Monday 5 December 2016

Liverpool's European final foes are looking to complete one of football's strangest achievements

Published 06/05/2016 | 16:09

Liverpool advanced to yet another European final in the club's storied history last night after an impressively comprehensive 3-0 win over Villarreal at Anfield.

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Jurgen Klopp picked his strongest XI and was rewarded with arguably the most complete performance of the season as his men peppered the opposition goal relentlessly while also keeping a crucial clean sheet.

Liverpool are set to play their second cup final of the season as a result, with the Reds travelling to Basel, Switzerland to face Sevilla in the Europa League final on May 18th. The previously low-key tournament has seen its competitiveness increase significantly since the carrot of giving the winners a Champions League place was introduced last season.

The bookies make Klopp's men slight favourites to both win the game (7/5) and lift the trophy (8/11) but the Spaniards are well organised under manager Unai Emery and have a strangely consistent track record in the tournament.

Amazingly, Emery's Sevilla side are going for an unprecedented three Europa League's in-a-row, which hasn't been done in any iteration of the competition.

Sevilla have remained in European football purgatory the last few years - one Champions League group stage appearance aside - as they have been good enough to sweep all in front of them in the Europa League but not strong enough to either qualify for the marquee tournament through the league or make a run in the competition when they were given a chance this year.

Given the Europa League is a second tier competition, it is unusual for teams to create the same sort of dynasty that they would in other tournaments. Most clubs treat it as a springboard and usually, if a side is good enough to win the Europa League they will have already qualified for the Champions League through their domestic competition.

So Sevilla's track record in this regard is both admirable and a little maddening for their manager - you want to be good enough to win the tournament once, or twice at most, but then ideally you will kick on and compete with the top teams in the Champions League.

This Sevilla team are just the third side to win consecutive Europa League trophies (or Uefa Cup), a record they a share with themselves (Juande Ramos led Sevilla to glory in 2006 and 2007) and Real Madrid (1985 and 1986). Emery's side are the first team of three who actually had the opportunity to defend their title a third time - the other two qualified for the Champions League knockout stage the following season.

The Spanish club are currently seventh in La Liga with two games to play, so they will need a late push to secure qualification for their favourite tournament for next season if they don't beat Liverpool in two weeks time.

So not only are Liverpool going up against an in-form side with plenty of quality, they are also facing the most dominant team in competition history who will be desperate to return to European football, in the hope that they can once again finish third in their Champions League group and do it all again.

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