Liverpool are a football club steeped in European history. From the Shankly years to the Paisley years, the 2001 UEFA Cup final and the Champions League final triumph in Istanbul, there is something special about Liverpool Football Club in European competition. The 2015/16 Europa League final, is set to be another great addition, to what is already a chronicle of great success.
Talk to the average football fan and there seemed to be little value in contesting the Europa League. So many clubs in the past have pointed to the competition as an excuse for failure in their domestic league. Not Liverpool. Yes, initially the team which former manager, Brendan Rodgers picked, was not the strongest available but the home win over Bordeaux, secured a passage to the knockout stages of the competition and new manager, Jurgen Klopp, was starting to get a grip on the things at Anfield.
A close tie with German outfit, Augsburg, was settled by a single goal and then the competition really started to hot up. A tie with Manchester United was next and what a great night it was at Anfield as Liverpool, spurred on by the home fans, built a good 2-0 lead to take to Old Trafford. It was too much for Manchester United and a brilliant goal from Philippe Coutinho, all but ended the tie. If things couldn’t get any tougher, it was Borussia Dortmund who were pulled out of the hat next. An excellent 1-1 draw in Dortmund from the first leg seemed to put Liverpool in control but when Dortmund took control of the second leg at Anfield, with 3 away goals, the European dream seemed to be over. That’s what many onlookers thought but the Kop were not having any of it and on a night which will live forever in the memory, Liverpool stormed back to score an injury time winner and progress 5-4 on aggregate. This match was the real highlight of the Europa League campaign to date.
The semi-final first leg, at Villarreal was the only low point of the knockout stages but despite trailing 1-0, everyone surrounding the club was confident Liverpool would score goals at home. It didn’t take long for the first goal to come and with the visitors left shell-shocked by the awesome nature of Liverpool’s pressing and attacking game, the match was comfortably won 3-0.
In truth, the last three knockout matches would have graced the Champions League, the quality of the opponent was that good. In the final, hosted by Basel, Liverpool will meet a team who played in the Champions League this season, in the form of Sevilla. However, although plenty of attention will be given to the Spanish team in the build up to the final, Liverpool and Klopp need only to look at themselves.
If Liverpool can produce a performance to match that against Villarreal in the semi-final second leg, Sevilla will not be able to live with it. Klopp made a whole host of changes to the team which drew with West Brom at the weekend and the starting XI on Wednesday night will be fresh and chomping at the bit to get going. The German manager has united the team and the fans, something which was expected but still a delight to see. Klopp has admitted he used the ‘miracle in Istanbul’ to inspire and motivate players during his time in Germany and is sure to touch on it again at St. Jakob Park on Wednesday night, all be it before the match, as a reminder of how players can turn in to heroes.
Sevilla are going to be difficult opposition, they have plenty of attacking threat but everything seems to be coming together for Liverpool at the right time. Players, such as Jordan Henderson and Danny Ings have returned from injury and Kolo Toure seems to be impassable at the back. There is an up-beat feeling about the whole club and when Liverpool are in this mood, the players and fans form a bond, helping each to achieve the common goal and when this is in place, it’s difficult to break, even for the top European clubs. Yes, Sevilla have won the Europa League for the past two seasons but do they roll off the tongue of European football’s top clubs, like Borussia Dortmund and admittedly, Manchester United? No they do not.
There is nothing to fear for Liverpool in the Europa League final. The team can come out, play with the intensity and attacking threat shown at Anfield against Villarreal and take control of the match. This is Liverpool’s final to win. What a way it would be to finish a season, which has been tough, both on and off the pitch but ultimately, one of success. Not only that but a season which leaves hope in the heart of all Liverpool fans, for a very bright future at the club.
Watch all Liverpool’s goals In the Europa League cup.