Time has been of the essence this week once more, trying to keep abreast of the end of season shenanigans across Europe, whilst planning for my own trip to France this summer, the time has come for a whistle stop look at the Europa League Final and what a final this could be..
Jurgen Klopp rung the changes for their league game against West Brom as he seemingly threw anyone and the kitchen sink at giving Liverpool’s best XI a rest before the Europa League final this evening. The draw against West Brom saw Liverpool miss out on the chance of European football next season but will Liverpool fans really feel aggrieved by this? More pertinently, will Klopp miss European football next season?
One thing that has clearly taken Klopp by surprise is the amount of high intensity games English clubs play. For a coach who really need to be on the training field to impart his words of wisdom, a season with only domestic matters after a full pre-season would really see Klopp lay the foundations down for what he wants Liverpool to become.
Not qualifying for the Europa League is one thing, but qualifying for the Champions League is a totally different kettle of fish. Whilst the Europa League brings with the much maligned in this country, Thursday – Sunday fixture schedule, with the likes of Chelsea very much needing to re-build, the Champions League could prove to be a massive draw for Liverpool to negotiate with.
Three players that could see Liverpool deliver their first major European honour in 11 years and equally bring Europe’s elite competition back to Anfield have to be Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Emre Can.
Roberto Firmino has certainly proven his worth since Christmas. The Brazilian was always going to take at least a few months to settle into Liverpool but with a return of 10 goals and 7 assists in the Premier League in his debut season, Firmino (and Liverpool) have thrived when he is playing as a false no.9, a creative fulcrum for others to work around. If Firmino turns up, Liverpool will stand a good chance of winning this game.
Philippe Coutinho has had something of a disrupted season but has seen by the amount of awards he went home with at the Liverpool end of season dinner, fans and player alike know how important Coutinho is to this side.
When Brendan Rodgers signed Emre Can, the young German didn’t ruffle feathers, he seemed to embody Liverpool’s ‘moneyball’ transfer plan but Can has become so much more than that now. Against Villarreal Emre Can was concrete foundation that Liverpool built yet another magical European performance. Coming straight back into the side from injury, Can had the most tackles, interceptions, dribbles and passes completing 85.5% of the passes he attempted. This is the kind of player that Liverpool can build a spine around and whilst has been pushed around a back three, at right back or across the midfield, it is in the middle of the park that is clearly Emre Can best positions.
For Sevilla, this could be three Europa League titles in a row. Whilst in England the Europa League is often criticised as too long to be taken seriously, in Europe the Europa League is treated with respect and an opportunity to win a piece of European silverware.
The Andalusian’s season was always going to be a strange one. After a shocking initial start, Unai Emery rebuilt their season around an incredible at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan seeing Sevilla finish 14 wins out of 19 games. What is so remarkable however is that Sevilla never won away from home for their whole season – is this an away game? You decide.
Unai Emery (who will certainly be on the radar of Premier League clubs sooner rather than later) has once more assembled another talented squad with the likes of Fernando Llorente, Ever Banega and Yevhen Konoplyanka but surely hopes lie on Kevin Gameiro’s shoulders in Basel.
The Frenchman has chipped in this season with 16 goals in the league this season as well as a further 7 goals from just 8 appearances in the Europa League. His blindingly fast and with Kolo Touré potentially starting, pace is something Sevilla will be looking to exploit if Liverpool press to high.
If this game becomes open, both sides have the creativity and the pace to exploits the others defensive frailties. Yet this is a final nonetheless, and this could be a cagey affair until the first goal is scored.
For all the neutrals out there, let’s hope for an early goal because this could be a hell of game. Sevilla though are coming off the back of a string of poor results in La Liga including defeats to Sporting Gijon, Espanyol and Granada in the final five games of the season and this Liverpool side seem like the Europa League might just be there and Klopp’s calling.
Match Prediction: Liverpool 2-1 Sevilla
Rich, The Sweeper Football Blog