Football

Coutinho: Klopp instils belief in Reds

Coutinho hails the impact the German's had on the Reds 
since taking over

FINAL

LIVERPOOL v SEVILLA

(Tomorrow, 2.30am, Singtel TV Ch 112 & StarHub TV Ch 212)

Liverpool stand as little as 90 minutes away from their first step on a road to immortality.

As Basel beckons, so too does the springboard for a sustained period of success.

Win the Europa League final - their first European showpiece in nine years - and Juergen Klopp's maiden trophy as Liverpool manager will place him among an illustrious group of predecessors.

But as the German threatens to be elevated to a pantheon shared by Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Gerard Houllier, in triumphing in the competition, reflection remains at the fore.

Life at Anfield has been far from plain sailing in recent times.

Shots at glory in the English Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup have eluded them at regular intervals across the previous three seasons against backdrops of both indifference and mutiny.

Basel itself also holds painful memories for the Reds.

A Champions League return that was five years in the making was rapidly unravelled on their previous visit to the Swiss city.

At St Jakob-Park, in October 2014, a 1-0 reversal at the hands of their hosts sparked the beginning of the end for Brendan Rodgers.

Tomorrow morning (Singapore time), some 19 months on, Liverpool will return to Basel as a side on the throes of renaissance.

SO NEAR

"We've 'hit the post' on quite a few occasions recently," admitted Philippe Coutinho, one of just five surviving players from the starting line-up in that defeat, in an interview with British media and The New Paper last week.

"It's really important for us to finally achieve something and win something.

"We have a great chance to get things right now and go on to achieve the things we want to achieve.

"That game (last season) is part of the past so we're just focused on looking forward to the game against Sevilla."

What went before has become virtually taboo at Anfield since Klopp's arrival, little over seven months ago.

That a club once hailed as European royalty had slumped to 55th in Uefa's rankings, with the likes of Trabzonspor, Salzburg and Apoel Nicosia for company, had attracted a manager with a box-office standing of the 48-year-old seemed almost inconceivable.

Yet in the past 223 days, Klopp has taken Liverpool on the ultimate footballing roller-coaster; with their pathway to the Europa League final their crowning glory.

Little in the way of formality has paved that route to Basel; they have had to beat the best the competition has to offer, often in extraordinary fashion.

Making light work of Manchester United and semi-finalists Villarreal was only secondary to last month's emphatic quarter-final fightback over Borussia Dortmund, overturning a 4-2 aggregate defeat in the space of just 24 minutes, required near super-human strength.

They may require it again to overcome Sevilla, the two-time reigning holders, but Klopp's unrelenting belief in Liverpool's impossible dreams remains a constant source for a side greater than the sum of their parts.

CHANGES

"As everyone knows, he's a great manager. He's made a few changes since he came in," said Coutinho.

"Probably the biggest one being a change in the mentality, making the players believe we can actually win or achieve something.

"Step by step, towards the end of the season, we have improved the performances and are actually close to winning something.

"Obviously in football, things take time to bear fruit. It's just been (over) six months since he arrived at the club and it's the second final we're going to play.

"It's a great opportunity and the changes he's implemented have had a big direct impact on that."


As everyone knows, he’s a great manager. he’s made a few changes since he came in... Probably the biggest one being a change in the mentality, making the players believe we can actually win or achieve something.

— Philippe Coutinho, on the greatest impact that Klopp had made

Stand up and be counted

FEAt: Sevilla’s Unai Emery (above) is bidding to become the first coach to win three consecutive Europa League trophies. PHOTO: REUTERS

Juergen Klopp, who has breathed new life into Liverpool in his seven months in charge, would seal his place in the hearts of the club's supporters if he pulls off victory over Sevilla in tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) Europa League final.

It would bring Liverpool's first European trophy since the famous fightback against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul.

Klopp conjured up the spirit of that historic win in the extraordinary quarter-final performance over his former club Borussia Dortmund, when the Reds turned a 3-1 half-time deficit in the second leg into a stunning 4-3 victory in stoppage time.

Sevilla, current holders, might be a different matter though.

Klopp will be up against coach Unai Emery, whose side have won the last two editions of the tournament and hold a record four Uefa Cup/Europa League triumphs, all in the last decade.

Sevilla had an easier path to the final, beating Shakhtar Donetsk 5-3 on aggregate in the semis, although they needed a penalty shoot-out to overcome another Spanish side Athletic Bilbao in 
the last eight.

DISMAL

Sevilla have endured a disappointing domestic campaign, finishing seventh in La Liga and failing to win a single away game, the only team in Europe's top five leagues to do so.

But Sevilla coach Unai Emery is looking forward to the "huge challenge" against Klopp's Reds.

"Liverpool are great rivals and they have a long history and they are also in good form in the competition," said Emery, who took all 25 members of his squad to Basel, except for Michael Khohn-Delhi, who needed a knee operation after the first leg of the semi-final.

Left back Benoit Tremoulinas and central defender Marco Andreolli are also unfit to play, but have travelled as a display of unity.

"The fact that we are about to play our third consecutive final says a lot about how attentive we have been in the competition and how much we have worked to try and win the Europa League," said 44-year-old Emery.

"We have to see these moments as something special, because it is special to play finals and to try and win titles and for the club's name to be known throughout Spain and Europe.

"As professionals, it helps us feel that we are improving."

Sevilla will also play in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona on Monday morning (Singapore time).

Emery is also banking on his team's mental resilience to become the first coach to win three consecutive Europa League trophies.

"The fact that this is our third consecutive final demonstrates how focused and hungry we have been to do well in the Europa League, and win it," he said.

"That means competing - standing up to be counted throughout the 90 minutes."

- Wire Services.

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