Liverpool forward Sadio Mane is Karim Benzema's biggest challenger for this year's Ballon d'Or, according to Arsenal and France legend Thierry Henry.

Benzema is enjoying the best season of his career in front of goal and has played a crucial role in Madrid's run to the Champions League final, where Liverpool await on May 28.

The 34-year-old has scored 43 times and provided a further 14 assists in all competitions, with no other player across Europe's top five leagues directly involved in more goals (57).

Robert Lewandowski and Kylian Mbappe are next on that list with 54 combined goals and assists each, while Mane lags some way behind on 23 for Liverpool – albeit having missed part of the season during the Africa Cup of Nations, which he won with Senegal.

Lewandowski, Mbappe and Anfield team-mate Mohamed Salah have been tipped to rival Benzema for football's top individual award, but Henry believes Mane is better placed. 

"To make the final even bigger, the two favourites for the Ballon d'Or are Mane and Benzema," Henry told CBS Sports. "That will add an extra little spice into it."

Mane played a direct part in five goals for Senegal at AFCON, aiding his cause to be crowned the world's best player.

However, if the former Southampton forward is to have any chance of pipping Benzema to the accolade, Henry says he must win a clean sweep of trophies with Liverpool.

The Reds have already lifted the EFL Cup and are into the FA Cup and Champions League finals, but they trail Manchester City by a point with four Premier League games left.

"I still believe that Benzema is ahead, but if Mane wins [the Champions League] with Liverpool and they do make the quadruple, that is a pretty strong case," Henry said.

"It would be great for Africa, but I'm still going for Benzema."

Benzema finished fourth in the voting for last year's Ballon d'Or, which was won by Lionel Messi for a record-extending seventh time.

Indeed, only one player other than Messi and five-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo has won the award since 2008, with Madrid and Croatia midfielder Luka Modric triumphing in 2018.

Allan Saint-Maximin has claimed he is as talented as Liverpool superstar Sadio Mane.

The Newcastle United winger has established himself as one of the most exciting players in the Premier League in the past three seasons.

But Saint-Maximin is more renowned for his dribbling skills and trickery than consistent end product in the final third.

In 2021-22, the 25-year-old has attempted (238) and completed (139) the most dribbles in the league.

However, Saint-Maximin has just five goals and four assists. He has not netted since a 1-1 draw with Watford in January, while his only assist in this calendar year came from a misplaced pass to Sean Longstaff that ran for Joelinton to score at Norwich City.

By contrast, Mane ranks 26th this season for dribble attempts (81, with 44 successful) but has scored 14 times, adding two assists.

Yet Saint-Maximin told So Foot: "Those who have played with me know very well that, in terms of pure quality, I have no reason to envy Sadio Mane."

The former France youth international appears to believe his Newcastle team-mates are the problem.

Callum Wilson remains the Magpies' top scorer with six goals despite being out injured since December, just this week returning to full training. Only Wolves (Raul Jimenez, also six) have had their leading marksman tally so few.

Chris Wood has netted twice since a £25million move in January, with Newcastle widely expected to invest heavily up front in the transfer window, having been linked with Darwin Nunez and Patrik Schick.

Saint-Maximin has created 45 chances from open play this term, the eighth-most in the league and most outside the top six.

"The day when I have a player capable of finishing the actions, I will make seasons with 10 to 15 assists," he said. "I will change dimension in people's heads."

It is perhaps unsurprising Saint-Maximin has such lofty ambitions, given he cites Greek philosophers as his inspirations – along with NBA legend Michael Jordan.

"Doing things that make an impression, changing the rules, that's the goal," he said. "Like what Michael Jordan managed to do.

"Jordan, he changed some people's lives, he gave people work, and that's the beauty of it."

The Seattle Sounders are already looking ahead to taking on either Liverpool or Real Madrid after achieving "immortality" by winning the CONCACAF Champions League.

The Sounders beat Pumas UNAM 3-0 at Lumen Field on Wednesday to complete a 5-2 aggregate triumph and finally deliver a first Champions League title for MLS.

Seattle are the league's third CONCACAF champions but first in the Champions League era after a series of heartbreaks for rival clubs.

Two goals from Raul Ruidiaz and a late clincher from captain Nicolas Lodeiro sparked scenes of mass celebration in front of a raucous, record crowd of over 68,741.

Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders' general manager, gave Extratime his assessment: "Immortality. You get into sports for stuff people can never take away.

"This will be written down, it will be there forever. Hopefully it's the first of many."

