The second semi-final of the UEFA Champions League gets underway in Merseyside on Wednesday when Liverpool host Villarreal in the first leg.
Hosts Liverpool, who beat Benfica in the quarter-finals, are huge favorites for the opener. Manager Jurgen Klopp’s side are a -300 favourite, while Villarreal, who staged a shocking upset against Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals, are a +850 underdog at Liverpool (the draw moneyline is +425).
Liverpool are also huge favorites to reach the Champions League final in Paris. Starting the first leg, Liverpool have -550 to progress while Villarreal have +325 in the comeback.
This is the first time these teams have met in the Champions League. In their last head-to-head game – a Europa League semi-final in 2016 – the Reds advanced 3-1 on aggregate.
Liverpool attack update on Champions League success
Simply put, a large part of Liverpool’s success in this year’s Champions League campaign has been attributed to their attacking efforts.
The 2019 UCL winners have netted 19.5 expected goals in 10 games, the second-highest mark among the four semi-finalists. Also, only two teams have kept Liverpool under an expected goal, while just two other teams have kept it under 1.5 xG, per fbref.com.
Liverpool also top the four semi-finalists in terms of shots on goal per 90 minutes, chances created and goals per game.
At the same time, the defense caused problems for the opposing offensive, especially in the knockout rounds. In Liverpool’s four UCL games this calendar year, only one team has scored more than an expected goal. That happened in the second leg against Benfica, where the draw was practically over.
Klopp’s defensive line has also conceded the second fewest shots per 90 among the four semi-finalists and the second fewest expected goals of the four remaining sides.
Can Villarreal continue the dream run and pull off another surprise?
Don’t think for a second that Villarreal’s run was a stroke of luck.
In a round of 16 match against Juventus, the Yellow Submarine won 4–1 on aggregate and won the expected goalscoring match 3.4–1.6. In the recent upset against Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals, manager Unai Emery’s side won the tie 2-1 on aggregate despite losing the xG fight 2.6-2.0, per fbref.com.
However, Villarreal will need to clean up their defensive trends if they hope to knock out a heavily favored Liverpool. In 10 Champions League games, Villarreal have kept just one opponent under an expected goal and could see a negative setback in defense (one goal conceded at 3.7 expected) due to the last three such games.
At the same time, Villarreal’s attack has proven to be reasonably reliable lately. They have scored at least one expected goal in three of their last four and have only been kept below that benchmark in two UCL games this season.
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But this is also an attack that has managed just a single shot on target in three consecutive UCL games and has created just 1.75 great chances per game in the last four UCL games, down from 2.5 great chances per game in the first equals six.
Market analysis & best bet
The critical aspect of this handicap for me is that Villarreal talisman Gerard Moreno will not be available after picking up a hamstring injury at the weekend.
Expect the Yellow Sub to be sent into a defensive shell as they attempt to limit Liverpool’s attack and return to Spain either equal or by a (somewhat) manageable deficit. If you add Liverpool’s defensive numbers in the Champions League, I don’t think Villarreal are capable of scoring more than a single goal.
And as strong as Liverpool’s attack has played in the Champions League, I’d expect some tired legs here. This is the Reds’ fourth game in the last 11 days and their eighth game in April. Additionally, a negative attacking setback could be in the offing for Liverpool as they have scored six goals at 3.4 in their last two EPL games.
Finally, three of Villarreal’s four Champions League knockout games have scored fewer than three expected goals, while three of Liverpool’s four ‘meaningful’ UCL home games have fallen below the same bar.
Best bid: Under 3 goals in total (-135)
https://nypost.com/2022/04/26/liverpool-vs-villarreal-champions-league-odds-prediction/ Liverpool vs Villarreal Champions League Odds, Prediction