Inspiring Klopp shows shades of Shankly
Like Shankly, charismatic German has uncanny ability to captivate players and fans
REPORTING FROM ANFIELD
SEMI-FINAL, 2ND LEG
(Bruno Soriano 7-og, Daniel Sturridge 63, Adam Lallana 81)
- Liverpool win 3-1 on aggregate
Expect half of Liverpool to descend on Basel in 11 days' time for the Reds' biggest party in more than a decade.
If the scenes from both inside and surrounding Anfield yesterday morning (Singapore time) remain a reliable barometer, Liverpool's presence in this season's Europa League final is set to deliver both a sight for sore eyes and music to many a ear.
On Juergen Klopp's say-so, tens of thousands will decamp en masse to the Swiss city, far outstripping their allotted ticket allocation, on May 18 after securing their passage into the showpiece with a 3-1 aggregate semi-final win over Villarreal.
Whatever the former Borussia Dortmund coach decrees to Liverpool players and fans alike is followed to the letter.
Facing Sevilla at St Jakob-Park, the 48-year-old German now stands on the cusp of delivering another fairy tale in the club's history in little over half a season at the helm.
Reaching two finals in a maiden season is hardly uncharted territory for Anfield's dugout incumbents.
The last man to achieve that feat retains more than a degree of reverence among the Kop faithful, some six years after his unceremonious departure.
But Klopp threatens to even surpass the impressive feats of Rafael Benitez.
The deliverer of their long-awaited Champions League crown, in 2005, restored the club's place back among the continental elite.
In just seven months, however, Klopp has reawakened a footballing giant from its slumber in highly mitigating circumstances.
An inherited squad of largely average players was never expected to challenge for major honours at the first time of asking - not least when confronted by a spate of injuries that has threatened to derail their campaign on multiple occasions.
Klopp's steadfast refusal to simply accept the hand he has been dealt has won through it all - and now, Liverpool's unlikely lads could soon lay claim to being newly crowned Europa League champions and, crucially, secure a much-craved Champions League return.
As La Liga's grip on European's elite competitions continued to tighten, its hex over English football was finally ended, at the 18th attempt, by the last club standing.
Yet the Reds' latest accomplishment was not down to mere supposition - it never has been.
Anfield's greatest nights, Klopp insisted, have never happened by sheer virtue of disembarking the team coach and touching the stadium's iconic sign.
Both players and fans have been required to play their part - and they did again yesterday morning to comfortably sink the Yellow Submarine.
Their relentlessness in chasing down possession ensured that Villarreal simply could not lay a glove on them.
It was the "gegenpressing" philosophy in all its glory, with Klopp again performing the role of lead conductor.
Feeding off, and fuelling the raw passion and emotion that have defined Liverpool's support is what he does best.
From the very beginning, he was working all and sundry at Anfield into a frenzy.
At times, Klopp's mania can often be detached from convention.
His celebration of Dejan Lovren's sliding challenge on Cedric Bakambu, midway through the first half, as if it were a breathless last-minute winner was the latest in an increasing case in point.
But the German's ability to captivate his disciples, on and off the pitch, continues to give rise to comparisons with the late Bill Shankly.
Like the godfather of the modern Liverpool, he, too, will make the people happy.
This is merely the beginning of that journey.
BY THE NUMBERS: 10,236
Liverpool and Sevilla will each receive only 10,236 tickets for the final at the 35,000-capacity St Jakob-Park in Basel. only one Uefa final since 1998 has been staged at a smaller venue — the 2014 Europa League final in Turin.
Klopp sees Reds' signs of success
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes he has seen encouraging signs in his side since the turn of the year and their passage to the Europa League final reflects his growing confidence.
An own-goal by Villarreal midfielder Bruno Soriano inside seven minutes was followed by strikes from Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana in the second half - which saw defender Victor Ruiz sent off - as the Reds secured a 3-0 win (3-1 on aggregate) to set up a clash with defending champions Sevilla.
While Liverpool's league form has been inconsistent, their progress in Europe has been remarkable, but Klopp believes he has seen signs which offer great hope for the final in Basel and beyond.
"In 2016, the team have shown a lot of times what they could be capable of in the future, so that's a good sign, and that is more important for me as a manager," said Klopp.
FEEL THE LOVE: Juergen Klopp brings out the best in his players, like Dejan Lovren (above). PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP
"I don't know what it means that it is nine years between (Liverpool's) last final.
"A lot of teams want to go to finals, it is not too easy, but it is a real opportunity and we will take the opportunity.
"When I came here, the tournament (Europa League) didn't sound too nice for the people - it was three draws (from three games).
"It was a difficult group and we came through with a nice game in Russia (against Rubin Kazan) and we felt really comfortable in this tournament.
"We like to go to different countries, but the problem was around these games - we had so many other games, so we couldn't be focused.
"But, when you perform like we did, then you want to have it all and that is what we will try.
"We will go there and try to do everything for this wonderful club."
Sturridge justified his manager's faith in picking him to start for the first time in four European games with one goal - and he almost got a touch for the opener turned in by Soriano.
"A great game from Daniel Sturridge," Klopp added.
"You all see now when Daniel Sturridge is fit, he is an unbelievable striker. But even he needs players to play with and I know about his quality, I knew before I came here. Great player."
Klopp is likely to make significant changes for the visit of Watford tomorrow, as he rests many of the players who played against Villarreal yesterday morning.
It means probable starts for the likes of goalkeeper Danny Ward, centre back Martin Skrtel, midfielders Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva and possibly striker Christian Benteke.
Left back Brad Smith is suspended after being sent off at Swansea last weekend.
- PA Sport.
BY THE NUMBERS
3: Liverpool will face Spanish opposition in a European final for the third time, having played Real Madrid in the 1981 European Cup final (won 1-0) and Alaves in the 2001 Uefa Cup (won 5-4 after extra-time).