If Sevilla are victorious against Liverpool in Wednesday’s Europa League final they will make history as well as extend an uncomfortable sequence for Jurgen Klopp in the process.
While Sevilla boss Unai Emery is chasing an unprecedented third consecutive triumph in the competition, opposite number Klopp has lost each of his past four major finals.
The last of these setbacks came in February, when Manchester City triumphed on penalties at Wembley in the League Cup final, adding another runners-up medal to those he secured in his last three finals at Borussia Dortmund in one Champions League showpiece and two in the DFP-Pokal.
Klopp, whose reign at Dortmund also saw him win two Bundesliga titles and a Pokal crown, was relaxed over his finals record at a typically jovial pre-match news conference but he believes the merits of a debut campaign at Anfield, during which dizzying highs sat alongside frustrating inconsistencies, rest on the result at Basle’s St Jakob-Park.
“I am pretty sure if we don’t win the title nobody will think it’s a success,” he said. “For me a lot of things were something like successes in these seven months but, in the history of Liverpool, if you look back in 100 years no-one will think it is quite cool.”
Klopp conceded the eighth-place Premier League finish confirmed by Sunday’s 1-1 draw with West Brom was “not my dream position” and the difference between victory and defeat against Sevilla is stark – Champions League group-stage football or European exile for next year.
Last month’s stunning quarter-final comeback to down Klopp’s former employers Dortmund added a memorable chapter to Liverpool’s rich history, but their recent past is not comparable to the legacy of domestic and continental domination under Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley, or even Rafael Benitez’s Miracle of Istanbul in 2005.
In six of the past seven seasons, Liverpool have finished between sixth and eighth in the Premier League. The 2012 League Cup is their only piece of silverware since 2006.
This, as opposed to a trophy-laden glory years, is Klopp’s reality and one that should lend a sense of perspective to the fine work he has undertaken so far.
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) May 17, 2016
Either side of lifting the League Cup, Manchester City were bludgeoned by Klopp’s men; a win at Chelsea helped contribute to Jose Mourinho’s downfall and the 3-1 aggregate margin did not do justice to Liverpool’s first-leg dominance of bitter rivals Manchester United in the Europa League last-16 tie.
Klopp has bloodied the nose of English football’s big hitters in his short time in charge – he even managed a victory over the all-conquering Leicester City – and his past excellence at Dortmund means it is easier to attach relevance to these results as opposed to losses at Newcastle United, Watford or Swansea City.
The anomaly within Liverpool’s contemporary campaigns, when Brendan Rodgers’ side fell agonisingly short as runners-up to Manchester City in the 2013-14 Premier League, came as a vibrant side, free from the distractions of European football, attacked a 38-game season with gusto.
Considering Klopp’s Liverpool free from Champions League commitments and with a maiden gegenpressing pre-season under their belts will chill many in England’s top flight.
The wilfully eccentric German boasts a squad of ample talent but containing no A-list names, as Rodgers had in the form of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez.
Klopp himself is the superstar and the galvanising force, making it likely he could keep together the bulk of a group who have bought eagerly into his methods and bring in the necessary improvements regardless of Wednesday’s outcome and whether they qualify for Europe’s elite club competition.
Germany and Bayern Munich forward Mario Gotze is not being linked to Liverpool because they might be in the Champions League; he is being linked to Liverpool because of his old Dortmund mentor.
It is impossible to imagine Klopp being derailed by defeat to Sevilla in the manner Rodgers was after his near-miss on account of an impeccable pedigree and swiftly established foundations on Merseyside.
Klopp has challenged his players to become legends at Liverpool by beating Sevilla. Under his guidance, they should have many more opportunities to attain this lofty status.
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