Thomas Tuchel acknowledged Chelsea are in danger of dropping out of the top four altogether after losing 1-0 to struggling Everton on Sunday.

Frank Lampard's Toffees snatched a potentially vital victory in their bid to avoid relegation from the Premier League for the first time, with Richarlison getting the decisive goal just after half-time.

Chelsea created several presentable chances but were denied by three wonderful Jordan Pickford saves as Everton held out under pressure at Goodison Park.

It was not so long ago that Chelsea appeared certain to finish in the top four, but they have won only once in their past four league matches, putting their position under pressure from Arsenal and Tottenham.

Tuchel insists he never felt completely safe, though.

“Of course, it was always like this," he told reporters when asked if they now face a battle to qualify for the Champions League.

"I said it many weeks ago that I didn't ever feel safe. We are never safe. By the way, if we are in a race for top one, top two, or top four, no matter what the race, the last four games to only have four points will never be enough, no matter which race we are in.

"We have to take care of ourselves. At the moment we don't get the points when we play well and deserve more and we lose when we play okay, this is a bad mixture."

Cesar Azpilicueta's dawdling on the ball ultimately led to Everton's winner, with individual mistakes becoming something of a theme in recent weeks for Chelsea.

Such errors, and how to eradicate them, have Tuchel at a loss.

"What can I do? The ball is free, then give a goal away. It is the worst thing that can happen to you in this atmosphere and situation. It happens too often, we struggle to play without big mistakes. That's why we struggle to have results.

"If there is something I can do I will try it but if I knew about it I would have done it before. I think, for me, the key is to have a clean sheet. Manchester United was a different game, more open, fluid, more spaces, and we finally scored late and conceded straight away.

"For me, this is more like the game against West Ham. The opponent defends deep, we struggle to find space in the first half, but against West Ham we had a clean sheet and played without any big mistakes.

"That gives us the chance to score late. If you run behind against an opponent like this, in this atmosphere and install emotion and belief in a stadium like this and the opponent's team, you struggle."

It was a bruising encounter, with referee Kevin Friend producing eight yellow cards in total.

The aggression displayed by Everton did not trouble Tuchel specifically, though he was critical of how the game was refereed.

"No, no, we expected [Everton to be aggressive]," he added. "It would have been nice to have a referee who was in charge of it – they got away with a lot. He decided to manage the game the way he did and I was not too happy with it, but it's his way.

"That is why it's important to not do any mistakes, instil belief, and to keep doing what we do on the highest level of focus. We struggled."

Jack Grealish has been left out of Manchester City's biggest matches in recent weeks purely due to tactical reasons, Pep Guardiola has explained.

Grealish, signed for a record-breaking £100million last off-season, has started just three of City's eight games so far in April.

The Premier League leaders bookend what has been a hectic month with a trip to Leeds United on Saturday, and may well start the match at Elland Road in second place, should Liverpool get a result against in-form Newcastle United.

Grealish featured from the off in last week's 5-1 rout of Watford, but did not play against Real Madrid in Tuesday's thrilling Champions League encounter as City won the first leg of their semi-final 4-3.

The 26-year-old also started against Burnley at the start of April and in the FA Cup semi-final to Liverpool, scoring City's first goal in a 3-2 defeat at Wembley. However, he was a substitute against the Reds in the 2-2 league draw on April 10, and only featured from the bench in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final tie with Atletico Madrid. He also did not appear against Brighton and Hove Albion.

Only Bruno Fernandes (77) created more chances from open play in the Premier League than Grealish (70) last season, with the England international managing to craft 42 goalscoring chances from open play for City across 22 top-flight appearances this term. 

That is still the third-best figure in City's squad, behind Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva (both 52), and Guardiola has insisted the playmaker's recent omissions were purely tactical and not down to a disappointment in Grealish's level of performance.

"He can play," Guardiola replied when asked in a news conference why Grealish had been left out of the biggest matches.

"Nothing changes. In that position, in important games Riyad [Mahrez] gives something unique, special and Phil [Foden] is so determined, his will and his impact on the game is huge as well. Just for that reason.

"Raheem [Sterling], everybody knows how important he is for me. Always have the feeling with Phil and Riyad that the goal is there, they have the sense to score the goal. 

"Sometimes you need more control, maybe Jack. Most of the time it is a tactical decision, not because I'm unsatisfied or that they're not playing good."

While Grealish could be in line to play against Leeds, Kyle Walker remains sidelined through injury, with Guardiola unsure if the full-back will return before the end of the season. John Stones will also be absent in West Yorkshire.

City did not beat Leeds in either match last season, drawing at Elland Road before losing to 10 men at the Etihad Stadium. Indeed, the Whites have lost just two of their last nine home league games against City (W6 D1), doing so in consecutive meetings in December 1995 (0-1) and September 2000 (1-2).

But City did win the reverse fixture 7-0 this season and are looking to complete their first league double over Leeds since 1981-82. Guardiola, though, knows Jesse Marsch's team, who are five points clear of the relegation zone after a five-game unbeaten run that has included three victories, stand in the way of what could be a crucial win.