Real Salt Lake, CF Montreal, Toronto FC and Los Angeles FC had each previously fallen at this final hurdle.

Now, for MLS, Lagerwey says, Seattle are "the symbol, we're the tip of the spear, we pushed through, we finally did it, we vanquished the demons".

"But everybody's welcome," he added. "We want a crowded mountaintop up here. We don't want to be up here by ourselves."

Playing just hours after Madrid had completed an epic semi-final fightback against Manchester City in UEFA's Champions League, Lagerwey could not help consider a Club World Cup clash with a European giant.

"We're going to play against Real Madrid or Liverpool in a real game for a trophy," he said, with Seattle's place in the tournament secure. "I feel like a little kid. This is the stuff you dream of."

The Sounders had already won two MLS Cups, a Supporters' Shield and four U.S. Open Cups, but this victory takes the club to another level entirely.

"I think we're going to become a global club now," the GM added.

"I've got to think my phone's got to start ringing once some people see what our fanbase, our building... it's as good a soccer environment as anywhere in the world. It just is. This is a pretty special place."

Sensational comebacks are increasingly a staple of the modern Champions League, and this season they have belonged almost exclusively to Real Madrid.

Los Blancos trailed Manchester City 1-0 heading into the 90th minute at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday, with Pep Guardiola's team leading 5-3 on aggregate.

Yet two goals in the space of 91 seconds from Rodrygo forced extra-time, and Carlo Ancelotti's team set up a meeting with Liverpool in Paris when Karim Benzema converted a penalty to claim a 3-1 win (6-5 on aggregate).

It was the third stunning turnaround Madrid have enjoyed in the knockout stages this campaign, following Benzema's hat-trick against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 and Rodrygo's goal against Chelsea to secure an aggregate win in the quarters last month.

Here's a few other incredible comebacks to jog your memory.

Real Madrid 3-1 PSG (3-2 agg), 2022

Madrid have done it the hard way this season, as they target a 14th European title. 

Not many fancied them to get through against PSG, especially when Kylian Mbappe, who had scored a stunning goal in the first leg in Paris in February, put Mauricio Pochettino's team ahead at the Santiago Bernabeu with a crisp finish.

Yet Gianluigi Donnarumma's slack play enabled Benzema to pounce and pull one back, with the striker then scoring twice in two minutes to turn the tie on its head and set Madrid en route to the final.

Barcelona 6-1 PSG (6-5 agg), 2017

Barcelona remain the perpetrators of the most remarkable of all Champions League comebacks, at least in terms of deficit overhauled.

Trailing 4-0 from the first leg of their last-16 tie with PSG, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi scored either side of a Layvin Kurzawa own goal, only for Edinson Cavani to grab what was expected to be the decisive strike for the visitors.

However, two quick Neymar goals – the second a highly controversial penalty after an apparent Suarez dive – levelled the tie at 5-5.

Then, in the fifth minute of stoppage time, Sergi Roberto struck to create a slice of Champions League history – no side had ever turned around a four-goal first-leg deficit before.

Roma 3-0 Barcelona (4-4 agg, Roma won on away goals), 2018

The boot was on the other foot when Barcelona were dethroned in the Italian capital last year as Roma completed one of the most unlikely turnarounds in quarter-final history.

Eusebio Di Francesco's side came back from a 4-1 first-leg deficit to progress to the last eight on away goals after a thrilling 3-0 win in front of their home fans.

Edin Dzeko, Daniele De Rossi and Kostas Manolas secured the 4-4 aggregate draw and sent the Stadio Olimpico into raptures, as Barca completely fell to pieces.

Liverpool 4 Barcelona 0 (4-3 agg), 2019

Fresh from netting a late winner at Newcastle United the weekend before, Divock Origi allowed the Liverpool faithful to dream by poaching his maiden Champions League goal in the seventh minute.

Jurgen Klopp needed Alisson to be on form as he saved from Messi and Suarez, before another unlikely hero emerged.

Andrew Robertson's injury forced James Milner to left-back and Georginio Wijnaldum into the fray at half-time. By the hour, the Dutch midfielder had Liverpool level thanks to two goals in 122 delirious seconds.

Origi had the final word thanks to Trent Alexander-Arnold's quick thinking from a 79th-minute corner, leaving Barcelona and Messi crestfallen once more. The Reds went on to beat Tottenham in an all-English final.

Real Madrid 1-4 Ajax (5-3 agg), 2019

Despite their impressive display in their 2-1 first-leg defeat, nobody really seemed to think Ajax could turn things around at the Santiago Bernabeu. Sergio Ramos certainly did not – he earned a booking to avoid the risk of a quarter-final ban, earning an extra-game suspension from UEFA in the process.

