This was Liverpool’s first home game since the new inquest into the Hillsborough disaster ruled that the 96 supporters who perished at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final had been killed unlawfully and the pregame ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ added an extra emotional level to the atmosphere.
An early own goal from Villarreal defender Bruno Soriano wiped out their first-leg deficit, while Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana netted second-half strikes as visiting centre-half Victor Ruiz saw red.
Liverpool’s pace and intensity made a mockery of Villarreal’s high-flying status in La Liga and record of 25 clean sheets this season as the hosts reached a first European final since 2007, when AC Milan prevailed 2-1 in Athens.
It will be Liverpool’s 12th major European final, by far the most of any British side.
The Reds will now face holders Sevilla, who are chasing a third successive crown, in the tournament’s finale on 18 May in Basel after the Spanish side beat Shakhtar Donetsk. Victory would also hand Liverpool a Champions League place next season.
Villarreal had only failed to score in one of their past 32 Europa League matches and threatened a potentially pivotal early away goal as Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was forced into a smart save from deflected Mario Gaspar’s deflected effort.
But Liverpool soon leveled the aggregate scores as a stabbed Roberto Firmino cross evaded the slide of Sturridge but ricocheted off the unfortunate Bruno and past on-loan Paris Saint-Germain stopper Alphonse Areola.
The Reds had previously progressed from eight of their 13 European ties when trailing 1-0 from the first leg and former Southampton playmaker Lallana fluffed a presentable chance to edge Liverpool ahead as he failed to connect with James Milner’s raking pass.
Liverpool held the lead for the first time in the tie shortly after the hour mark. Lurking on the shoulder of the last man, England marksman Sturridge latched onto a scuffed Firmino effort to calmly side-foot home off the inside of the post.
Ruiz was shown a second yellow card for a lunging tackle which ended with him standing on the foot of Lallana, who calmed lingering Liverpool nerves inside the final 10 minutes. The 27-year-old flicked a rebound from Sturridge’s botched attempt past Areola from close range after a rampaging Firmino run.