"Last season we dropped five points against Marcelo [Bielsa]," he said. "Jesse Marsch did an incredible job in Salzburg, [RB] Leipzig wasn't the perfect place maybe, but many teams in England play that way, I have a lot of respect.

"This is the most important game that we have for the position we will be in between the Champions League games, after Madrid we have just four games all in the league. We accept the challenge, know exactly what we have to do and we will try to do it."

As Jurgen Klopp sat in front of a tremendously busy media room when he was being presented as Liverpool's new manager in October 2015, he said his mission was to "turn doubters into believers."

He felt Reds fans were a little too used to coming so near yet so far, having not won a league title since 1990 at the time, and only winning one trophy - the 2012 League Cup - since 2006.

Early on in his reign, after his new team had fallen 2-1 behind to Crystal Palace at Anfield, he was aghast at fans leaving the ground with almost 10 minutes to go, saying he felt "pretty alone" in that moment.

Fast-forward to April 2022, and having won the Champions League, the Premier League, a UEFA Super Cup, a FIFA Club World Cup and an EFL Cup since, it is safe to say that the Liverpool fans are now believers as they sang Klopp's name at the top of their lungs during the 2-0 Champions League semi-final first leg victory against Villarreal.

The Reds are still in with a shout of winning an unprecedented quadruple this season having already won the EFL Cup, with an FA Cup final against Chelsea to come, a lead in their Champions League semi, and sitting just a point behind leaders Manchester City in the Premier League title race with five games left.

News that Klopp had signed a two-year extension to his Anfield deal on Thursday, meaning his contract now runs until 2026, came as a huge boost to fans ahead of what promises to be an exciting run-in, and Stats Perform has taken a look at some of the important steps that took those doubters and filled them with such belief.

Darkest before the dawn

There was a lot to clear up in the squad left behind by the outgoing Brendan Rodgers. If you look at the team Klopp chose for his first game in charge against Tottenham at White Hart Lane, you will see names on the bench such as Jerome Sinclair, Joao Teixeira and Conor Randall, names not too familiar to many now.

"There were many full-throttle moments in the game. We need to improve but after working with the players for three days I am completely satisfied," Klopp said after the 0-0 draw, but he knew he had his work cut out.

Although ultimately it was a disappointing league campaign in 2015-16 for Liverpool, finishing eighth with just 60 points, behind both Southampton and West Ham, Klopp did manage to reach two finals, in the EFL Cup and the Europa League.

He ended up losing both of them, on penalties to Man City and 3-1 to Sevilla respectively. The players were despondent, but as detailed earlier this week by Reds captain Jordan Henderson, Klopp insisted his players not mope, but celebrate what they had achieved, and what he was sure was still to come.

First step in the evolution

After adding Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum prior to his first full season in charge, many people were a bit underwhelmed, but those fears were soon allayed as Liverpool set about playing the sort of football they have since become synonymous with.

A 4-3 win at Arsenal on the opening day of the season set the tempo, albeit that was tempered by a 2-0 defeat at Burnley straight after in which Liverpool could do nothing with their 80 per cent possession at Turf Moor.

However, as the season progressed, Klopp was able to get a tune out of a potent front three of Mane, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, with Mane and Coutinho scoring 13 Premier League goals each, while Firmino added 11 more.

A 3-0 win against Middlesbrough at Anfield on the final day of the season sealed a Champions League spot, but the question was, could Liverpool stay competitive in the league while also navigating through a European campaign?

 

No player is bigger than the club

Liverpool had made an addition to their already potent attack by bringing in Mohamed Salah from Roma, but the 2017-18 season looked to be thrown into turmoil before it had begun, with Coutinho handing in a transfer request the day before the opener at Watford.

The Brazilian was forced to stay until the January transfer window before being allowed to move to Barcelona, but it did not exactly slow Klopp's men down, largely thanks to the revelation that was Salah.

The Egyptian plundered 4e goals in all competitions in his debut season with the Reds, and coupled with the addition of Virgil van Dijk in January, led to Liverpool making it all the way to the Champions League final in Kyiv.

They were ultimately beaten by Real Madrid thanks to some odd goalkeeping from Loris Karius and a stunner from Gareth Bale, but it felt like the start of something, rather than the end.

 

Righting wrongs

After adding Alisson and Fabinho to an already strong team, it seemed that Klopp had addressed his two biggest weak points, and so it proved as Liverpool became a near unstoppable force.

They went toe-to-toe with a rampant Man City in the title race, while also showing a determination to avenge their Champions League heartbreak.

They did just that after a remarkable 4-3 aggregate win against Coutinho and Barcelona in the semi-finals, before beating Tottenham 2-0 in Madrid to give Klopp his first trophy at the club, arguably the biggest one of all.

However, in some people's eyes, the biggest one was the Premier League, which they missed out on to City by a single point, despite amassing an incredible 97 themselves. Only City that year and when they achieved 100 the year prior had ever won more points in England's top flight, but it still didn't result in a league title.