In the absence of their captain, Madrid completely capitulated amid a fearless and thrilling Ajax – the type of which Liverpool might yet be faced with in the final.

Hakim Ziyech and David Neres put the visitors 2-0 up after only 18 minutes and it was 3-0 just after the hour mark thanks to the inspired Dusan Tadic.

Marco Asensio got a goal back, but Lasse Schone's free-kick beat Thibaut Courtois and sent Madrid crashing out. It was the first time they had ever been knocked out after winning the first leg of a Champions League tie.

PSG 1-3 Manchester United (3-3 agg, United won on away goals), 2019

It really had been quite the season for upsets in Europe's premier competition. A day on from Ajax's thrashing of Madrid, United made history at Parc des Princes.

No side had ever won a knockout tie after trailing 2-0 from a first leg at home, and with 10 senior players missing, including the banned Paul Pogba, United's chances looked slim.

Romelu Lukaku scored just two minutes in, though, and despite Juan Bernat's equaliser on the night, Lukaku struck again after a Gianluigi Buffon error to make it 2-1.

As the game crept towards second-half injury time, Diogo Dalot's shot struck Presnel Kimpembe's arm and the referee awarded a penalty after a lengthy VAR review. Marcus Rashford scored it, United progressed, and the clamour for Solskjaer to be given the permanent manager's job grew louder.

Deportivo La Coruna 4-0 AC Milan (5-4 agg), 2004

Deportivo were among Spain's major forces just after the turn of the century and one of their finest moments in Europe came in April 2004 when, despite being 4-1 down from the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final with AC Milan, they stunned the Italians at home.

Walter Pandiani, Juan Carlos Valeron and Albert Luque had Depor ahead on away goals before half-time, with Fran Gonzalez – who played for them in the second division in the late 80s and is still their record appearance holder – fittingly scored the fourth to make sure of their passage.

Depor were eliminated by eventual winners Porto in the semi-finals, but this comeback stood as arguably the very best in Champions League history until Barca went one better.

Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan (AET, 3-2 on pens), 2005

That famous night in Istanbul. Liverpool found themselves on the end of a hiding at half-time in the 2005 Champions League final, as Paolo Maldini and a Hernan Crespo brace had the Serie A side 3-0 up.

But the second half proved to be one of the most iconic 45 minutes in Liverpool's history, with goals from Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso levelling the match up by the hour mark.

Milan then failed to hold their nerve in the penalty shootout, as Jerzy Dudek's leggy antics in the Liverpool goal helped the Pole outsmart both Andrea Pirlo and Andriy Shevchenko after Serginho blazed the first kick over, resulting in the Premier League side lifting their fifth European title.

Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich, 1999

Possibly the two most dramatic minutes in the history of European club football.

United were trailing 1-0 to Bayern Munich in the 1999 final at Camp Nou, with Mario Basler's skidding free-kick into the bottom-right corner looking set to be enough for the Bavarian giants to end a 23-year wait for glory in the continent's top-tier competition.

However, the United of Alex Ferguson's era could never be discounted until the final whistle, and substitute Teddy Sheringham swept Ryan Giggs' shot into the bottom corner to bring the scores level in the 91st minute.

Solskjaer, another late substitute and now the man in the United dug-out, avoided the need for extra time by stabbing Sheringham's header from a David Beckham corner into the roof of the net as United completed an historic treble in astonishing fashion.

Barcelona 5-1 Chelsea (AET, 6-4 agg), 2000

A 3-1 first-leg loss at Stamford Bridge – having trailed 3-0 – had Barca in danger of being on the wrong end of a major 1999-00 Champions League upset prior to the Roman Abramovich era, but in the return match the Catalans showed their true class.

Tore Andre Flo's 60th-minute goal was sending Chelsea through despite Rivaldo and Luis Figo scoring before the break, but Dani Garcia scored seven minutes from the end of regulation to force extra time.

Rivaldo then converted a penalty after Celestine Babayaro was sent off and Patrick Kluivert wrapped things up, crushing Chelsea's dreams.

Mohamed Salah and Liverpool will get another shot at revenge against Real Madrid, who progressed past Manchester City to secure a place in the Champions League final on Wednesday.

Liverpool saw their way past Villarreal on Tuesday, coming back to win the second leg 3-2 to win 5-2 on aggregate.

Immediately following Real Madrid's dramatic win over City, Salah took to Twitter to state his feelings. 

