Liverpool v Sevilla: Straightforward victory for Jurgen Klopp's Reds seems most unlikely
Of all possible outcomes in the Liverpool v Sevilla Europa League final, a straightforward victory for Jurgen Klopp's Reds 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.
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.
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.
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.
Mignolet urges Liverpool to learn from Chelsea clash
Simon Mignolet believes Liverpool can take a lot from a battling draw with Chelsea as they look ahead to next week's Europa League final.
Christian Benteke scored a last-gasp equaliser as the Reds snatched a 1-1 draw against the Londoners in a relatively unimportant Barclays Premier League clash at Anfield on Wednesday.
Goalkeeper Mignolet thinks lessons can be learned after Liverpool let their intensity drop following a bright start and confidence can be gained from how they fought back.
Liverpool have just one more game, Sunday's trip to West Brom, before attention can fully switch to next Wednesday's clash with Sevilla in Basle.
Mignolet said: "You just want to go into the final with confidence and the only way to do that is by putting in performances.
"I think the biggest message this shows is that if you don't start well, or play how we played in the first half, we can get into trouble.
"That is maybe the best message we could have and take forward. We have to be 100 per cent focused and ready, play like we played the last minutes and first minutes of the game - not the last 15 minutes of the first half.
"But we never give up - something the gaffer always talks about. It doesn't look like any coincidence any more, that we score in the late stages. We have to keep that going. We have to show that mentality to never be beaten."
After creating some early chances, Liverpool allowed Chelsea to take charge and the visitors went ahead with a stunning solo goal from Eden Hazard after 32 minutes.
Hazard, who has had a quiet season, was back to his brilliant best and dominated the game. His goal came after a mazy dribble and was finished expertly from just inside the box.
Chelsea had a number of chances to add to that lead but were unable to beat Mignolet. Liverpool's stronger finish then earned a reward when Sheyi Ojo crossed and fellow substitute Benteke capitalised on an Asmir Begovic error to equalise.
Mignolet said: "I had to make a few saves and I am pleased we stayed in the game. It is always important to make an equaliser late in the game.
"If we had scored a bit earlier maybe we could have won the game but Chelsea had chances in the second half and it could have been out of sight. This still gives us a chance of finishing sixth."
Liverpool remain eighth and will need to win at The Hawthorns and hope for other results to go their way to climb to sixth.
The priority, however, will be the Europa League and Mignolet hopes the disappointment of losing the Capital One Cup final in February provides a spur.
The 28-year-old said: "I remember Kolo (Toure) saying after the game sometimes you have to lose a final to know how it feels.
"We don't want to go through that again. Sevilla are a really good side, they have got the experience in this competition, have won it many times and gone far in it. It is going to be a tough game, but a final is a final and you never know what might happen."
We look at some of the issues surrounding the game.
THE OLD DANIEL STURRIDGE CONUNDRUM
Despite his obvious quality and return to fitness when it comes to big match-day decisions Sturridge always seems to be top of the list.
While his finishing is not in question if Jurgen Klopp wants to set the tone in terms of high-intensity pressing he prefers Roberto Firmino in a false nine position with Divock Origi still injured.
It would be a big call to leave Sturridge out of the starting line-up but one the Reds boss is not afraid of making.
LIVERPOOL'S EVEN OLDER DEFENSIVE FRAILTY ISSUE
Set-pieces have been Liverpool's regular downfall and they do allow their opponents chances so it would be unwise to back a clean sheet against a Sevilla side who have scored 14 goals in their eight Europa League ties.
However, things have tightened up in recent weeks with Dejan Lovren growing in stature.
THE RED'S BIG-GAME MENTALITY COURTESY OF KLOPP
Their league form may still be inconsistent but when the occasion demands it more often than not under Klopp Liverpool have delivered.
When it came to the crunch in their must-win quarter and semi-finals the players delivered, also knocking out arch-rivals Manchester United along the way, and they only lost the Capital Cup final to Manchester City on penalties having fought back to score a late equaliser.
SEVILLA'S TRAVEL SICKNESS
Somewhat bizarrely for a team in Spain's top seven Sevilla's record on the road is woeful. 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.
They obviously prefer home comforts with 19 victories in 25 games at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.
They have already been to Basle this season and came away with a goalless draw.
Routes to the final
We look at how the two teams got there.
Europa League, Bordeaux 1 Liverpool 1
A second-string side under Brendan Rodgers went ahead through Adam Lallana only to be pegged back by Jussie.
