The town of Villarreal is neither on the coast, or has any strong links to submarines (never mind yellow ones).
In a city where the Beatles were born, the Yellow Submarine means something more.
Richard Martin, an English journalist living in Spain, described Villarreal as “Spain’s Stoke City” due to its strong links with manufacturing ceramics.
The secret behind ‘El Submarino Amarillo’ is a simple one: they wear yellow.
Based on their performance in this year’s Champions League, however, the submarine segment probably suits.
They’ve managed to sink many of the competition’s top dogs.
Unai Emery’s side has a reputation of occupying ‘Premier League rejects’, with the likes of Giovanni Lo Celso, Serge Aurier and Francis Coquelin among their ranks.
Well, this team of ‘rejects’ have somehow found themselves in the last four of Europe’s elite competition, so have it.
How have they got here?
The Spanish side qualified for this year’s Champions League off the back of last year’s Europa League triumph over… some team in Manchester.
They were then drawn into Group F alongside that exact team, as well as Italian side Atalanta and tournament minnows BSC Young Boys.
‘The Submarines’ were the last team to qualify for the knockout stages, after their week 6 ‘win-and-in‘ game against Atalanta was re-arranged to the Thursday thanks to heavy snowfall in Bergamo.
Villarreal finished second in their group and were drawn against two-time winners Juventus in the Round of 16.
After a 1-1 draw in the first-leg at home, the Spaniard’s routed ‘Juve’ 0-3 in Turin to progress to the quarters.
They were then handed the cruel punishment of facing Bayern Munich in the next round, who had ‘presumably’ wrapped up their one-thousandth (we think) Bundesliga title in-a-row.
Emery’s side took a 1-0 lead to the Allianz Arena and were expected to fold when Robert Lewandowski opened the scoring for the Bavarians in the 51st minute.
Villarreal had different plans though, as Samuel Chukwueze’s strike sent shockwaves across Europe, and booked Villarreal’s semi-final spot.
Juventus… check. Bayern… Check. Liverpool… ?
Highlights of Villarreal’s 1-1 draw at the Allianz Arena (Courtesy of BT Sport’s YouTube Channel)
The Squad, the Manager and the Philosophy
Despite their European heroics, the reigning Europa League Champions have under-achieved in La Liga this season, finding themselves in a mediocre 7th.
Perceived star-man Gerard Moreno has been unable to replicate his 2020/2021 form due to injury, while the goals of former Bournemouth forward Arnaut Danjuma have kept them afloat.
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that Unai Emery loves a cup run, particularly in Europe.
Since 2014, the 50-year-old has reached the final of Europe’s second-tier competition five times, coming out on top in four of them.
This includes winning it an impressive three times in-a-row with Sevilla, an impressive feat regardless of what competition it is.
Despite his troublesome time at Arsenal (a graveyard for any positive philosophical method of play), Emery prefers a possession-based, attacking style of football.
The Spaniard is big advocate of a structured build-up from the back, followed by high-pressing wingers and the use of a ‘second-striker’ (Neymar & Cavani at PSG, Aubameyang & Lacazette at Arsenal).
This could however, come back to bite him, as there’s one team you don’t want to try and ‘build-up from the back’ against… it’s Liverpool.
If you offered Jurgen Klopp a choice to play either the first or second-leg at Anfield, history shows he would probably choose the latter.
If Sunday’s derby has taught us anything, the best way to play Liverpool is to play the ‘Simeone way’, which Lampard’s side had reasonable success with.
It’s difficult to predict what sort of ‘Submarines’ we’ll see on Wednesday night.
But if Emery persists on his ‘playing out from the back’ approach, we’ll say a prayer that the tie isn’t over as contest after the first 20 minutes.