The 29-year-old famously went off injured early as Real Madrid defeated Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final in Kyiv.

He scored as Liverpool also lost 3-1 on aggregate in the 2020/21 quarter-final stage.

Carlo Ancelotti believes Real Madrid's history helped inspire their sensational Champions League semi-final comeback against Manchester City on Wednesday.

Los Blancos recovered from the brink of defeat to snatch a dramatic 3-1 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu and book their place in the final in Paris, where they will play Liverpool on May 28.

Ancelotti's side fell 5-3 behind on aggregate when Riyad Mahrez stuck for City in the 73rd minute, but Rodrygo struck twice in the space of 91 seconds to force extra-time.

And the hosts turned the tie on its head when Karim Benzema's penalty set up a showdown with Liverpool and a repeat of the 2018 final, which Madrid won 3-1 in Kyiv thanks to a stunning Gareth Bale cameo.

It was the third successive round in which the 13-time champions came from behind, having done the same against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea in the last 16 and quarter-finals respectively.

Ancelotti is set to become the first manager to oversee five Champions League finals, and the Italian was full of praise for the determination demonstrated by his players.

"I cannot say we are used to living this kind of life," he told reporters. "But what happened tonight, it happened against Chelsea and also against PSG. 

"If you have to say why, it is the history of this club that helps us to keep going when it seems that we are gone. It gives you the strength to follow, to continue, to believe.

"The match was very competitive, but the team has not lowered its arms. Much of the merit is of the players, and of the fans who push inside and outside the stadium - in the previous days as well.

"The game was close to finished, and we managed to find the last energy we had. We played a good game against a strong rival. When we are able to equalise, we had a psychological advantage in extra-time. 

"It was difficult as City had control of the game but at the last opportunity, we were able to go to extra-time."

Ancelotti joined Madrid at the end of last season for a second spell in charge, having led Los Blancos to 'La Decima' during his first stint.

He became the first coach to win all of Europe's big five leagues when Madrid wrapped up a 35th LaLiga title on Saturday, and now can look forward to a reunion with Liverpool, who this time last year would have been considered his biggest rivals while the 62-year-old was in charge of Everton.

Ancelotti led Everton to their first win in a Merseyside at Anfield since 1999 in February 2021, and he is relishing going up against Jurgen Klopp's team once more.

"The feeling is that I am very happy, to participate in another final against a great team, I played against them as a player and as a coach," said Ancelotti, who beat Liverpool in the 2007 final with Milan, but famously lost on penalties to the Reds two years earlier in Istanbul.

"I lived there [in Liverpool] for two years. For me, it's like a derby, I still support Everton."

Carlo Ancelotti will be the first coach to oversee a team in five Champions League finals after Real Madrid's remarkable comeback against Manchester City.

Ancelotti, who returned to Madrid for a second spell in charge at the end of last season, became the first coach to win all of Europe's top five leagues when Los Blancos wrapped up their 35th LaLiga title on Saturday.

But it appeared a shot at a double would be evading Madrid when Riyad Mahrez struck in the 73rd minute at the Santiago Bernabeu to put City 1-0 up on Wednesday and 5-3 up in the tie.

However, two goals in the space of 91 seconds from Rodrygo restored parity on aggregate to force extra-time and then up stepped Karim Benzema to score from the penalty spot and complete one of the most outrageous comebacks in the competition's history.

Indeed, Madrid were responsible for another one of those in the last 16, against Paris Saint-Germain, and they also fought back from the brink against Chelsea. Liverpool are up next.

That meeting with the Reds in Paris will be Ancelotti's history-making fifth Champions League final.

Stats Perform looks at how the other four played out.

2003 - Juventus 0-0 Milan (AET, 2-3 on penalties)

Ancelotti first reached the final of UEFA's elite club competition as a manager 19 years ago, when his Milan team took on fellow Italian giants Juventus at Old Trafford. An infamously dull affair, it ended as a goalless draw after 120 minutes, resulting in a penalty shoot-out. Andriy Shevchenko scored the winning spot-kick.

2005 - Milan 3-3 Liverpool (AET, 2-3 on penalties)

Milan and Ancelotti reached the final again two years later, and it proved a famous night in Istanbul. Milan led through Paolo Maldini and Hernan Crespo's brace, but Liverpool astonishingly hit back in the second half and then went on to triumph 3-2 in the shoot-out, with Jerzy Dudek – who made an outstanding stop in extra-time – the Reds' hero.