Righting wrongs: Part two

Just as they had done in the Champions League, Liverpool had a sense of purpose to go one better in the league in 2019-20, and that led to the title race being over pretty much before it had begun.

A 3-1 win against City at Anfield in the November put the Reds nine points clear of Pep Guardiola's men, and they never looked back, until they were forced to stop their relentless pursuit.

After a break of several weeks following the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Liverpool returned to finish the job and seal their first league title in 30 years after going two points better than the year previous, ending the campaign with 99 to their name.

 

The beginning of the end?

The pandemic meant every club had lost their fans, with no-one allowed in grounds. While the increasingly believing Kop was missed, it was not until Klopp started losing his defence that problems emerged in 2020-21.

By mid-November, he had lost Van Dijk and Joe Gomez to long-term injury, and Joel Matip completed the set in January, meaning Liverpool had to play a significant chunk of their campaign with either midfielders, or rookie defenders at centre back.

This led to a downturn in results that had people questioning if the ride was over. Had Klopp's relentless Reds finally run out of steam, and was this the inevitable consequence of shining so brightly?

Thanks to some very hard-earned wins, including a remarkable stoppage time winner from Alisson at West Brom, Liverpool scraped third place and a crucial Champions League spot. Had stories of their demise been greatly exaggerated?

 

The quadruple chasers

Yes, yes they had. With their defenders all back, and Ibrahima Konate added from RB Leipzig, Liverpool have, if anything, found new levels of excellence this season. They have gone right back to challenging City, and have proven themselves to be one of the teams to beat in Europe too.

They are currently the top scorers in the Premier League with 85 goals in 33 games, and have won 13 of their last 14 league games, with a 2-2 draw at City their only blemish in that time.

Can they go all the way and make history by winning a quadruple? It still seems unlikely, but whether they do or they don't, the news that Klopp's story with Liverpool has been extended by two more years can only be positive.

You better believe it.

Virgil van Dijk admitted he would not want to face Liverpool's lethal strikers after Villarreal failed to contain the ruthless Reds.

Sadio Mane became the third Liverpool player to score 20 goals this season as Jurgen Klopp's side won the Champions League semi-final first leg at Anfield 2-0 on Wednesday.

Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota have also reached that amount in the 2021-22 campaign, while Luis Diaz has been a revelation since his arrival from Porto in January.

Divock Origi has also played his part this season, once again coming off the bench to score against Everton in a 2-0 Merseyside derby win last Sunday that keeps the pressure on leaders Manchester City in the Premier League title race.

Van Dijk is relieved he is able to watch the Reds' rampant forward line create havoc rather than having to try and keep them at bay.

The centre-back told the club's official website: "They are so important for us at the moment. I don't want to be facing any of our strikers, to be fair.

"Diogo from the bench, Luis, Mo, Sadio, it's incredible, Divock the last game. We are in a good moment, everyone is pushing each other and we'll try to keep that going, and the amount of work they put in is incredible as well."

Liverpool will travel to Estadio de la Ceramica for the second leg next Tuesday with one foot in the final as they attempt to win an unprecedented quadruple.

Van Dijk says there is no chance the Reds will sit back on their advantage.

"We are not going there to defend and defend the lead,” said the Netherlands international.

"We know we have to be very mature there as well, we know it’s going to be tough, probably a little hostile atmosphere, but it’s something we should enjoy as well.

"You don't get to the final the easy way, it's never the case, especially at this stage of the Champions League. You play against fantastic teams. So, it will be tough there but we have to be confident, work hard for the full 95 minutes and hopefully we can get the job done."

Jurgen Klopp insisted Liverpool still have it all to do in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Villarreal, despite the first leg ending in a convincing 2-0 win.

The Reds carved out their advantage during a two-minute second-half spell that saw Pervis Estupinan put through his own net and Sadio Mane get on the scoresheet.

The visitors managed just a single shot across the 90 minutes, one which failed even to test Alisson in the Reds' goal.

However, Klopp is taking nothing for granted ahead of the return leg in Spain next week, saying at a media conference after the game: "The full work is [left] to do. Nothing happened yet. 

"You play a game and it's 2-0 at half-time, you have to be completely on alert, you have to be 100 per cent in the right mood, you have the play the second half like you played the first. 

"There's nothing to defend, if you do that you give all the advantages you might have had away immediately. 

"We know we go there and it will be a tricky atmosphere for us, different to tonight. 

"Those players, you saw it tonight, they fight for the coach with all they have. What I like was that everybody could see that we fight with all we have and it's always the same. 

"If they beat us with a result that brings them to the final then they deserve it and, if not, then we deserve it. That's how the competition is."

Liverpool had taken 12 shots without scoring in an opening period that saw Villarreal frustrate - a theme of their march to this stage of the competition. 

But Klopp did not ask his team to change things up during the half-time break, instead asking for more of the same from his players.

