Real Madrid and Villarreal stand in the way of Manchester City and Liverpool bringing their home rivalry to the biggest stage of them all in the Champions League final next month.
If City and Liverpool meet in Paris on May 28, it will be the third all-English final in four years.
Madrid’s continuous incentive to seek the security of guaranteed cash streams from a European Super League is due to the Premier League’s massive economic advantage in TV rights deals (ESL).
Villarreal’s run to the final four, on the other hand, serves as a reminder of why a closed shop ESL is so divisive.
If the Super League 12, which included Manchester City and Liverpool, had succeeded in launching a breakaway league last year, the Yellow Submarine, who have only won one major trophy in their history, would have been barred from competing on the European arena.
Now, if they can derail Liverpool’s quest for a quadruple, the team from a town with a population that could fit inside Anfield is 180 minutes away from the biggest game in club sport.
With five games remaining in the Premier League title battle, Jurgen Klopp’s side is a point behind City.
However, they defeated City to reach the FA Cup final next month and win the League Cup in February.
Klopp has already lost against Villarreal manager Unai Emery in a European final, when his Sevilla side defeated Liverpool in the 2016 Europa League final.
That was one of Emery’s four Europa League titles, the most recent of which came last season when Villarreal defeated Manchester United in the final to qualify for the Champions League.
“They have maybe the world’s most successful cup tournament manager, so he understands what he’s doing,” Klopp added. “Unai Emery reigns supreme over the cups.” What he’s accomplishing is extraordinary.”
Given the disparity in riches between the clubs, Liverpool’s standing as favorites ahead of Wednesday’s first leg at Anfield is understandable.
Despite the significant difference in European pedigree between the English champions and Madrid, City are likely to reach the final for the second year in a row.
The 13-time European champions are in their 30th semifinal, while City is making their third appearance in the final four.
When the teams met in the last 16 two years ago, Pep Guardiola’s side came out on top.
“This is the third time we’ve played in a Champions League semifinal against a team with a few Champions League titles,” Guardiola remarked.
“It has to be a special night for us to appreciate it and offer everything we have in our soul, and then we’ll see what happens after that.”
Madrid came back from a 2-0 deficit to overcome PSG in the last 16 and then fought back from a 3-0 deficit against Chelsea at the Santiago Bernabeu to reach the semifinals in spectacular fashion.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side will have home advantage in the second leg next week, but there are worries over whether Karim Benzema and Luka Modric’s old legs can continue to carry Los Blancos.
Liverpool and City have consistently rewritten the record books during the era of Klopp and Guardiola in England’s northwest.
They have 10 days to prove they are the two strongest teams in Europe by putting a stop to La Liga’s challenge to English domination in the Champions League.