2007 - Milan 2-1 Liverpool 

The Rossoneri were back and out for revenge in 2007, and they got it in Athens. Filippo Inzaghi put Milan 2-0 up, with Durk Kuyt's late effort not enough to inspire another comeback.

2014 - Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid (AET)

Perhaps Ancelotti's most famous Champions League triumph to date came in 2014 when, in his first spell at Madrid, he led the club to 'La Decima'. They were trailing 1-0 to rivals Atletico Madrid until the 93rd minute, when Sergio Ramos struck. Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo wrapped up a runaway victory in extra-time.

The Football Association (FA) has charged Frank Lampard with improper conduct after the Everton manager vented his frustrations at not being awarded a penalty against Liverpool.

Everton, who beat Chelsea on Sunday to go back to within two points of safety with five games remaining in their Premier League campaign, lost 2-0 to their quadruple-chasing Merseyside rivals at Anfield on April 24.

Andrew Robertson and Divock Origi punctured Everton's resolve but the Toffees were infuriated when referee Stuart Attwell failed to give a penalty after Joel Matip bundled into Anthony Gordon early in the second half when the game was goalless. 

Lampard told a post-match news conference: "If that was [Mohamed] Salah at the other end, he gets a penalty. You don't get them here. That's the reality of football sometimes." 

The FA asked Lampard for an explanation of his comments last week, which the Chelsea great said he responded to, and the governing body has now issued a charge.

A statement issued via the FA Spokesperson Twitter account read: "Frank Lampard has been charged with a breach of FA Rule E3 in relation to post-match media comments that he made following Everton FC's Premier League match against Liverpool FC on Sunday 24 April 2022. It is alleged that the manager's comments constitute improper conduct as they imply bias and/or attack the integrity of the match referee – or referees generally – and/or bring the game into disrepute."

Lampard has until May 9 to respond. 

Everton are also waiting to discover what punishment, if any, Richarlison will face after the forward threw a smoke bomb that had been launched onto the pitch in the wake of his winning goal against Chelsea back towards the stands, albeit into an unoccupied section of Goodison Park.

Andrew Robertson has described Liverpool team-mate Luis Diaz as "special" after the Colombian helped fire the Reds into the Champions League final.

Diaz arrived at Anfield in January after completing a move from Porto worth a reported initial fee of £37.5million (€45m), with a further £12.5m (€15m) in add-ons, and he has played a key role in Liverpool's pursuit of an unprecedented quadruple.

Despite holding a 2-0 advantage heading into the Champions League semi-final second leg against Villarreal, an out of sorts Liverpool found themselves 2-0 down and level for the tie at half-time in El Madrigal on Tuesday.

However, Diaz was introduced by Jurgen Klopp at the break and his presence immediately raised the levels of his team, who came back to win 3-2 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate, with the Colombian finding the net himself with a header.

Speaking to Liverpool's official website, Scotland captain Robertson was quick to praise the 25-year-old and the quick transition he has made to his new home.

"He has been special," the left-back said of Diaz.

"We have tried to help him as much as we can – all of the players. We know how difficult it is coming into the club in January. We've tried with the coaches and everyone else to get him up to speed.

"He is a special, special player. With the talent he has and the will to win, he just fits us perfectly."

Diaz has five goals and three assists from 21 appearances in all competitions for the Reds so far (13 starts), and he has averaged more dribbles attempted per 90 minutes (5.16) and has a higher successful dribble percentage (61.64) than any other Liverpool forward this season.

It was a game of two halves in Spain, with Liverpool managing just two shots in the first half prior to Diaz's introduction for Diogo Jota, before having 13 attempts in the second half as they turned things around.

"It was tough to take Jots off and I think he has been excellent this season, but Luis came on and made a big difference," Robertson added. "He played on the left, he started pushing them back, started taking the ball, dribbling and everything, it was a really good half from him.

"He has been special since the day he came in, it's a pleasure to play with him and hopefully he'll only get better as well with a full pre-season and things like that.

"I believe he will get better, which is scary, but what he is producing here and now is pretty special as well."

Liverpool's appearance in the final in Paris later this month will be their third in five years, and Robertson acknowledged how tough it is to reach the showpiece event of Europe's premier club competition, which the club has won on six occasions.

"Unbelievable," he said of the achievement. "An incredibly tough tie, it's never easy, but to be in a final is never, never easy no matter what competition you are in.

"To make it the third in the space of five years is incredible from this group of boys, for us as players and fans, and everyone alike, [we] should never ever take this for granted.

