Liverpool are just 90 minutes away from winning their first silverware in four years as they contest the Europa League final, but in order to do so they need to find a way past a Sevilla side that is looking to win this competition for a third successive year.
As well as the trophy, there is another big prize to play for as the winner will gain a spot in the group stage of next season’s Champions League, so with neither having managed to qualify through their domestic league it represents a huge incentive for both sides ahead of what looks certain to be a close encounter at the pretty setting of Basel’s St. Jakob Park.
The Spanish side may have found the Champions League somewhat beyond them earlier this season as they came third in their group behind Manchester City and Juventus, but they are seemingly unbeatable at present in Europe’s secondary tournament. The final in 2014 saw them get the better of Benfica in a penalty shootout and last year they held off the determined challenge of Ukrainian underdogs Dnipro to claim the title, and this year their run to the final has been far from straightforward.
The closest they came to seeing the miraculous run come to an end was in the last eight when they were taken to penalties by La Liga rivals Athletic Bilbao, only to come through it and then prove too strong for Shakhtar Donetsk in the semi-finals. They will know how to handle this occasion and the experience gained from their previous successes could give them a slight advantage over the Reds here.
If there is one area in which Unai Emery’s men can be exploited it is in wide areas, with full-backs Benoit Tremoulinas and Coke always encouraged to bomb forward, so the space they leave could be the key for Liverpool. In attack there is the threat provided by Kevin Gameiro and Yevhen Konoplyanka, who could so easily be lining up for the opposition here after his failed move to Merseyside in January 2014.
For all of Sevilla’s prowess, the campaign that Liverpool have embarked on to reach this showpiece event has had something that little bit special about it, almost as if an external force is propelling them towards glory. Their most magic of moments came also in the quarter-finals as they overcame a seemingly irretrievable deficit to dramatically eliminate tournament favourites Borussia Dortmund, having outplayed their biggest rivals Manchester United in the previous round.
The setback of conceding a last-gasp goal in the first leg of their semi-final with Villarreal left them facing a potentially problematic return match, but backed by their vociferous supporters they made light work of making it through to this stage. The whole team has contributed in some way to this run, with the youngsters favoured during the group stage and some unlikely heroes emerging throughout the knockout rounds.
Manager Jurgen Klopp contests what is already his second final as Liverpool boss, and will be hoping that unlike in the Capital One Cup against Man City, this one will go his way. The German has got the best out of his squad in the Europa League in what has been an inconsistent season on the whole, and this will be one where his defenders must stay organised and disciplined, while holding midfielder Emre Can is set to play a key role.
As for potential match-winners, all eyes will be on Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge, but it is a match-up that carries plenty of intrigue and the tantalising prospect of Champions League football for the winners. It should be a great game, but be prepared for a long evening as finals involving Liverpool in recent times have invariably gone all the way to the battle of wits that penalty shootouts provide.
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