Liverpool must show their season is not over after disappointing Europa exit – European hits and misses | Football News

Light at the end of the Liverpool tunnel?

Mohamed Salah scored from the penalty spot
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Mohamed Salah scored from the penalty spot in a 1-0 win, which wasn’t enough to send Liverpool through

European success would have been high on Jurgen Klopp’s wish list in his endmost season. A bitter pill to swallow after guiding Liverpool to four finals across a nine-year reign. It’s been a punishing few weeks.

Few positives can be immediately gleaned from a night where Klopp was forced to unceremoniously part ways with European competition for good, but there was enough to point towards there being life in Liverpool yet.

Europe is over but the Premier League is alive, despite the Reds handing agency to Manchester City in recent weeks. The argument has been that too many of Liverpool’s big-hitters have been underperforming, causing a dip at the exact time in the season where dips are punishable.

Perhaps, then, narrowing the focus might turn out to be a good thing. Trent Alexander-Arnold returned triumphantly to the starting XI, and was the most proficient player on the park, while Mo Salah showed glimpses of his brilliance with a well-taken penalty and some nice interchange with Luis Diaz.

Klopp’s European adventures may have met an untimely end but reward can still be had, starting with a trip to Fulham, live on Sky Sports, on Sunday. Potential for light at the end of a difficult tunnel.
Laura Hunter

Another famous night for Emery in Europe

Aston Villa's Matty Cash, right, celebrates with his teammate Aston Villa's Ezri Konsa after scoring against Lille during the Europa Conference League quarter final second leg soccer match between Lille and Aston Villa at the Pierre Mauroy stadium in Villeneuve d'Ascq, northern France, Thursday, April 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
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Aston Villa beat Lille on penalties after Matty Cash scored a late goal to level to Europa Conference League quarter-final tie

Lille extended their imperious home record, but depart vanquished by Villa. Against the odds, Unai Emery’s side book their place in the Europa Conference League semi-finals.

Make no mistake, this was a sub-par performance from the tournament favourites at the Stade Pierre Mauroy. The team that sucker punched Premier League title-chasing Arsenal on Sunday looked to have left their guile in north London.

They were not deserving of victory, though, as they were outplayed for the majority of the second leg in France, but as has been the case time and again, Emi Martínez provided the heroics in the shoot-out.

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Lee Hendrie was left bemused as Emi Martinez was shown a second yellow card during Aston Villa’s penalty shootout with Lille but was not sent off. The Argentine then secured Villa’s progression by saving the hosts’ final penalty

It was heartbreak for Lille who were magnificent, but it was Villa’s night. Emery knows there is still a long way to go in this tournament, but a first European semi-final since the 1981/82 season awaits – and we all know how that ended.

Ezri Konsa was magnificent up against Lille dangerman Jonathan David while the substitutes Leon Bailey and Jhon Duran had a big impact off the bench. Emery will be concerned at the manner of how his side defended set-pieces all evening, but all that can wait for another day.

The Spaniard, so prolific in the Europa League with Sevilla and Villarreal, has now won the last eight quarter-finals he has managed. Emery will surely now be eyeing another European trophy.
Ben Grounds and Charlotte Marsh

Hammers’ disappointment shows scale of Moyes’ achievements

England are unlikely to claim a fifth Champions League spot
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West Ham were knocked out of the Europa League, but have made progress under David Moyes

The palpable sense of hurt around the London Stadium once West Ham’s heroic exit to Bayer Leverkusen was confirmed perhaps needed a sharp reminder of just how much has changed in east London over the past four years.

The depths of Covid in July 2020 feel a long time ago. West Ham’s struggles to stay in the Premier League that same summer, after they had returned cap-in-hand to sheepishly ask David Moyes if he would come back for a second spell, seem much further away.

The scale of what he has achieved since makes that time feel barely recognisable. Moyes has his detractors around the club, some more reasonable than others. But his harshest critic would be wrong to deny how he has transformed this club.

It should be obvious from the silverware lifted less than 12 months ago in Prague. But perhaps more so through the manner of the defeat to Leverkusen.

Moyes was within two minutes of becoming the first manager to beat Xabi Alonso’s side in almost 11 months. After 43 failed attempts from other opponents.

He looked emotionally broken in his press conference after the game, but still had enough to rightly claim: “If we were going to go out of Europe, I wanted to go out like that.”

Moyes has made West Ham feel like they belong here. The London Stadium was packed out, of course, but there was no sense that overturning a 2-0 first-leg deficit was not possible ahead of kick-off on one of the stadium’s loudest, most raucous nights.

Outside the club of course, few gave the Hammers a chance. But Moyes’ players believed too. Both managers agreed the tie could have been level before Leverkusen finally regained their composure after half-time.

There is no cowering against the perceived might of one of Europe’s most fancied teams. Just as there hasn’t been on any of these famous campaigns on the continent.

This could be Moyes’ European swansong, with his contract still not renewed beyond this summer and qualification for next season potentially out of reach.

But if it is, then his words will surely ring true again. “I wanted to go out like that.”
Ron Walker

Frimpong settles fearless Leverkusen

Leverkusen have now scored in 21 consecutive away matches across all competitions, last drawing a blank in a 0-3 defeat to VfL Bochum in May 2023
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Leverkusen have now scored in 21 consecutive away matches across all competitions, last drawing a blank in a 0-3 defeat to VfL Bochum in May 2023

Xabi Alonso took the Bayer Leverkusen job when they were second from bottom in the Bundesliga in October 2022.

Now, having won the Bundesliga for the first time in their history, he stands on the brink of more silverware. The treble is still on.

“For me, it was a typical English crowd,” his midfielder Granit Xhaka said after they were pushed all the way by West Ham.

“They had 60,000 on their back and if we’re honest, we were lucky. Our amazing goalkeeper saved us two or three times. We showed a different face in the second half.”

West Ham players will be feeling deflated as that opening period really got supporters believing the comeback was on.

But this was a performance of such character and endeavour. They cannot have given any more, especially in the absence of their passing metronome Lucas Paqueta.

When the dust settles, they’ll be filled with pride from the way they pushed one of the best sides in the world right now. Leverkusen excelled in the second half, epitomised by the impact of Frimpong, when their unbeaten run was on the line.

His late equaliser extended that record to 44 in all competitions while it was the ninth goal a Leverkusen substitute has scored in the Europa League this season – the most of any club this term. No wonder his manager embraced him at the final whistle.

Once more, they found a late goal – and they will now relish going toe-to-toe with Roma.
Ben Grounds

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