Villarreal and Liverpool both are two steps away from a major European soccer final, but only one will leap forward.
The teams will face off Thursday at El Madrigal Stadium in Villarreal, Spain, in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League semifinal series. They never have played each other in European competition before, so this meeting will be both novel and consequential.
Liverpool still is riding the high of its dramatic quarterfinal win over Borussia Dortmund two weeks ago, having won two and drawn one of three games since that victory.
Villarreal has lost two and drawn one of its three games since it beat Sparta Prague in the quarterfinals.
The first game and the series are likely to turn on the teams’ goal-scoring fortunes. Liverpool has shared the burden, with a Europa League-high 11 players scoring this season. But no Liverpool player has more than two goals in the competition. Villarreal has depended on Cedric Bakambu to provide firepower, as the Congolese striker has scored nine goals — second most in the competition.