VILLARREAL (Spain) • Juergen Klopp defended his decision to leave Daniel Sturridge on the bench, after Adrian Lopez's stoppage-time goal condemned Liverpool to a 1-0 defeat by Villarreal in their Europa League semi-final, first leg on Thursday.
A tense but largely uneventful match in Spain appeared destined for a goal-less draw before Lopez's intervention in the 92nd minute condemned Liverpool to their first defeat in Europe this season.
A frustrated Klopp criticised his English team, claiming that inexperience had cost them a goal, but he insisted they can still reach the final in Basel on May 18.
Klopp made the surprise decision to name Sturridge - Liverpool's second top scorer (11 goals) behind Philippe Coutinho (12) in all competitions this term - as a substitute despite the absence of striker Divock Origi through injury.
The German opted to use Christian Benteke, back after a month out with a knee injury, instead of the England striker off the bench.
Sturridge was left out of Klopp's starting line-up for the third European game in succession but the manager defended his selection.
He said that it was a tactical choice rather than a reflection of his faith in Sturridge.
"We had one or two situations when we were defending set pieces, and Christian can help us with those, so it was not really about attacking," he said.
"I also had to take Coutinho off at half-time because he was ill.
"I'm pleased with a lot of the performance... We'd just had a great moment with Alberto Moreno and Benteke had a header, and maybe the youth came through."
Klopp questioned 23-year-old Moreno's positioning in the build-up to Villarreal's goal. But he saved his strongest criticism for the officials after Adam Lallana was hauled down in the penalty area only to be wrongly given offside.
"I'm not happy with the goal that we conceded," the German said.
"They played one chip ball on the back of Kolo Toure and Alberto is not there - I don't know where he was... But that was the only big mistake we made.
"Let (Lallana) go and maybe we'd have scored. In big games you need right decisions and I was really disappointed when I came into the dressing room and everyone said Lallana had not been offside.
"So we did not have the luck, but it's only the first half. They have to come to Anfield (next week) and they know how strong we are."
Villarreal manager Marcelino said he was surprised with Liverpool's cautious approach.
"They came here very cautious, more than usual, with three central midfielders and without two forwards. That surprised us," he said.
"They came to try and keep the result as it was and hit us on the break. We managed to score in a very fair and deserved way."
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN