The stakes are high for the first competitive meeting between Liverpool and Sevilla in Wednesday’s Europa League final.
The two teams have been in seven finals of the competition between them and won on every occasion, but something has to give in Basle with a spot in the Champions League group stage on offer to the victors.
Sevilla are record four-time winners of Europe’s secondary competition, lifting the trophy in 2006, 2007, 2014 and 2015 and they are now looking to make history by winning it for a third straight year.
But Liverpool, who had success in 1973, 1976 and 2001 as well as being five-time Champions League winners, also have a fierce continental pedigree.
The Reds have won eight of their previous 11 major finals in Europe, but manager Jurgen Klopp is hoping to end an unpleasant personal streak that has seen him lose four cup finals in a row with Borussia Dortmund and the Reds – a Champions League final, two DFB-Pokals and this year’s League Cup loss to Manchester City.
“I expect it to be intense, of course,” Klopp told UEFA. “There will be challenges all over the pitch, there will be a lot of fight. You cannot win a cup with just ‘a little bit of playing football’. You have to show that you’re really ready for the big moments.
“It’s a 50-50 situation – nobody is favourites, nobody is already halfway there. It’s an intense game with all the circumstances – the hours before a final, and things like this – but for me, the bigger the pressure, the cooler I get.
“We will try everything to take the opportunity. It is difficult – we know. It is against Sevilla – we know. But we will be prepared, 100 per cent. We deserve to be a part of the final – 100 per cent. And who deserves to be in a final can win and that’s what we’ll try.
“It is a European final and so what could be bigger? I know a week-and-a-half later is the Champions League final, but that is the only bigger game until the European Championship.
“It feels pretty good. When I came here I couldn’t imagine that this could happen because there was still a long way to go.
“I like this tournament. The whole European journey has been really easy for us to enjoy. We’ve had big, wonderful Anfield nights and my team has put in some fabulous performances.”
Sevilla coach Unai Emery is looking to write his name into the history books by masterminding another European success and will hope striker Kevin Gameiro can continue his stunning form.
Gameiro has played a part in nine of Sevilla’s 14 goals in this season’s competition, scoring seven and setting up two.
“Playing in all these finals and winning these titles generated a lot of emotion which makes this a very special time to be at Sevilla,” Emery told UEFA.
“Sevilla are a historic club and have always had good spells, but this period we’re going through right now is full of joy and passion that stem from playing in those finals and winning the titles.
“Sevilla care about this competition. You have to come up with the goods and rise to the challenge to go a long way in this competition. 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.
“It’s a challenge [to face Liverpool], in the sense of having to face big opponents with a distinguished history, and who currently have a lot of momentum in this competition – which also represents a route into next season’s Champions League.
“There will certainly be a lot of [Liverpool] fans at the final. What motivates us the most is to play a great match against a big team and achieve our objective of winning.”
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson (knee) came off the bench to return from over five weeks out against West Brom on Sunday and Klopp is hoping Divock Origi (ankle) will be passed fit, but Mamadou Sakho is suspended.
Sevilla have been without Michael Krohn-Dehli (knee) and Jose Antonio Reyes (appendix) since April.
Key Opta Stats:
– Liverpool have won each of their two European finals against Spanish opposition, beating Real Madrid in the 1981 European Cup and Alaves in the 2001 UEFA Cup.
– Liverpool have lost only one of their 14 games in the Europa League this season (W6 D7), that was against Villarreal in the semi-final first leg (1-0).
– Liverpool have had 11 different scorers in this season’s Europa League, more than any other team.
– Spanish clubs have won seven of the last 12 editions of the Europa League/UEFA Cup (Sevilla 4, Atletico Madrid 2, Valencia 1).
– Sevilla have won three of their eight European games against English opposition (D2 L3), including a 4-0 win over Middlesbrough in the 2006 UEFA Cup final.