Wednesday, 18 May 2016

A Night For The Ages: Europa League Final Preview

Tonight, the team will step out on to the pitch in Basel with a great responsibility on their shoulders. It is a game that will not only define the season, but potentially the trajectory of their club – our club - for years to come. Its importance cannot be overstated; tonight can end an eleven year wait for a European trophy and return us to the Champions League where we belong. Let no man buckle under this pressure – every player must revel in the knowledge that they can be part of a restoration. Greatness beckons once more, and tonight we must seize it. 

The job of masterminding the return to the top falls to J├╝rgen Klopp. Despite uninspiring league form, it is clear that Klopp has begun to awaken the giant: Liverpool is yet to roar as once it did, but it is grumbling back to life. There have been flashes of brilliance, such as the 4-1 away win at City and the professional dismantling of Villarreal at Anfield, but the biggest change has been in attitude. The charismatic German has instilled great belief in the squad since his arrival, a quality that will need to be on display in abundance to triumph over Sevilla. The Spanish outfit have a psychological advantage in that they have won the competition in both of the previous two seasons – Liverpool will find themselves up against resolute opposition who truly believe they can win, and will need to be able to overcome this. The spirit shown in the astounding triumph over Borussia Dortmund will surely be referenced by Klopp as he urges our players to make themselves heroes.

This is not to say that it will be a case of Klopp’s heart versus Unai Emery’s head – the narrative that his passion triumphs over tactics is a tired one. Rather the German offers a brilliant blend of both; he sets the team up astutely, then gives them the confidence to go out and execute his game plan to perfection. The focus for tonight’s game will surely be creating and taking chances: Klopp has yet to make his mark on the squad with transfers, and for the moment the team’s strengths lie firmly in attack. Coutinho, Firmino and Lallana are expected to start in behind Sturridge – this is the same attacking four that dispatched of Villarreal in the second leg of the semi-final, and an even more effective display will be required of them to triumph in this game. They will all need to press: Firmino and Lallana have been particularly good at hassling the opposition into mistakes under Klopp, and this could be the key to unlocking Sevilla’s defence. Once they carve out the chances, they must take them ruthlessly – squandering opportunities is not necessarily the end of the world over two legs, but in the final a clinical streak must be shown. Certainly Liverpool have an attack capable of doing this; this is where passion and attitude come back into the equation. Unutilised talent is worthless: it is down to Klopp to ensure that every last player in a red shirt gives it their all.

This is, of course, equally applicable to the defence. Although they are not the strongest aspect of the team, they too will need to play at the very top of their games. It has recently emerged that Kolo Toure may be departing the club at the end of the season – guiding the club to silverware and Champions League qualification would be a perfect way to end. Dejan Lovren has had a very up-and-down career at Liverpool: he will need to be at his commanding best if Liverpool are to triumph. Alberto Moreno has come under a fair amount of criticism for his questionable defensive positioning and decision-making; this is somewhat mitigated by his strengths going forward, but he cannot afford to leave gaping holes in behind for Sevilla to exploit. Clyne also needs to watch his positioning: he has been solid all season, but big occasions can lead to errors. Most importantly, the four of them must work as a unit – they need to communicate, always pushing forwards together and dropping back together. Mignolet also needs to make sure he talks to his back line; he has never been the most authoritative of keepers, but a miscommunication in such a huge game could prove extremely costly.

Despite all the things that could go wrong, there is an unshakeable feeling that tonight is the night that will be looked back on as the night things changed for Liverpool Football Club. There is a tangible air of expectancy – Klopp and Liverpool have the makings of a truly seismic partnership, and a win tonight could well set in motion the revival that the club has threatened to undergo for so many years. On joining the club, the manager prompted us to turn from doubters into believers: tonight, more than any other, that message is applicable.

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