"We just enjoy getting to the final. It's so hard to get to Champions League finals, especially the amount of good teams in this competition. To get to the final is an incredible feeling. It's going to be a special occasion and we are looking forward to it.

"We've got a lot of games between now and the end of the season, but our season has been extended for the right reasons and we are so happy about it. We can't wait to try to go and compete and try to make it number seven."

Jamie Carragher believes Jurgen Klopp is "lying" about who he wants Liverpool to face in the Champions League final and extended an offer to Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James to join him in Paris.

The Reds overcame a scare to defeat Villarreal 3-2 on Tuesday, securing a 5-2 aggregate triumph and punching their ticket to a 10th showpiece in Europe's premier tournament.

Liverpool were trailing 2-0 at half-time before second-half goals from Fabinho, Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane ensured they will meet Manchester City or Real Madrid in this month's final.

It means a remarkable quadruple is still on the cards, with Liverpool having already clinched the EFL Cup and still in the hunt for the Premier League title and FA Cup too.

Manager Klopp insisted he would have no preference over who he faced in the French capital, but former Reds defender Carragher reckons the German would secretly prefer to face newly crowned LaLiga champions Madrid.

"I think he's lying," Carragher said speaking as a pundit for CBS. "I am pretty certain he'd prefer Real Madrid."

Regardless of how many trophies Liverpool end up with this term, Klopp has cemented his status as a legend at Anfield and recently committed his future to the club until 2026.

Carragher thinks that was the right move and is not sure his coaching style would ever suit Barcelona or Madrid, clubs he has in the past been linked with.

He added: "There's lots of great clubs but not another one that suits Jurgen Klopp. Liverpool are not an underdog by any means, they are one of the biggest clubs out there but that thing of when he was at Dortmund and they were fighting against Bayern with no funds, and the same sort of thing against maybe Manchester United and Manchester City in the Premier League.

"I couldn't see him managing a Real Madrid or a Barcelona, I don't think it would suit his style of management.

"I think he needs the intensity of the crowd and that togetherness. He is already and, who knows what Liverpool will have won in four years' time, he is going to be remembered as one of the greatest managers in Liverpool's history and one of the greatest figures in Liverpool's history right up there with the great managers."

Plenty of Liverpool fans will flock to Paris for the final and one particularly famous supporter could be headed to France in the form of NBA great James, who owns a small stake in the club.

And Carragher had an invitation for the four-time NBA champion, who had Tweeted to say: "PARIS HERE WE COME!!!!!!!! @LFC!"

"LeBron, if you want to come to Paris you can join me, and the CBS team, and you can be my guest pitchside," he added.

"I want you next to us in Paris to give us the support that we need to win that seventh European Cup. Come and join us, big man!"

Giovani Lo Celso expressed pain at Villarreal's elimination in the Champions League semi-finals following their 3-2 defeat to Liverpool on Tuesday.

Faced with the huge task overturning a two-goal deficit after the first leg at Anfield, the Yellow Submarine drew level for the tie after a raucous 45 minutes at El Madrigal, via goals from Boulaye Dia and Francis Coquelin.

Liverpool eventually settled after the interval, and the air effectively went out of the tie when Fabinho's shot crept through Geronimo Rulli's legs and in, with the Reds going on to win 3-2.

A January signing for Villarreal, Lo Celso believes the home crowd propelled them to such a fast start but their energy dissipated.

"The first impression is one of pain, and of sadness because we wanted to play that final," Lo Celso told Movistar+ post-match. "We had a very good first half, where we cut off all the circuits for them, we pressed, we created situations, we went 2-0 up.

"The support of the fans who pushed us from the first minute gave us a huge boost.

"In the second half, it was difficult for us to keep up with them, they began to find spaces and there they found the goals."

Luis Diaz's substitution for Diogo Jota at half-time was transformative, and Liverpool found a different gear to eventually win in the 90 minutes and restore their lead on aggregate.

Lo Celso believes Liverpool's class eventually showed, but was proud of his team-mates' achievement of making it this far in the Champions League.

"It was a bit difficult for us to keep up with the rhythm of the first half," he said. "They began to control the game a little more, find spaces and generate situations.

"In the second half, in ten minutes the match escaped us, but I am proud of my team-mates because reaching the semis is no small thing and even more so against such a high-class opponent."

Jurgen Klopp opened up on the half-time team talk that helped Liverpool fend off a Villarreal comeback to reach the Champions League final.

The Reds had arrived in Spain holding a 2-0 aggregate lead thanks to a dominant showing at Anfield but contrived to squander it during a chastening first half at El Madrigal.

