After Villarreal’s 1-0 home win over Bayern Munich helped them dump the German champions out of the competition in the quarter-finals, defender Pau Torres says that success can serve as an inspiration for the hosts.
“The game against Bayern can serve as an example. They were favourites and we managed to subdue them in our stadium,” Torres said. “We are aware of what is at stake and what needs to be done. We have our game plan. We have seen a very strong Villarreal in important games.
“The objective is only one, no matter how it is achieved. We know that the game is long. A goal puts us in the tie.
“The coach has told us to be ourselves. We are preparing very well for the tie. We are going to be able to see a very recognisable Villarreal, with whom we all feel identified.”