|Liverpool and Sevilla will contest the Europa League final at St. Jakob-Park on Wednesday 18 May.|
11 months have passed and 173 teams have been eliminated since this season’s edition of the Europa League kicked off last June
Can Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side claim their first piece of major European silverware since that night in Istanbul in 2006 or will Sevilla go on the claim an unprecedented third consecutive Europa League title? It’s all shaping up quite beautifully for what should be an enthralling night’s football in Basel!
To Win Match (90 min)
Liverpool 29/20 | Draw 21/10 | Sevilla 19/10
Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool side have the chance to put the gloss on what would otherwise be a largely forgettable season by lifting the Europa League trophy. Aside from losing out in the League Cup Final – a paint tin if there ever were one – fans of England’s most trophy-laden club have had to endure a largely disappointing season which saw them miss out on the top four for a second successive season.
All will be forgiven, however, if the men from Merseyside secure automatic qualification to next season’s Champions League by beating Sevilla on 18 May. The Reds haven’t had the easiest progression into the final having to fend off the likes of Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal in the knockout phases. They’ve come through all of these challenges admirably
Klopp has started to get the most out of the squad he inherited from Brendan Rodgers’ doomed reign at Anfield. Players like Adam Lallana, Dejan Loveren and Joe Allen – who struggled to get to grips with life on Merseyside under the Welshman – have come alive under Klopp’s tutelage. Lallana in particular has bought into the German’s pressing philosophy, consistently putting massive pressure on opposition defenders and keepers.
While the attacking threat Liverpool pose has been plain for all to see under Klopp, it’s his work with the back four that has made the most difference. While the Reds are still vulnerable from set-pieces – as has been the case for a number of seasons – they’re keeping more clean sheets and conceding fewer goals under the German. Even Simon Mignolet has looked more competent since the German took over.
Things have started clicking up front too with Daniel Sturridge returning to his best and Divock Origi starting to repay the faith that the Anfield hierarchy showed when they brought him to the club off the back of his 2014 World Cup performances in Brazil. Roberto Firmino and Coutinho provide the flair at the top of the pitch while James Milner and Emre Can pull the strings from the deeper-lying areas. Even the fullback, Alberto Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne have started contributing more heavily on attack.
Klopp will be under no illusions here, he absolutely must win this competition if Liverpool want to consider the 2015/16 season a successful one. They stand a great chance of doing just that come 18 May where barring any further injuries, he’ll have a full strength squad to pick from.
Sevilla are very much the kings of this competition. They’ve experienced unparalleled Europa League success, winning the competition four times since 2006. Should Unai Emery and his men claim victory against Liverpool in Basel, they’ll become the first side in the history to claim three consecutive major European titles.
Be under no illusions, while Liverpool may be the bookmakers’ favourites for this tie, Sevilla head to Basel knowing exactly what it takes to win this competition. They have a quality squad littered with players that could be playing for much bigger clubs around Europe. Kevin Gameiro is a prime example of this. The Frenchman has had a massive season and has attracted suitors from all around Europe.
He will lead the line for his club in the Europa League final and will more than likely lead the line for France at the Euros later this year. He’s bagged seven goals in the Europe this season with a further 16 in the league. These are phenomenal numbers for a guy who is perceived to be playing for a second tier Spanish side. He will more than likely be on his way out of the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium at the end of the season, but nothing will make him happier than to leave the club with a third consecutive Europa League title.
If there is one weakness in this Sevilla side, it’s their propensity to leak goals. The Spanish side have conceded 47 goals in the league this season, simply not good enough for a team that wants to be mixing it with the big boys in the top four. Liverpool’s attacking line will be all too aware of this, and we can expect the likes of Lallana, Sturridge, Firmino and Coutinho look to give a shaky back four the run around in Basel. Whether or not Daniel Carrico and Adil Rami can cope remains to be seen.
Verdict: Liverpool to lift the cup at 15/20.
Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool side head into this game a favourites and for good reason. While they may not have experienced European success for the better part of 10 years, they have a wonderfully balanced squad who are all pulling in the same direction. I’m not sure that the Reds will win this clash in 90 minutes, I am leaning toward them lifting the cup come the end of the evening. Back Merseyside’s finest to lift the Europa League trophy in Basel on May 18.