However, a much-improved second-half showing punctuated by goals from Fabinho, Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane helped secure passage to a third Champions League final appearance in just five seasons.

And, when asked how he had masterminded that change of fortunes, Klopp told BT Sport: "It feels like the first in 20 [years], it's outstanding, because we made it obviously pretty tricky for ourselves. 

"We knew before that these kinds of things can happen; it's all about in life all the time how you react when things don't go your way. 

"Getting the first goal after two-and-a-half, three minutes, that's obviously not what you wanted, momentum on their side.

"After the first half I told the boys, 'Yes, they have momentum but they don't own it! In one situation we can get it back.'

"We were calm because I accept it 100 per cent that if Villarreal plays the second half like they play the first and we played the second half like the first then they will be in the final.

"The perception was like this, everything looked more like they will score the 3-0 than we will score the 2-1 but we are still here so we could give it a try and that's what we did."

The German went on to reveal that his half-time rallying cry also featured elements of important tactical advice to his players.

He explained: "The problem with the half-time was that we knew what was wrong because it was obvious, but we didn't have the situations to show where we did it right.

"Respect to Villarreal, I have to say; stadium, team, coach, it's unbelievable what they set up, they put us under pressure. 

"[It was] man-v-man all over the whole pitch, we didn't play football at all, we didn't get momentum back.

"We have to play in the right spaces, we have to force ourselves in the game to start playing football. 

"[When] we broke the lines and we found Naby or Trent in the half-spaces and the front three were more flexible and not fixed in their positions, all of a sudden we were in the game, scored goals and made it happen. 

Liverpool's final opponents will be confirmed on Wednesday when Real Madrid and Manchester City do battle in the second leg of their semi-final tie.

Of his side's prospective opponents, Klopp added: "Yes, I will watch it! Whoever it will be, it will be massive. 

"Whoever wins tomorrow night will deserve the result and then we'll face each other in Paris."

Mohamed Salah would rather face Real Madrid than Manchester City in the final of the Champions League in Paris as they target the quadruple after seeing off a spirited Villarreal performance in the last four.

Liverpool survived a huge scare in Spain to reach their 10th European Cup/Champions League final, with Fabinho, Luis Diaz, and Sadio Mane scoring second-half goals after Villarreal wiped out the Reds' first-leg lead in an unbelievable first half.

Liverpool have become the first team to reach the finals of the European Cup/Champions League, the FA Cup, and the League Cup in a single season, and trail City by just one point in an absorbing Premier League title race.

The Reds' incredible form has led to talk of Jurgen Klopp's team lifting four major trophies at the end of the campaign, with Salah hoping to complete the quadruple against Madrid having been substituted after suffering an injury in Liverpool's 2018 final loss to Los Blancos.

"Yeah, [it's a target] for sure," he told BT Sport. "Maybe not in the beginning of the season if I'm honest, because I always focus on the Champions League and the Premier League, but now we are close for everything, so why not? 

"I think after we beat City in the semi-final of the [FA] cup [Liverpool believed it was possible], but in the Champions League, from the beginning we were playing unbelievable games, we had a really tough group and we beat everybody, so I said from that time we could win the Champions League this year.

"I want to play Madrid, I have to be honest. City is a really tough team, we played against them a few times this season, but I think if you ask me personally, I would prefer Madrid.

"Because we lost in the final against them, I want to play against them, and hopefully win against them as well."

Salah assisted Fabinho's vital 62nd-minute goal in Spain, taking his tally to an incredible 45 goal contributions in all competitions this season (30 goals, 15 assists), and the Egypt international revealed he had set himself a target of 40 goals before the campaign began.

"I just give the team everything, we have to focus for the team because we fight for everything, we won one trophy already, we are in the final, we continue to fight for the Premier League and we are in a final against Chelsea [in the FA Cup]," he added.

"I just focus, and try to train hard. I know what I want at the end of the season, so hopefully I can get what I want. 

"Before the season starts, I know what I want from the season, individually and collectively. The collective is the most important, [but] I'm nearly there, I have a big expectation for myself. 

"Honestly, I never said this before but before the season started, I was like 'okay, I'll go for 40 goals this season, and 10 or 15 assists'. I need to focus on the goals now!"

Reds defender Virgil van Dijk, meanwhile, hailed winger Diaz for his impact after the January arrival changed the game as a half-time substitute, but refused to join Salah in stating a preferred final opponent.

"The way he goes one versus one, it doesn't really matter who he is facing, he just goes at you without any fear," Van Dijk said of Diaz. "And if he loses it, he wins it back and goes again. That is very difficult to defend.