He added: "We spoke at half-time, I thought we looked really fresh in the first half and had good legs. 

"It's intense for us to play the way we play but it's intense for the opponent to defend us in that way as well.

"It was the challenge, how it is for all human beings, when you try and you fail and try and fail [not to] think, 'Come on, it's not my day!' 

"We really had to stay positive and try and fail, try and fail, and keep trying. And that's what we did."

Liverpool left back Andrew Robertson said he and his team-mates are "enjoying" their hectic schedule as they earned a 2-0 first leg lead in their Champions League semi-final against Villarreal.

An own goal and a Sadio Mane strike, both early in the second half, was enough for Jurgen Klopp's men to secure a decent cushion ahead of next Tuesday's second leg in Spain.

Villarreal frustrated Liverpool at Anfield in the first half, but were unable to stop them from winning their ninth Champions League match of the season, the most games the Reds have ever won in a single campaign in European competition (excluding qualifiers).

Speaking to BT Sport after the win, captain Jordan Henderson praised the visitors, and said staying "positive" was key for Liverpool.

"Yeah, very organised team," Henderson said about Unai Emery's side. "We knew they'd make it difficult, but it was important that we just kept going, stay positive and we had the confidence that if we did that, kept moving the ball quickly, we'd eventually break them down, and we did that with two good goals."

It was Henderson's cross that deflected in off Pervis Estupinan to finally break the deadlock, and when told it had deflected, the England international jokingly replied: "Did it? I thought it went straight in!

"Yeah a little bit lucky, but it was good play, good build up... But, you need a little bit of luck against teams with a low block. We got that with the first and thankfully we got another one."

Liverpool had 19 shots to Villarreal's one on a dominant night for the Reds. The Yellow Submarine's one shot, which missed the target, is the joint-fewest by any side in a Champions League semi-final according to Opta since this data has been available (2003-04), along with Inter v Barcelona in 2009-10.

Robertson was also asked by BT Sport about the game, and he was keen to point out that the players are enjoying themselves, with an unprecedented quadruple of the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and EFL Cup still possible.

"We had quite a few chances in the first half, just trying to break them down and keep doing what we were doing," the Scotland captain said. "The first goal always kind of does that [gives you a boost], we then had a bit of momentum. The noise in here was incredible after the first goal and that kind of took us to the second one.

"We'd have liked to add maybe one more, it wasn't meant to be but a clean sheet and two goals? We can't argue with that.

"You have to [work hard], it's the semi-final of the Champions League. If you can't run about for 90 minutes in this kind of game then when will you?

"Our intensity's been really high the last couple of games, we've had a real hectic schedule and we're enjoying it. I think you seen that today.

"There's still a lot of work to do in this tie, but we're happy with our work tonight."

Also asked about not getting frustrated by a stubborn Villarreal defence, Robertson added: "That was the message from Hendo at half-time, just saying we were playing well first half, probably some of the best we've played and we didn't get a goal for it, but we kept going, kept trying to be patient and luckily with a big deflection (smiling at Henderson), we managed to get the breakthrough."

After 45 minutes of this Champions League semi-final first leg, the travelling Villarreal fans had every reason to believe they might be witnessing another miracle.

Their team had made it to half-time in the cauldron of Anfield having kept the score at 0-0, and they had also - at times - made a quadruple-chasing Liverpool look short of ideas.

As such, thoughts will no doubt have turned to the recent shock wins over Juventus and Bayern Munich, and the possibility of taking another major scalp back to Castellon.

Unfortunately, any supporter in yellow thinking along those lines had not accounted for the fact that, even among Europe's elite clubs, there are levels.

And, although Manchester City might have a strong case to be ranked alongside them, Liverpool are otherwise alone at the summit. 

It did not look much like that during an opening period that ended with the hosts having taken 12 shots, the most in a Champions League semi-final first half without scoring since such data was first collected in 2003-04.

That owed much to Villarreal's sheer refusal to offer up quality chances, with the midfield and defence working beautifully in tandem to deny all space.

The dark arts were also being deployed impressively, goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli taking as much time as he could over goal kicks, while cheap fouls were bought from frustrated opponents.

However, as he proved during Sunday's Merseyside derby win over Everton, Jurgen Klopp is never better than when given a half-time puzzle to solve.

And it looked from the very first whistle of the second period that the German had repeated the trick once again.

Suddenly, there was an extra zip to Liverpool's play, and their visitors' previously solid shape was beginning to look porous as players were dragged out against their will.

Admittedly, there was an element of fortune to the Reds' opener, Pervis Estupinan's attempted block looping over a stranded Rulli and into the back of the net.

But it had been earned through a rapid left-to-right passing exchange that opened space for Jordan Henderson to cross - the sort of move that had been missing in the first half.

From there, Liverpool smelled blood, and just two minutes later had put together another slick pattern to leave a rattled Villarreal two down. 

It was a whirlwind attacking flurry that so few teams can produce, one that will have given Klopp confidence that a third Champions League final appearance with this club awaits.

