Liverpool attacker Mohamed Salah has affirmed that he wants to meet Real Madrid in the Champions League final after the Reds booked their spot in Paris against Villarreal.
The Reds travelled to Spain with a 2-0 lead in tow from the first leg, but Unai Emery‘s side levelled the tie early on through Boulaye Dia and Francis Coquelin at La Ceramica.
Liverpool were unusually disjointed and sloppy in the opening exchanges, but Jurgen Klopp‘s half-time team talk and Luis Diaz‘s introduction turned the second leg around.
Diaz was on the scoresheet alongside Fabinho and Sadio Mane in the second leg to steer Liverpool to a 3-2 win, which saw them progress to their 10th Champions League final 5-2 on aggregate.
Salah has already stepped foot onto the turf for two Champions League finals for Liverpool, but his 2018 meeting with Real Madrid saw him leave the field in tears after picking up an injury in a challenge from Sergio Ramos.
Liverpool went on to lose the final 3-1 before beating Tottenham Hotspur in the showpiece event one year later, and Salah is out for revenge against Los Blancos four years on from that painful evening in Kyiv.
“I want Madrid in the final. They beat us in a final already so let’s play them again,” Salah told BT Sport after Tuesday’s thrilling comeback victory.
“It was tough in the first half, but at half time the gaffer spoke to us. He was talking and shouting! We spoke to each other. We are a top team so we knew we could strike back. It makes the win more exciting.
“After we won every single group game, that is when I thought ‘we are going to win the Champions League.’ You need to focus on your work, you need to set a goal in your mind and go from there.”
Liverpool gave the ball away numerous times in the opening 45 minutes against a Villarreal side who showed much more purpose than in the first leg, and Trent Alexander-Arnold also admitted that the Reds never got going in the first half.
“We never played football that first half and didn’t pick up any second balls. They played the game they wanted to and we allowed them to do that. Second half we came our and controlled the goal better. One bad half over two legs, we can concede that to get the job done,” Alexander-Arnold told the broadcaster.
“We never seem to make these Champions League semi-finals easy for ourselves. Difficult, really difficult. We came here and they played very well first-half. We regrouped at half-time and got the game by the scruff of the neck. We did what we needed to do.
“It is always nice to get the job done on Tuesday, We can watch the game tomorrow knowing we will be there. Either opponent deserves to get to the final.”
Klopp’s decision to swap Diogo Jota out for Diaz sparked new life into the Liverpool side, but the Reds boss affirmed that the former was not the “problem” for his side in a tepid first half.
“A massive impact [from Diaz] but I don’t like this because the next story is Diogo Jota was the problem. Not true. We had 11 problems in the first half but we needed fresh legs. We were not ourselves,” Klopp told the press.
“It is outstanding. We made it pretty tricky for ourselves but it is about how you react and adapt. Respect to Villarreal. They made it really difficult. Unai is doing an incredible job. It feels so special to us.
“I will watch it tomorrow. Whoever wins, it will be massive. They will deserve it and we will face each other in Paris!”
Liverpool’s 10th Champions League final will see them meet either Real Madrid or Manchester City, with Los Blancos down 4-3 heading into Wednesday’s second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The quadruple dream is also still alive for the Reds, who are now the first and only English side to reach the final of the EFL Cup, FA Cup and European Cup in a single campaign.