While few would deny that Liverpool have shown major signs of improvement under Jurgen Klopp. But the Anfield outfit nonetheless finished the season eighth in the table, outside of the European berths for next season.
However, the German tactician has a golden opportunity to guide the club back to Europe and secure his first trophy since taking over for Brendan Rodgers when Liverpool meet Sevilla in the Europa League final Wednesday. A win would not only add another piece of silverware to the already substantial collection in the Anfield trophy cabinet; it would secure Liverpool a place in next season’s Champions League.
Klopp is already an undeniable hero to Liverpool fans, but if he can pull this one off, he could genuinely establish himself as a Liverpool legend, after only seven months in charge.
The Europa League is the oft maligned, second-tier European club competition, one that’s looked disdainfully down upon by the continent’s elite clubs and their elite players. However, Klopp has taken it seriously this season, seemingly making it a priority.
This has paid off nicely in terms of results – a 3-0 drubbing of Villarreal at Anfield to secure a place in the final, and spectacle – a two-legged tie against his old club Borussia Dortmund that was seemingly played out on a razor’s edge.
Now the two-time Bundesliga winning manager and Champions League finalist has led his young, still-improving squad into a European final. While his team must be credited for getting the results on the pitch, it’s Klopp who has got this Liverpool side firing again.
With five European championships and three UEFA Cups to their name, Liverpool are a club with a tradition of European success. However, since their thrilling comeback victory in the Champions League final against AC Milan in 2005, Liverpool have gone quiet on the European stage.
The club’s single trophy since winning the FA Cup in 2006 is the even more oft maligned, English League Cup, which they won in 2012.
But Klopp has got the fans, and more importantly, the team, believing again. He’s certainly found a way to get the best out of the players at his disposal with striker Divock Origi for instance, looking like a different player than he did under Klopp’s predecessor, Brendan Rodgers.
Standing in Klopp’s way however, are another club and another manager who have decided to take the Europa League seriously – current holders, Sevilla and their manager, Unai Emery. The La Liga outfit have won the competition for the last two years running and a win Wednesday would make them the first club to win three consecutive European titles since Bayern Munich did it back in the late ‘70s. Like Liverpool, Sevilla finished just outside the European places in their domestic season and will be eying not just history, but also a ticket back into the Champions League next season.
Like Liverpool, Sevilla also have a dynamic, gifted young manager in Emery. The former Valencia and Spartak Moscow boss has a reputation as a workaholic and has already transformed Sevilla into the most successful club in UEFA Cup/Europa League history by bringing the number of times the club have won the competition to four.
On Wednesday, Emery’s Sevilla will have a chance to make history with a third win in as many years. Klopp meanwhile, will be looking to reestablish the through-line to Liverpool’s own rich European history.
Sevilla are the holders and have dominated the competition in recent seasons. But having beat the likes of Manchester United, Dortmund and Villarreal on the way to the final, Liverpool could also be considered favorites. It looks set to be a finely poised encounter between two of Europe’s most dynamic, under-the-radar sides.