Marcelino Garcia Toral has conceded Liverpool start as favourites over Villarreal ahead of the Europa League semi-final, but is convinced his side can make history by qualifying for the final for the first time in their history. The Spanish boss also confirmed that long-term absentee duo Mateo Musacchio and Jaume Costa are ready to return to action, with the pair included in his 18-man squad for the first leg. Leo Baptistao is the only injury absence for the crunch tie.
The Yellow Submarine host Liverpool hoping to get a positive result on the books ahead of next week's return leg at Anfield. Currently sitting fourth in La Liga, Villarreal have already dispatched the likes of Napoli and Sparta Prague, and Garcia Toral says the English outfit are under more pressure to win.
"Liverpool may be favourites rather than us because of their history and the fact they have knocked out Borussia Dortmund, who along with Sevilla were favourites to win the competition. But we do not consider ourselves to be worse than them and we will do everything to eliminate them," Garcia Toral said in a pre-match press conference.
"They are a very good team, with many extraordinary players. They play a very intense style and have a great counter-attack. They press very high and will not let us play easily. We need to find solutions to overcome that first line of pressure. If we get it we will take a great step [towards the final]. We can say that we have a similar style than them."
The tie with Liverpool comes 10 seasons after Arsenal knocked Villarreal out of the Champions League semi-finals, when Juan Roman Riquelme missed a penalty in the 88th minute that would have levelled the tie. Garcia Toral, however, says that match is water under the bridge and the current squad is just thinking about the present.
"They are different moments and quite different circumstances. We have no pressure. I am thankful to this squad for what they have done this season and we have the belief that we can eliminate Liverpool. But we will try to enjoy the privilege of playing a semi-final. I felt we had more pressure in previous stages of the competition. We are in a very good position and can make history at this club. If we play our game and enjoy the tie I am sure Liverpool will suffer a lot in our stadium."
Musacchio and Costa returned to the training earlier this week following long spells out, with the Argentine centre-back spending two months on the sidelines and the left-back yet to play since sustaining an injury during the Europa League game against Sparta Prague on 14 April.
Garcia Toral has included the two key defenders in his 18-man squad and confirmed that they are ready to start should he consider that necessary. The boss adds that Atletico Madrid loanee striker Leo Baptistao is the only injury absentee, with the likes of Bonera, Nauel and Adrian Marin left out due to technical reasons.
"If they are in the squad it is because they are ready to play," the Villarreal boss confirmed. "But it is true that they have been on the sidelines for a while, especially Mateo. They have recovered and hopefully they will not suffer any other setback, to have them both available for the remaining of the competition. We are very glad to have them back."