Villarreal coach Unai Emery said his team have secured the right to be in the Champions League semi-final as they prepare to face Liverpool on Wednesday.
The Spanish side eliminated giants Juventus and Bayern Munich in the previous knockout rounds but now face the “best Liverpool team” that Emery remembers.
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Villarreal’s players felt Bayern underestimated them in their Champions League quarter-final match, and Emery warned Liverpool would not make the same mistake.
“We deserve to be here,” Emery said. “Any team in the Champions League semi-finals exists because it deserves to be.
“Liverpool know that we have a great European presence, that we have been able to eliminate two great teams. [in Juventus and Bayern.] They know it won’t be easy. This is the best Liverpool team I can remember. They will feel favourite, of course, but they will respect us.”
Villarreal made headlines last season by defeating Manchester United on penalties to win the Europa League, their first European title.
“It is no coincidence that we are here,” said Villarreal midfielder Dani Parejo. “We made history for the club last season by winning the European League and now we have reached the semi-finals of the Champions League for the second time in the history of Villarreal. It all comes down to stability, hard work, confidence in the project and giving people time to work.”
Liverpool beat Benfica 6-4 on aggregate in the previous knockout round and are looking to reach the Champions League final for the third time in five seasons at the expense of Villarreal.
“We are facing a greater challenge than before,” Emery added. “The surprise factor is no longer there. They are the favorites to win this competition. The team is a mirror of their coach Jurgen Klopp in terms of playing with joy and enthusiasm. They are in the best moment.”
Emery, who spent 18 months coaching Arsenal until his departure in 2019, does not have fond memories of his visits to Anfield.
“I remember that my experience against Liverpool at Anfield was difficult,” he said. “I recognize the work done and the identity Klopp created, which has since been improved.
“I see that as an extra motivation for me, to try to beat the best Liverpool ever. So we will need to show our best version.”
Villarreal have not won any of their last eight away matches in England in all competitions, but they will draw strength from their strong performance in their 3-0 win over Juventus and a 1-1 draw with Bayern in their last two away games.
“Anfield is special, the atmosphere is impressive and unbelievable,” said Villarreal midfielder Dani Parejo. “It’s difficult not to be affected by the atmosphere there but we will try to focus on the match and our game plan.”
Villarreal travels to Liverpool not in full force as winger Jeremy Pino is off injured and striker Gerard Moreno has yet to fully recover from a hamstring problem.