"Any team that we face in the final of this competition will be a nightmare to play against. We know City but they know us too. We know how intense those games are. Real Madrid is Real Madrid. Such a big club and an in-form striker [Karim Benzema]."

Liverpool's Champions League final opponents will be revealed when Pep Guardiola's City travel to the Spanish capital on Wednesday, attempting to defend a 4-3 first-leg lead to set up an all-English final.

Trent Alexander-Arnold offered a scathing assessment of Liverpool's first-half performance at Villarreal but is willing to accept an occasional bad 45 minutes as long as they recover as they did to reach the Champions League final.

Villarreal drew level on aggregate, going up 2-0 on the night, before goals from Fabinho, Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane in the second half restored Liverpool's lead and progression to May's final in Paris.

It will be Liverpool's third Champions League final under Jurgen Klopp, following a defeat to Real Madrid in 2018 and triumph over Tottenham in 2019.

Speaking after a thrilling 3-2 win, Alexander-Arnold made reference to the tricky paths that led to those finals, asserting the volatile nature of Tuesday's victory was just a continuation of a theme.

"We never tend to make these Champions League semis easy for ourselves, thinking back to Roma away, Barca at home and now here – difficult, very difficult," Alexander-Arnold told BT Sport post-match.

"We never played football that first half. We never picked up any of the second balls at all, and they kind of played the game the way that they wanted to, and we allowed them to do that.

"Second half, we came out and played the way that we needed to play, and controlled the game a lot better. One bad half over two legs, we can concede that as long as we got the job done."

With the win, the Reds will face the winner of Wednesday's semi-final second leg between Real Madrid and Manchester City.

"It's always nice to get the job done on the Tuesday," he said. "We can watch the game tomorrow, knowing that we're going to be there, and who we're going to play.

"I'm sure it will be a good game. If it goes by anything last week, we'll be in for another amazing game. Either opponent kind of deserves to get to the final, so we'll see who we'll get."

Given the stakes involved, Champions League semi-finals don't tend to be fertile ground for managers to learn lessons about their teams.

But for Jurgen Klopp, Tuesday's win over Villarreal provided more than just a ticket to the showpiece fixture of Europe's premier cup competition in Paris later this month.

It also handed the German several important insights into his squad that may prove key to a quadruple bid that was extended by victory in Spain.

Klopp probably did not appreciate the start of that learning process – an unexpectedly poor first-half performance he would prefer to forget.

In possession of 'the most dangerous lead in football', it was key that the visitors did not concede an early goal that would boost the home crowd's belief. 

And yet they conspired to do exactly that, twice failing to prevent crosses before Boulaye Dia poked home to ignite El Madrigal.

That early goal set the tone for a first half that saw Liverpool harried (65.5 per cent passing accuracy) and bullied (45.6 per cent duels won) out of the game for large periods.

And so they could have no complaints over going in at half-time level on aggregate fearing that Villarreal would become only the second team to overcome a two-goal deficit in a Champions League semi-final.

Liverpool were, of course, the ones who pulled off that previous comeback, overturning Barcelona's three-goal advantage en route to winning the 2018-19 edition of the competition.

Yet, with their first-half attempts to prevent history repeating itself having failed, it seemed inevitable that changes were coming at the break.

Perhaps the only surprise was that Klopp limited himself to just one alteration, introducing Luis Diaz in place of Diogo Jota but leaving his starting midfield trio alone.

However, it was hard to argue with the results of that minor tweak: a consummate second-half performance that turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 win.

That outcome is good news for Diaz, whose match-high four shots and well-taken goal underlined the brilliance of another sparkling outing.

But it might not be for Jota, who won just two of six duels and completed six of nine passes before getting the half-time hook.

There were also contrasting fortunes in midfield, where Naby Keita provided the most notable recovery from a midfield three that looked lost in the opening 45 minutes.

With Jordan Henderson going through a vigorous warm-up just after half-time, it did not look like the Guinean would last much longer.

But, as was the case with his colleagues in the engine room, he went up a level en route to posting 21 passes in the opposition half, three tackles, and 11 possession regains (more than any other player on the pitch) by full-time.

With the big games coming thick and fast in the weeks ahead, the consequences of these performances are likely to stretch beyond simply securing Liverpool's third Champions League final appearance under Klopp.

As he guides an unlikely quadruple bid towards a dramatic conclusion, the manager now has an even clearer idea of which players he can rely on to deliver on the biggest of stages.

 

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