Wednesday 13 December 2017

Comment: How magical Jurgen Klopp has got Liverpool believing again

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp, right, with James Milner and Adam Lallana Photo: AP
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp, right, with James Milner and Adam Lallana Photo: AP

Carl Markham

Of all possible outcomes in the Europa League final, a straightforward Liverpool victory seems the most unlikely.

The word 'drama' has been virtually entwined with the Reds' European exploits, and the last month has only served to underline that.

Jurgen Klopp summoned the spirit of Istanbul - when Liverpool famously came back from 3-0 down at half-time to win the 2005 Champions League against AC Milan - as he stirred his players into a rousing second-half comeback against his former club Borussia Dortmund, which saw their quarter-final settled by a stoppage-time winner.

That performance instilled a belief within the side which then saw them reverse a 1-0 semi-final deficit against the usually disciplined Villarreal.

Now, with the club standing on the verge of their first European trophy for 11 years, Klopp will again rally his troops, who have responded to his methods since he arrived in mid-October as a replacement for the sacked Brendan Rodgers.

Most crucially, he has made them believe again. Since their Premier League title near-miss under Rodgers, confidence gradually ebbed away to a point where some performances appeared to be just an exercise in going through the motions.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

Klopp's arrival injected a new vigour, not only because players felt the need to impress the new man but because everything he does is about intensity and exuding an air of confidence.

That has been particularly reflected in their run to the Europa League final, where he has picked strong teams and backed his players to overcome every obstacle - most impressively beating Dortmund from 4-2 down on aggregate with 24 minutes to go.

The manager has been largely consistent in his selection to the point where it is probably possible to name nine or 10 of his starting line-up for the Basle showpiece against Sevilla on Wednesday, fitness-permitting.

His biggest decision will be whether to start striker Daniel Sturridge or opt for the harder running of Roberto Firmino as a false nine.

Klopp will also have to have a plan for Sevilla striker Kevin Gameiro - coincidentally a one-time target for Rodgers - who has scored eight goals in just 585 minutes of action since the Spanish club dropped into the competition from the Champions League.

Gameiro is the Europa League's fourth-highest scorer this season, but Liverpool have already faced two of the three ahead of him in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Cedric Bakambu and managed to keep them down to just one goal between them in 347 minutes of pitch time.

Klopp will have to decide if he will play Daniel Sturridge
Klopp will have to decide if he will play Daniel Sturridge

The 29-year-old Frenchman spearheads Sevilla's bid to become the first team to win the trophy for a third successive season following back-to-back final victories over Benfica and Dnipro.

Much could depend on how well Unai Emery's side travel, as their much-quoted away record is woeful this term.

In 25 away matches in all competitions, they have recorded just one victory - and even that was in their own country against Athletic Bilbao in the quarter-finals last month.

The St Jakob-Park stadium will be dominated by Liverpool fans, with the numbers making the trip to Switzerland well in excess of their 10,000 ticket allocation, so it is likely to feel more like a home game for the Reds.

While it is over 600 miles back to Merseyside, the fans ensure the Anfield atmosphere does travel well.

The drama is an associated by-product.

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