Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp labelled Villarreal counterpart Unai Emery “king of the cup competitions” after the Reds set up a Champions League semi-final tie with the Spanish side.
Klopp’s team played out a thrilling 3-3 draw at home to Benfica to seal a 6-4 aggregate victory in their quarter-final tie on Wednesday, reaching the competition’s final four for a joint-record 12th time amongst English clubs (level with Manchester United).
They will meet Villarreal in next round after Emery’s men sealed an incredible 2-1 aggregate victory over Bayern Munich one day earlier, setting up their first Champions League semi-final appearance since the 2005-06 season after Samuel Chukwueze’s late equaliser in Bavaria.
Speaking to DAZN in Germany after watching his much-changed side progress at Anfield, Klopp was wary of the threat posed by Villarreal in the next round, calling Emery the “king” of the cups and noting they deserved their spot in the last four after eliminating two top-class opponents.
“I think Villarreal definitely deserved to go through both rounds,” he said. “Whoever kicks out Bayern and Juventus [a 4-1 aggregate win in the last-16] deserves to be in the semi-finals.
“I know that Unai Emery is a bit of the king of cup competitions. It’s incredible what he pulls off.
“They’ll have a clear plan. And by the time we meet, we’ll have one too.”
2 – @VillarrealCFen have reached the @ChampionsLeague semifinals for the second time, after the 2005/06 campaign when they lost against Arsenal (1-0 in London and 0-0 in Vila-real). Dream. pic.twitter.com/Mv2g630S2W
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 12, 2022
Emery has earned a reputation as a cup specialist throughout his career, winning four Europa League titles with Sevilla (three) and Villarreal (one), as well as lifting seven trophies during his time with Paris Saint-Germain.
The former Arsenal boss will compete in the Champions League semi-finals for the first time later this month, advancing to this stage in his seventh season in the competition.
Klopp, meanwhile, has reached the final four for the fourth time in his career, three of which have come with the Reds (the other with Borussia Dortmund). Only Sir Alex Ferguson has reached this stage more times (seven) as the manager of an English club.
Meanwhile, Liverpool’s two meetings with Villarreal will take place either side of a Premier League trip to Newcastle on April 30, and Klopp made clear his frustration at having to face an early kick-off on Tyneside between the two legs.
“I’ve just spoken to BT Sport [who will televise the Newcastle game] and pointed out to them again that this is a c**p kick-off time,” Klopp added.
“We want to play all the games that are coming up, no problem at all. But it doesn’t have to be that they let us play 12:30 on Saturdays and then see how it goes, for no reason. I will never understand that.”
The 54-year-old did, however, acknowledge that Liverpool’s congested fixture list was the result of an exceptional season to date, and was something to be embraced.
“It’s the best end-of-season run you can have,” he added. “Because we only play so many times because we get so far in the different competitions.”
Liverpool remain in the hunt for a historic quadruple after overcoming Benfica, and face Premier League title rivals Manchester City for a place in the FA Cup final on Saturday.