As impressive as their route to this stage of the tournament has been, Villarreal never trailed either Juventus or Bayern by more than a single goal at any stage of those ties.

And it is hard to imagine how they might close that deficit in Spain next week without opening up too much against such deadly opponents. 

Stranger things have happened, of course, but the likelihood is that a meeting with a Liverpool team eyeing the history books will prove to be a step too far for Villarreal. 

Liverpool are in the driving seat of their Champions League semi-final against Villarreal after a 2-0 win at Anfield on Wednesday.

A game that was never likely to match the excitement of Tuesday's seven-goal thriller between Manchester City and Real Madrid finally came to life in the second half as an own goal from Pervis Estupinan and a Sadio Mane strike sealed a strong first-leg advantage for the Reds.

Unai Emery's side defended resolutely for much of the game, managing to get to half-time goalless, but they were ultimately undone by some typically fast attacking from Jurgen Klopp's team in the second half.

This was Liverpool's 12th European Cup or Champions League semi-final, with no English side playing in the final four more often (level with Manchester United), and was also the first time the Reds have played in the semi-finals of the EFL Cup, FA Cup and European Cup in the same campaign, and it was that experience of the big occasion that ultimately shone through.

It was a tentative start from the home side, though Mane will have expected to do better with a header when found by a neat cross from Mohamed Salah early on with the Senegalese forward directing his effort wide.

Thiago Alcantara came as close as anyone to breaking the deadlock in the first half with a shot from almost 30 yards that crashed against the left-hand post, but the visitors did a good job of frustrating the Premier League side in the opening 45 minutes.

An electric beginning to the second half from Klopp's side finally saw them take the lead in the 53rd minute, with Jordan Henderson's cross from the right taking a fortunate deflection off the foot of Estupinan and flying past Rulli at his near post.

Another arrived just two minutes later as a good passing move ended with Salah sliding a ball through to Mane, who prodded under the goalkeeper to make it 2-0 to the Reds.

The Yellow Submarine avoided further damage but have it all to do when the two meet again in the second leg at the El Madrigal next Tuesday.

What does it mean? Liverpool show patience to break through, again

Liverpool finally overcame a determined Everton in the Merseyside derby on Sunday, it was said to be perfect preparation for Villarreal, who were always going to come to Anfield to frustrate in the first leg.

That proved to be the case as, like with the Toffees, Villarreal kept Liverpool at bay in the first half, running down the clock, blocking all attacks and keeping their net unbothered.

However, the relentless Reds again managed to force a couple of second half goals, having had 19 shots in all, facing just one solitary effort from the visitors.

Thiago once again shines in the middle

The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich midfielder has been purring in Liverpool's midfield in recent games, and he was on form again here as he helped to dissect a stubborn opposition.

Thiago completed 99 of 103 passes (96.1 per cent), enjoying a fantastic pass completion percentage in the opposition's half of 94.1 from 68 attempts. He also made more interceptions than anyone (five) and gained possession 10 times in all.

More English misery for Yellow Submarine

Emery's men put up a brave fight but eventually succumbed to a strong and determined Liverpool team, and it maintained a poor record for Villarreal in England.

Since a 2-1 victory on Merseyside against Everton in August 2005, Villarreal have not managed to win any of their last nine away games in England in all competitions (drawn three, lost six), having also tasted defeat at Manchester United in the group stages earlier this season.

What’s next?

Liverpool travel to Newcastle United on Saturday as they resume their title chase in the Premier League, while Villarreal are away to Deportivo Alaves on the same day.

The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich midfielder has been purring in Liverpool's midfield in recent games, and he was on form again here as he helped to dissect a stubborn opposition.

Jurgen Klopp has made three changes to his starting line-up for Liverpool's Champions League semi-final first leg against Villarreal.

With his side having claimed a 2-0 Merseyside derby victory over Everton last time out, the German has looked to freshen things up in defence, midfield and attack.

As has become customary during two-game weeks this season, Ibrahima Konate comes into the centre of defence to replace Joel Matip.

In the centre of the park, the captain Jordan Henderson takes the place of Naby Keita.

And up top, January signing Luis Diaz joins Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, with Diogo Jota dropping to the bench.

Roberto Firmino is not among the substitutes as he recovers from injury, while Curtis Jones and Kostas Tsimikas are both out with illness.

Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk, Robertson, Fabinho, Thiago, Henderson, Salah, Mane, Diaz.

Bruno Guimaraes gambled on a move to Newcastle United despite interest from Juventus as he "couldn't wait" in a World Cup year, his agent says.

Midfielder Guimaraes is set to play for Brazil at Qatar 2022, having scored one goal and assisted three more in just 173 minutes across six qualifying matches.

The 24-year-old maintained that form despite requiring time to settle in England following a £35million (€42.1m) January move from Lyon.

Guimaraes was linked with Juventus and Arsenal among other top sides but instead joined Premier League strugglers Newcastle and had to wait until his sixth appearance for the club to be named in the starting XI.

