By Spain correspondent Miguel de Souza
Santi Cazorla has predicted Villarreal have a “great chance” of overcoming Liverpool in their Europa League semi-final clash but will “suffer” in the second leg at Anfield.
Arsenal star Cazorla believes the two sides will be evenly across the two matches to be played on consecutive Thursdays.
The first leg of the semi-final takes place in Spain on Thursday and the second at Anfield a week later, with Cazorla’s former side hoping to reach their first ever European final.
The Yellow Submarines reached the final four of the 2004 UEFA Cup, the 2006 Champions League and the 2011 Europa League, but have never progressed any further.
Cazorla believes his former side can beat Liverpool if they play to their potential, with the Spanish midfielder planning to attend the second leg at Anfield next week.
“There won’t be a lot in it, but I think if Villarreal are at their level, they’ll be in with a good chance,” Cazorla told Spanish publication AS. “Every team suffers at Anfield and I am sure that Villarreal are going to suffer there; the key to this tie is Thursday’s game at El Madrigal.
“Liverpool have a very clear philosophy; they are very intense in the final third, they press a lot when their rivals are trying to take the ball from their half, but if Villarreal can ride out that pressure and manage to circulate the ball, they’ll have half the battle won.”
He added that Philippe Coutinho is Liverpool’s “best player” and added to AS: “He makes the difference for them. A lot of their play goes through him.”
Liverpool are without four first-choice players – Mamadou Sakho and injured trio Divock Origi, Jordan Henderson and Emre Can – as they attempt to reach their first European final since 2007.
The Europa League final takes place in Basle on 18 May.
In other Liverpool transfer news, the club hope to agree a striker deal within 48 hours.