Champions League, Sevilla 3 Borussia Munchengladbach 0
Kevin Gameiro, Ever Banega and one-time Liverpool target Yevhen Konoplyanka all scored.
Europa League, Liverpool 1 Sion 1
Lallana scored for the second successive European game but Ebenezer Assifuah equalised in the 17th minute.
Champions League, Juventus 2 Sevilla 0
Alvaro Morata and Simone Zaza inflicted defeat on the visitors.
Europa League, Liverpool 1 Rubin Kazan 1
A third straight 1-1 draw against the 10-man Russians saw Emre Can equalise an early Marko Devic goal.
Champions League, Man City 2 Sevilla 1
Kevin de Bruyne's 90th-minute winner, after Adil Rami's own goal had cancelled out Konoplyanka's opener inflicted a second successive defeat.
Europa League, Rubin Kazan 1 Liverpool 1
Jordon Ibe's goal gave Liverpool - and new manager Jurgen Klopp - their first European win of the season and put them on course for qualification.
Champions League, Sevilla 1 Man City 3
Another defeat, with Benoit Tremoulinas' goal not enough against strikes from Raheem Sterling, Fernandinho and Wilfried Bony, pushed Sevilla towards Champions League exit.
Europa League, Liverpool 2 Bordeaux 1
A second successive win secured progress to the knockout stage with a match to spare courtesy of goals from James Milner and Christian Benteke.
Champions League, Borussia Munchengladbach 4 Sevilla 2
Late goals from Vitolo and Banega were not enough to prevent Sevilla exiting the Champions League.
Europa League, Sion 0 Liverpool 0
On a cold night and faced with a semi-frozen pitch in Switzerland with nothing at stake a goalless draw was almost inevitable.
Champions League, Sevilla 1 Juventus 0
Fernando Llorente's goal against his former club booked Europa League qualification.
EUROPA LEAGUE KNOCKOUT PHASE
Last 32, Augsburg 0 Liverpool 0
The furore over Klopp's first return to Germany ended in a low-key affair.
Last 32, Sevilla 3 Molde 0
Llorente (two) and Gameiro comfortably dispatched the Norwegians.
Last 32, Liverpool 1 Augsburg 0
An early Milner penalty was enough to progress
Last 32, Molde 1 Sevilla 0
Sevilla avoided any upset as Eirik Hastad's goal was the best the hosts could manage.
Last 16, Liverpool 2 Man Utd 0
Daniel Sturridge (penalty) and Roberto Firmino gave Liverpool the advantage over their arch-rivals.
Last 16, Basle 0 Sevilla 0
The late sending-off of Steven Nzonzi was the only setback in Switzerland.
Last 16, Man Utd 1 Liverpool 1
A brilliant goal from Philippe Coutinho left United needing three even after Anthony Martial's early penalty and effectively ended the game.
Last 16, Sevilla 3 Basle 0
Gameiro (two) and Rami put Sevilla into the quarter-finals.
Quarter-final, Borussia Dortmund 1 Liverpool 1
An impressive performance by Divock Origi was capped with an important away goal even if it was pegged back by Mats Hummels as Klopp faced the club he left in the summer.
Quarter-final, Athletic Bilbao 1 Sevilla 2
Thimothee Kolodzieczak and Vicente Iborra scored two important goals to take the initiative back to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.
Quarter-final, Liverpool 4 Borussia Dortmund 3
Dejan Lovren's added-time header sealed a dramatic comeback from 4-2 down on aggregate with 24 minutes remaining. Coutinho and Mamadou Sakho chipped in to add to Divock Origi's goal after Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Marco Reus had seemingly put the Germans through.
Quarter-final, Sevilla 1 Athletic Bilbao 2
Raul Garcia's 80th-minute away goal took the tie to penalties but the hosts prevailed 5-4 in the shoot-out.
Semi-final, Villarreal 1 Liverpool 0
Adrian Lopez's 90th-minute goal prompted wild celebrations by the home side, Klopp just said it was half-time.
Semi-final, Shakhtar Donetsk 2 Sevilla 2
Two more important away goals from Vitolo and Gameiro put the Spanish club in the driving seat for the second leg.
Semi-final, Liverpool 3 Villarreal 0
The visitors looked shell-shocked at a bouncing Anfield as Bruno's early own goal was followed by strikes from Sturridge and Lallana.
Semi-final, Sevilla 3 Shakhtar Donetsk 1
Finely-poised at 1-1 at half-time Gameiro's second of the night gave the hosts the momentum and Mariano finished the job.
Belfast Telegraph Digital