It is a transfer that looks to have worked out for both Guimaraes and Newcastle, though, as he has subsequently scored four goals and assisted another to lead the Magpies into the top half of the table.

Since his first Premier League start, only three players – Cristiano Ronaldo (seven), Son Heung-min (six) and Gabriel Jesus (five) – have found the net on as many occasions.

Yet Guimaraes is just as comfortable engaging in the more combative side of the game, ranking second over that period for tackles (26), duels (123) and duels won (67).

Rival clubs may wonder how the breakout Selecao star ended up in a relegation battle, but agent Alexis Malavolta explained only Newcastle were willing to strike a deal in January.

In an interview with TuttoJuve.com, Malavolta said: "There was some contact with Juventus, I can confirm that.

"[But] January is a quick window to enter into negotiations, so we couldn't go too long. We had to wait halfway through the month to see some concrete movements.

"Newcastle arrived, and they were serious. Bruno couldn't wait another six months to decide his future in a World Cup year."

Malavolta added Juve were "already interested" in 2020, with Guimaraes part of the Lyon team to eliminate them from the Champions League, but the French club asked at the time for €70m.

Instead, Guimaraes is plotting his future with Newcastle, who spent 150 days in the relegation zone this season but are now up to ninth.

In 2022, only Liverpool have earned more points (38) than Eddie Howe's side (32), encouraging optimism for a potential European push next term.

"His goal was clear from the start: to help the team get out of the relegation zone and take them to the Champions League next season," Guimaraes' agent said.

"And why not try to win the Premier League?

"He has already made it clear in his interviews that he went to Newcastle to be a legend like Alan Shearer. He wants to leave his name in the history of the club.

Vinicius Junior says "there are no words" to describe Karim Benzema's form as he backed his Real Madrid team-mate to win this year's Ballon d'Or.

Benzema, on his 600th appearance for Madrid, scored twice in Tuesday's 4-3 loss to Manchester City in their Champions League semi-final first leg at the Etihad Stadium.

The France international's first was a difficult twisting finish to drag Madrid back in the game at 2-0 down and the second a calm Panenka penalty late on to leave the tie well poised.

He now has 41 goals in as many games for Los Blancos this season, a tally bettered only by Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (48 in 43) across Europe's top five leagues.

The 34-year-old is the fifth Madrid player to score over 40 goals in a single season, after Cristiano Ronaldo, Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo Di Stefano and Hugo Sanchez.

Benzema also leads the scoring charts in the Champions League this term with 14, one more than Lewandowski, whose Bayern side were eliminated by Villarreal at the quarter-final stage.

Having finished behind Lionel Messi, Lewandowski and Jorginho in last year's Ballon d'Or, Vinicius insists Benzema should land the 2022 award.

"There are no words that can describe how Benzema is playing," Vinicius said. "He deserves the Ballon d'Or.

"I hope my brother Benzema ends up winning LaLiga, the Champions League and Ballon d'Or."

Benzema scored a hat-trick in the second leg of the last-16 win over Paris Saint-Germain and another treble in the first leg of the quarter-final victory against Chelsea.

His nine goals in the knockout stages has been bettered only once in a single Champions League campaign – Ronaldo scoring 10 in the 2016-17 edition.

Vinicius is not alone in backing Benzema to win the Ballon d'Or, with former team-mate Mesut Ozil tweeting on Tuesday: "Give my boy Benzi the Ballon D'Or."

Ex-Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand agreed with that assessment, quoting the tweet and adding the word "Facts".

That post by Ferdinand was liked by Benzema, whose prospects of being crowned the world's best player could be bolstered by helping France to World Cup glory in December.

Rather than bask in his glorious form, however, the prolific striker accepts his side have a lot of work to do if they are to advance any further in this season's competition.

"A defeat is never good, but we are excited about this Champions League and the important thing is we never give up," he told Movistar+. 

"Now we have to go to the Bernabeu and we need the fans like never before to do something magical, which is to win.

"We entered the game without confidence, and that's what happens with an opponent like Manchester City. In this game a little bit of everything was missing."

Liverpool welcome Villarreal to Anfield on Wednesday and are heavy favourites in their Champions League semi-final tie.

Under Jurgen Klopp, the Reds have become one of the world's best teams. They have reached two Champions League finals, winning their sixth title in the competition in 2019, and followed that up with a maiden Premier League crown a year later. This season, their eyes are fixed firmly on an unprecedented quadruple – the EFL Cup is already theirs, they will face Chelsea in an FA Cup showdown next month and their race in the league with Manchester City is set to go to the wire.

Standing in Liverpool's way of a final against Manchester City or Real Madrid are, however, Unai Emery's Villarreal. While the Yellow Submarine will be considered underdogs, the reigning Europa League champions will be no pushovers.

Liverpool were frustrated for just over an hour by their relegation-threatened local rivals Everton in the Merseyside derby on Sunday, until Andy Robertson headed home and Divock Origi settled matters late on. They should be anticipating a similar test on Wednesday.

