It’s been a long journey, but at last, we’ve reached the Europa League final. Two teams, Liverpool and Sevilla, have stood above the rest and will meet for the first time ever in a UEFA competition. While Sevilla dropped down from the Champions League at the beginning of the knockout stage, Liverpool played their way through from the very beginning. They’ve each had to face underdogs, strong European sides, domestic rivals, and others in their respective quests.
Here’s a quick look at each team’s path to the final:
Liverpoola��Europa League Group B
Bordeaux 1 a�� 1 Liverpool
Liverpool 1 a�� 1 Sion
Liverpool 1 a�� 1 Rubin Kazan
Rubin Kazan 0 a�� 1 Liverpool
Liverpool 2 a�� 1 Bordeaux
Sion 0 a�� 0 Liverpool
First in Group B w/ 10 points.
Liverpool defeated Augsburg 1-0 on aggregate in the Round of 32. A goalless first leg in Germany was followed by a match at Anfield that James Milner decided with a penalty early on. The Reds defeated their biggest domestic rivals, Manchester United, 3-1 on aggregate in the Round of 16. A 2-0 home victory in the first leg was followed by a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in the second. In the quarterfinals, Liverpool drew 1-1 with Dortmund in Germany before overturning a 3-1 deficit in the second leg to win 4-3 on the day and 5-4 on aggregate. That earned them a date with Villarreal, one that ended 3-1.
Sevillaa��Champions League Group D
Sevilla 3 a�� 0 Borussia MA�nchengladbach
Juventus 2 a�� 0 Sevilla
Manchester City 2 a�� 1 Sevilla
Sevilla 1 a�� 3 Manchester City
Borussia MA�nchengladbach 4 a�� 2 Sevilla
Sevilla 1 a�� 0 Juventus
Third in Group D w/ 5 points; Dropped down to the Europa League.
Sevilla drew Molde in the Round of 32, and effectively put the tie away in the first leg. In the next round, a scoreless draw in Basel precluded a 3-0 home victory over the Swiss side. The quarterfinals paired them up with domestic rival, Bilbao. Sevilla earned its first road victory of their European journey by winning 2-1, but they lost the return leg by the same score only to advance via shootout. In the semifinals, a 2-2 draw in Lviv against Shakhtar Donetsk gave way to a 3-1 victory and 5-3 triumph.
Form, injuries, and what to expect
Liverpool have lost only once in this competition, which came in the last round away to Villarreal. They’ve managed six wins, all of which have come after JA?rgen Klopp became manager, and a further seven draws. They are, by all accounts, a team on the rise following Brendan Rodgers’ fruitless spell at the helm.
Domestically, they could be aiming higher. The Reds limped to an 8th place league finish, two points back of West Ham and a potential Europa League place. They drew 1-1 with West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, a result that ended any hopes of qualifying for Europe domestically. However, it’s all on them; a win over their Spanish opponents on Wednesday will award them with Champions League football next season.
Most of their first team are back in training or fully fit. Emre Can, Jordan Henderson, and Danny Ings have all returned from injury layoffs. The most impressive of the three would have to be Ings; the forward tore knee ligaments in October but needed only seven months to recover. Can and Henderson each suffered serious injuries in recent weeks but have worked hard to return in time, while Divock Origi recently returned to training, but remains a doubt for the final. Young defender Joe Gomez also remains out with a serious knee injury, and center-half Mamadou Sakho is suspended for the next several months following his failed drug test.
We should expect Liverpool to try and put their opponents under heavy pressure from the whistle. A high defensive line will provide the backbone to their gegenpressing system. The forwards and wide midfielders will close on the ball carrier and try to force a mistake in Sevilla’s defensive third. This is how they were able to get under Villarreal’s skin and many other sides as well. Klopp’s system is demanding yet it yields results one way or another. Sevilla should be prepared to have little-to-no time on the ball.
Sevilla have lost more matches in half the time that Liverpool have spent in this competition; an away loss to Molde and a home loss to Bilbao already double the amount of losses Liverpool have suffered. However, their four wins in eight Europa matches almost surpass Liverpool’s grand total, and the Reds have played 14. Football is a weird.
Los Rojiblancos improved on their dismal early season form but could only muster a 7th place finish in La Liga. They lost their last three matches by a combined score of 8-2 and only won one of their remaining nine league matches. For those scoring at home, that’s relegation form. Before that run, they had a very good chance to qualify for the Europa League domestically. Sixth-place finisher Celta Vigo took 13 points in their last nine, whereas Sevilla took four. Celta finished eight points clear of Sevilla. If you do the matha��
They’ll be missing midfielders JosA� Antonio Reyes and Michael Krohn-Delhi as well as left-back BenoA�t TrA�moulinas. Reyes recently went under the knife to have his appendix removed. The Danish midfielder Krohn-Delhi dislocated his kneecap in the first leg of the semi-final and is out indefinitely. TrA�moulinas suffered a knee injury in his return during the second leg and is also out indefinitely. Center-half Marco Andreolli remains out as he recovers from a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Sevilla will attempt to put Liverpool’s midfield under intense pressure by exchanging quickly through the middle of the pitch. They’ll send plenty of crosses into the area which may work given the inconsistencies Reds’ ‘keeper Simon Mignolet is prone to. Liverpool’s defensive line is much improved under Klopp, but they also are missing their most dominant center-half in Sakho, so scoring chances may come thick and fast. They’ll need to not get caught in possession in their own half, as they are prone to committing silly fouls and allowing dangerous chances.
Sevilla and Liverpool can still get into Europe next season, and to make matters better, they can each get into the better of the two competitions. A win here will mark three straight Europa League titles for the Spaniards; they will be the first club in over 40 years to win a European competition three straight years. With four previous wins in the last decade, this is their competition. Liverpool is right behind with three, but they haven’t won since it was called the UEFA Cupa��the year was 2001. They are both great clubs and neither should be discredited for their work thus far.
Is it Wednesday yet? Who’s your pick?