Liverpool and Sevilla have both finished outside the European spots in their respective leagues this year. Tomorrow’s battle at St. Jakob-Park in Basel, then, takes on added significance with a spot in the UEFA Champions League at stake.
Liverpool and Sevilla meet in the UEFA Europa League showpiece in Basel tomorrow in a bid to add more silverware to their growing continental collection. On the one hand, Liverpool remain the most successful English side in Europe with 8 trophies (5 x Champions League, 3 x UEFA Cup) and will look to add a ninth to their collection. On the other, Unai Emery’s Sevilla look to continue their love affair with the competition and attempt to take home the trophy for a third consecutive time.
Both sides have endured some stern tests on their journey to Basel. Sevilla scored 14 goals and Liverpool 12 in the four knockout rounds so far — the pick of which was Liverpool’s 5-4 aggregate win over Jurgen Klopp’s former club, Borussia Dortmund. While Sevilla have overcome the challenge of Benfica and Dnipro in their previous Europa League final appearances, in Liverpool the La Liga side face arguably their stiffest competition to take the title.
Klopp and Emery are two of Europe’s finest managerial minds, both renowned for their studious tactical approach. The Liverpool manager brought analyst Peter Krawietz with him when he arrived on Merseyside, while Emery is known to hand a USB drive to each player to prepare for each game, explaining their specific roles.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have saved their best for the cup competitions this season, with inconsistency hurting their prospects in the league. However, even in their cup run this term, they seemed to have performed exceedingly well only at home, having won just once in seven European outings away from home and scoring only four goals in the process.
To put the discrepancy in their home and away form in perspective, Liverpool scored four goals in one home game against Borussia Dortmund. Hence it seems that Klopp’s side rely on the spine-tingling atmosphere of Anfield to carry them through various obstacles. However, in St.Jakob-Park with a significantly smaller capacity and with just 9,000 seats allocated to Liverpool fans, it may be difficult for the Reds’ faithful to recreate that aura of an Anfield European night.
From a tactical point of view, Klopp is expected to resort to the attacking lineup that took the field against Villarreal in the second leg at home. Jordan Henderson’s return from injury against West Brom puts him in the reckoning for a place in the squad on Wednesday. However, his cameo at the Hawthorns wasn’t convincing enough to put him ahead of some of the better performers during his absence, and the captain may only make a substitute appearance later on in the game should Liverpool need him.
Emre Can and James Milner will take over the midfield roles, while the familiar trio of attacking midfielders in Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino take their positions behind Sturridge.
Klopp fielded a similar lineup against Villarreal and Dortmund except that Origi, who is unlikely to make the squad for the final, was in attack for the Reds. Sevilla, in their last 13 games in all competitions, have managed to go into half-time ahead of their opponents only once. Hence Klopp’s instructions to his side will be start aggressively and score as early against the Spanish side as possible.
The Andalusian side have endured a torrid run domestically towards the end of the season that has seen Unai Emery’s team wipe out their chances of securing European football through La Liga. It’s easy to point out that Sevilla are going through a poor run of sorts, but the defending Europa League champions have come good when most required. With only one loss to Molde in the competition, Sevilla’s record in the Europa League in 2015-16 has been excellent.
Kevin Gameiro has been among the goals, but the striker seems to prefer the comforts of home. Indeed, amazingly, despite scoring 24 goals across the league and European competition this season, the Frenchman has scored just 3 times away from home. While Liverpool lay a lot of emphasis on the attacking front, their defence is often compromised. Hence, just like Klopp, Unai Emery would instruct his side to attack and hurt the Reds as early as possible.
The Spanish side were impressive against Shakhtar in the semi-final and the only league match that meant anything recently was the Andalusian derby, where Sevilla defeated Real Betis 2-0. It would be fair to say Liverpool will be faced with a real challenge on Wednesday night.
Emre Can vs Ever Banega
Emre Can has enjoyed a remarkable rise in the Liverpool midfield under Klopp. He is most comfortable in a box-to-box role at the heart of the 4-2-3-1 or the 4-3-3 formations. Can’s return against Villarreal was a key factor in Liverpool’s come-back victory over the Yellow Submarine.
While Emre Can has been the Reds’ focal point in midfield, Sevilla have their equivalent in a more attacking role in the form of Argentine midfielder Ever Banega. In terms of guile, finesse and his nimble frame, Banega could be compared to Reds attacking midfielder Adam Lallana, but the Argentinian boasts a more refined edge and a vision that has seen him installed as Emery’s primary playmaker.
Both midfielders will prove to be the X-Factor for their respective sides as far as the crucial midfield battle is concerned tonight.
Dejan Lovren vs Kevin Gameiro
Sevilla’s Kevin Gameiro has had some season in the Europa League. Having lost their main man Carlos Bacca in the summer to AC Milan, the La Liga side have found another reliable goalscorer in Gameiro. The Frenchman has scored seven goals in the Europa League this campaign and will be a massive threat to Liverpool’s hopes of securing their first European trophy since 2005.
As for the Reds, the improvement of Croatian international Dejan Lovren has been massive in their late season improvement. Lovren will very much have to be the leader in the back four on the day and will certainly have to be on top of his game to stop Sevilla’s man in form.
Nathaniel Clyne vs Yevhen Konoplyanka
Despite his return to fitness, the possibility of erstwhile Liverpool target Yevhen Konoplyanka making the starting XI is unlikely. However, should he feature, the battle that ensues between him and England international Nathaniel Clyne will be an intriguing prospect.
Konoplyanka has been a force to be reckoned down the left flank ever since his arrival at the club Dnipro. Meanwhile, in Clyne, Liverpool have their most consistent player, who has been a solid rock on the right of the defence. It will need Konoplyanka to be at his best to catch the Reds’ right-back off-guard.
With 8 goals and 9 assists in all competitions for Sevilla, Konoplyanka’s return could be a massive boost for the Andalusian side. Unlike his previous Europa League campaign with Dnipro, Konoplyanka hasn’t managed to statistically contribute to Unai Emery’s side’s progress in this competition and he would like to change that on the night of the big final.