Yet whereas Everton are devoid of confidence or quality, Villarreal have both in abundance. They have already overcome European heavyweights in the form of Juventus and Bayern Munich, and will have home advantage in the second leg. They averaged just 35 per cent of possession across the two legs against the Bundesliga giants.

The last time these semi-finalists met was in the last four of the 2015-16 Europa League, and the two legs of this tie will come just a day under six years after each match in that previous fixture. Back in 2016, matters were rather different for Liverpool, who progressed 3-1 on aggregate, but went on to lose in the final to a Sevilla side coached by Emery.

It is fitting, then, that as Liverpool bid for European glory once more, a team that stood in the way of their first continental final under Klopp will try to prevent the Reds reaching a fourth with the German at the helm.

A remarkable turnaround

A quick glance at the team that started in the second leg of that 2016 tie, which Liverpool won 3-0 at Anfield, tells you the transformation that the Reds have gone through under Klopp has been dramatic.

Simon Mignolet started in goal, behind a back four of Nathaniel Clyne, the now-retired Kolo Toure, Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno (who might have been facing his former club for Villarreal if not for a serious knee injury sustained last month). Roberto Firmino and James Milner started, but they are the only two of that 18-strong squad that remain at Liverpool, and neither can be considered regular starters anymore.

Liverpool were convincing winners – racking up an xG of 3.8, producing 25 shots with 12 of those on target.

The team that take to the field on Wednesday will almost certainly feature a world-class goalkeeper in Alisson, one of Europe's best defenders in Virgil van Dijk, a Champions League-winning midfielder in Thiago Alcantara, two exceptional full-backs and, of course, a devilishly potent attacking trident, whichever three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Diogo Jota or Luis Diaz line up. Firmino is unavailable.

Salah has returned to goalscoring form in timely fashion, after a relative dry spell. Only in 2017-18 (10) has he scored more Champions League goals in a single campaign than the eight he has netted this season, moving his tally for the club to 33. He is now just three behind both Didier Drogba and Sergio Aguero for the most goals scored in the competition for an English side.

For Klopp to take that Liverpool team back in 2015-16 to two finals (they lost on penalties in the EFL Cup to Manchester City that year) was, looking back, an extraordinary achievement, especially considering he only took over in October.

Since then, they have gone from strength to strength. In the Premier League, Klopp has won 162 of his 253 games (64 per cent), with his team scoring a remarkable 544 goals, and the German has averaged 2.15 points per game. He is building a true dynasty.

Emery to have his say?

"Unai's a world-class coach and is doing an incredible job," said Klopp in his pre-match news conference on Tuesday. And he is right, Emery – perhaps unfairly maligned during his stints at Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain – has been brilliant for Villarreal.

He could well have left for cash-rich Newcastle United earlier this season but elected to stay put, and Villarreal are, at least in Europe, reaping the rewards. Their shoot-out success against Manchester United in last season's Europa League final represented Emery's fourth triumph in UEFA's second-tier tournament, and he also took Arsenal to the final in 2018-19, losing to Chelsea.

Villarreal are not flying quite as high in LaLiga, though surely that can be forgiven. They sit seventh, having won their last two games, and still have hope of qualifying for European competition through the league, too.

Emery has taken on Klopp five times as a coach, winning the first meeting – that Europa League final back in 2016.

Klopp claimed victory in two of the three Premier League encounters with the Spaniard's Arsenal, with those victories being 5-1 and 3-1 respectively. The other league match was drawn 1-1, while Liverpool also beat Arsenal on penalties in the 2019-20 EFL Cup after a wild 5-5 draw.

Emery can feel hard done by that he was not given more time at PSG. His win percentage of 76 was the best of any coach during the QSI era, putting him above the likes of Carlo Ancelotti (64) and Thomas Tuchel (75). He succeeded in 87 of his 114 matches in charge and claimed seven trophies. Only Laurent Blanc (11) has won more silverware at PSG since 2011, while Emery's team scored 2.7 goals per game, with just Tuchel managing to match that.

Yet Emery's ability to get a side competing way beyond their expected level is what he is renowned for. His run of three successive Europa League titles with Sevilla was extraordinary, and he seems to be in a similar position at Villarreal.

Having to rebuild his reputation slightly after his spell at Arsenal, Emery has won 51 of 104 matches in all competitions (49 per cent), with Villarreal scoring 188 goals and conceding 101, keeping 37 clean sheets.

Emery's win percentage has not been beaten by any other Villarreal coach to have taken charge of 100 matches, while in Gerard Moreno, who has directly contributed to 60 goals during Emery's tenure, the Spanish side have a brilliant striker to call on.

Liverpool have, in many ways, come full circle with this tie, but the Villarreal they will face on this occasion have improved just as much, in relative terms, as Klopp's team have. It is set to be a fascinating tussle.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola says anything less than a focused 90 minutes from his side will not see them through to the Champions League final following their 4-3 win over Real Madrid.

City got off to a fast start in Tuesday's semi-final first leg, with goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus putting them 2-0 up within 11 minutes.

