Image: Reuters

Wednesday night, there will be a European final in Basel. While it’s not the Champions League, the Europa League finale will pit two European heavyweights against each other. In one corner, Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool. The Reds haven’t tasted European glory since that miraculous day in Istanbul back in 2005. In the other corner stands Sevilla. Los Rojiblancos have been absolutely dominant in this continental tournament as of late, claiming the last two trophies. Will Sevilla add a third consecutive Europa League medal to their trophy cabinet, or can Klopp and Liverpool start the German’s era with a piece of European silverware?

One player that won’t be taking the field for Liverpool Wednesday is Mamadou Sakho. The French defender has been suspended indefinitely following a failed drug test after the Reds knocked out Manchester United in the Round of 16. Sakho had grown into one of the squad’s top center backs this season, and even scored the equalizing goal in Liverpool’s dramatic 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals. Without him, Klopp’s options at center back are limited. If I had to guess, Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel will line-up as the starting defensive pairing, but I’m not sure how much confidence that puts in fans’ hearts. Don’t be surprised if Simon Mignolet has a busy match ahead of him.

The player to watch for Liverpool has to be Daniel Sturridge. With Divock Origi out injured since the Merseyside Derby, Sturridge has been leaned on as one of the Reds’ best attacking options. On his day, there isn’t an English striker more lethal than the 26-year-old. The problem is that injuries have seemingly been a constant issue for the striker ever since his explosive 21-goal season back in 2013/14. During the second leg of the semi-final against Villareal, Sturridge scored the second goal in a 3-0 rout at Anfield. In his last six games, Sturridge has found the back of the net four times, including a three-game scoring streak during April. With Klopp hesitant to put his faith in Christian Benteke, look for Sturridge to lead the line on Wednesday.

While some clubs have tended to look at the Europa League as a minor tournament, Sevilla have continued to look at it as a serious piece of silverware. With competition for Champions League spots in La Liga extremely difficult, Unai Emery’s squad has utilized the Europa League to earn a spot in Europe’s premier club competition. Over the last three seasons, including the 2015/16 season, Sevilla have failed to break into Spain’s top four, but have still found themselves competing in the Champions League come August. This determination and concentration during the Europa League has definitely paid off for Sevilla and they should come into this final with the same passion that saw them win the last two tournaments.

Going off of form, Sevilla aren’t exactly heading into the final on a wave of momentum. In their last five games, they’ve won just once. On top of that, they’ve scored more than one goal just twice (both times against Shakhtar Donestk). 4-1 and 3-1 thrashings at the hands of relegation-threatened Granada and fifth place Athletic Bilbao show the defensive frailties present in Sevilla’s squad. Out of the top seven teams in Spain, only one (Celta Vigo) allowed more goals than Sevilla this season (50). Adil Rami and Timothée Kolodziejczak (wow, what a name) make up the typical center back pairing and they’ll need a strong performance to keep Sturridge and co. at bay in Basel.

As much as I would love for Liverpool to end yet another season without a trophy, I also think its about time for an English club to win something in Europe. Liverpool have shown that they can be a dominant team under Klopp’s guidance and the “Normal One” has experience on the European stage. My prediction is that Klopp salvages an otherwise underwhelming season for the Reds and Liverpool win 1-0 after extra time.


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