Jürgen Klopp paid tribute to Daniel Sturridge as Liverpool’s rejuvenated striker took the club to a first European final since 2007. Sturridge scored the second goal in Liverpool’s convincing 3-0 win over Villarreal and was closely involved in the other two, but it was not only his finishing that caught the eye. The England striker put in a superb all-round performance after being kept out of the team in recent weeks, and either by accident or design Klopp appears to have worked out how to bring the best from him.
“Daniel had a great game. When he is fit he is an unbelievable player,” the Liverpool manager said. “He was outstanding for us but even he needs the other players alongside him to play well too. That is what happened tonight, the performance exceeded all my expectations. I have no words to describe it, particularly the power we showed in the first half. It was nice to watch, great to be a part of a night like that.
“At half time I told the players to keep going with the emotional football but maybe use their brains a bit more. I wanted my players to be both emotional and smart, if that makes any sense, and they were.”
Liverpool had other excellent performers in James Milner and Roberto Firmino, though it was the manager’s name the supporters were chanting at the end. “Maybe when I am 50 I will get to like that,” Klopp said. “Until then the fans do not have to sing my name. I am just part of the team, we are all parts of the same team. It was a brilliant display from my boys.”
The Villarreal coach, Marcelino, accepted Liverpool had been the better side and deserved to go through, though he felt their intensity and physicality at times bordered on the illegal. “They pressed us so much it was hard for us to impose ourselves,” he said. “The biggest difference between the two teams was Liverpool’s intensity. They played with such a high tempo, and on the edge of the rules at times, but it was allowed. But they were better than us, I admit. Liverpool are a great side and we have been unlucky enough to catch them in their best moment of the season. There’s not a lot more you can say.”
Sturridge, whose contribution surely answered any lingering questions Roy Hodgson might have had about taking him to France this summer, said he was thrilled to reach a final. “We had to work our socks off and that’s what we did,” he said. “Tonight was about soaking up the atmosphere and putting in a performance. It’s a great feeling to get through to a final like that.”
Adam Lallana, scorer of the third goal to set up a meeting with Sevilla in Basel later this month, said if Liverpool could reproduce that level of performance they need not fear anyone. “We always knew Villarreal could have got the away goal and made things difficult but credit to the lads, they showed great guts,” Lallana said. “It was a brilliant performance, we are reaping the rewards now for hard work earlier in the season. It’s great to be in a final and we fancy ourselves against anyone if we play like that and press like that.”