There was a sense it could have been more but whenever Guardiola's side threatened to break the tie open, Madrid pulled a goal back.

With Casemiro likely to return for Madrid, Guardiola asserted City will have to be at their best to progress to May's final in Paris.

"Regardless of the result, if it was 2-0 or 3-0 we would still have to go to the Bernabeu and play well. If we play like we did in the second half, we won't be able to win," Guardiola said.

"If we play like we did at other periods, we will. We want to be there to put on a good show, this is what I want to tell my players to do – don't think of anything else.

"When I became a footballer and a manager, when you go to the Bernabeu you have to perform as yourself or there is no option to win. You have to come through these situations to win the Champions League."

City were similarly vulnerable in the quarter-final second leg, holding onto a one-goal lead in the tie against Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano.

They still could have put the game and arguably the tie against Los Blancos to bed. One instance where an enraged Guardiola berated Riyad Mahrez for not squaring to Phil Foden in the first half highlighted what was at stake and the fine margins at play.

The 51-year-old took some solace in the fact City managed to get into those positions, but conceded they need to realise those kinds of opportunities at the Bernabeu.

"We miss them but we create them," he said. "We were there all the time. No complaints about the result, the performance, anything. I am so proud of the way we perform in front of the world.

"We did everything to win and with courage – with the ball, without the ball.

"Football is football, the result is the result, but how we perform is exceptional. Nobody can say the performance was not good. We know we have to maybe raise the level to reach the final but this competition demands that. At the end maybe the chances we create we have to convert."

Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti all but confirmed Casemiro will play in his side's Champions League semi-final second leg against Manchester City.

The 30-year-old was sorely missed at the base of midfield for Los Blancos as they lost Tuesday's first leg 4-3, lacking both defensive solidity and flexible positioning off the ball in possession with Toni Kroos in his place.

The Brazilian was an unused substitute after missing their 3-1 win over Osasuna last Thursday, due to muscular problems. Meanwhile, David Alaba was also forced off at half-time, making way for Nacho in the centre of defence.

Ancelotti believes the midfield lynchpin will play in the return leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, though he is less certain on Alaba.

"Casemiro [will play], for sure," he said. "We will have to evaluate Alaba. He felt the discomfort of recent times and to avoid problems I have stopped him. I think they will both be ready for the second leg."

City were largely the better team on Tuesday and got off to a flying start with two goals within the opening 11 minutes.

Through a Karim Benzema brace and a particularly timely solo goal from Vinicius to make it 3-2, Real Madrid managed to stay in the tie and limit the damage.

According to Ancelotti, a place in May's final is still there for the taking but only if they do not throw it away first.

"It is difficult for us to see a game like today's in the second leg again," he said. "City have an advantage, we have to take it into account but knowing that it is not a great advantage. We are going to fight for another magical night.

"We started very badly, too soft. We have conceded two goals and from then on, we have shown in recent times, a great capacity for reaction.

"We were in the game until the end, we competed. We have to defend better and with the ball we did well, with many opportunities. For the second leg, we have to defend better it is too important."

Carlo Ancelotti appeared to feign ignorance when asked about reports that Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger is set to sign for Real Madrid. 

Thomas Tuchel revealed at the weekend that Rudiger had informed him of his desire to leave Stamford Bridge when his contract expires at the end of the season. 

The Germany international will reportedly finalise a deal to join Madrid this week. 

Asked about Rudiger by beIN SPORTS after Madrid's 4-3 Champions League semi-final defeat to Manchester City on Tuesday, Ancelotti replied with a smile: "Toni? Who is this? 

"He's a Chelsea player until... He's still a Chelsea player and I cannot say anything about this." 

Ancelotti highlighted Madrid's defending as a key factor in their loss to City. 

Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus found the back of the net inside 11 minutes at the Etihad Stadium – the earliest Madrid have conceded twice in a single Champions League game. 

Karim Benzema pulled one back on his 600th appearance for the club and Vinicius Junior found the back of the net after Phil Foden nodded in a cross from Fernandinho in the second half. 

Bernardo Silva restored City's two-goal cushion before Benzema gave Madrid a sliver of additional hope with an audacious Panenka following a handball in the box by Aymeric Laporte. 

"You cannot cover a position with four defenders, You have to help with a midfielder," said Ancelotti. 

"There were losses in individual duels, so we have to be more attentive. With the ball, we had opportunities. We suffered a bit without it, though. But we have to have confidence. 

"We came out of the first leg with a result that isn't good, because we've conceded four goals and not defended well. 

"We hurt City with the ball, but what we have to do is defend better. The result can change in the second leg. They're a very strong team – they showed it tonight – but we competed. Defending better is the key to reaching the final." 

Madrid will be crowned LaLiga champions if they get a point at Espanyol on Saturday, but Ancelotti has no intention of denying the players a chance to celebrate ahead of Wednesday's return game against City at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

"If we are able to win the league, of course we'll celebrate. And it will help us for Wednesday's game," he added. 

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