The Liverpool community was rocked last week by the news that Mamadou Sakho failed a drugs test conducted after the Europa League clash against Manchester United. The prospect of having the Parisian banned for a year is damning. The news comes just days before Liverpool’s Europa League semi-final showdown with Villarreal. If a weakened defence is to be fielded could the Red’s progression lie in the attacking talents that Jürgen Klopp boasts?
Hopes of Champions League football next term are now only possible through winning the Europa League. Despite the tournament having the status of being secondary to the Champions League this term it has been a spectacle. The quarter-final between Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool was of the same pedigree as Europe’s elite tournament. Klopp himself has labelled the tournament as “a mini Champions League.”
Liverpool’s hopes of progression of both progression to the final and winning the tournament in its entirety will rest on the ability of Liverpool’s forwards. Daniel Sturridge has a superior goal record than Robbie Fowler; averaging a goal every 1.73 games compared to “God’s” ratio of a goal every 2.02 games. Since his return to Liverpool’s line-up after injury issues he has notched 10 goals despite not starting every single game he’s featured in.
Klopp will be faced with a welcome selection headache as he will need to decide yet again if he will start Daniel Sturridge in a big Europa League game. It wouldn’t be wise to do otherwise with the only other suitable option being Roberto Firmino. Despite scoring a goal against Bournemouth, the Brazilian hasn’t seemed to be on the greatest form since his injury. He’s lacked the killer touch which helped bring the form which saw him carry Liverpool through the winter months of the season.
If there is any to be a certain starter on Thursday night it’s Philippe Coutinho. His recent form has seen him emerge as the club’s top goal scorer. His creative talents are vital to unlocking Villarreal’s defence away from home. Even when Liverpool seems down and out the Brazilian always seems to have a little more samba magic to conjure. His goal in the dramatic comeback against Dortmund helped spark a glorious comeback. This tenacity and brilliance will be vital if Liverpool are to progress to the final of the Europa League.
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James Milner. James pronounced the same way as James Rodriguez, the Colombian genius from Real Madrid. Now, I know you’re thinking Milner is not a forward but he has been Liverpool’s most creative player this season as far assists are concerned. His output is beginning to worry those Arsenal fans who have little left to cling to other than Mesut Özil’s assist tally. His cross to the back post in the 91st minute against Dortmund which Dejan Lovren thumped in will go down in Anfield folklore as one of the most pivotal moments in Europe for Liverpool.
Liverpool has scored the most Premier League goals in 2016 showing the effect that Klopp has had on his forwards. By giving them confidence to things that weren’t done under Brendan Rodgers he has ensured that this season hasn’t fizzled out and lost the excitement as it has done for so many years since Liverpool’s exodus from Europa’s elite – bar one disappointing showing in 2014/2015.
The people who think that Liverpool are going to steamroller Villarreal are the same people who think Pep Guardiola will take England by storm next season. Liverpool’s lacking defence will have to contend with Cedric Bakambu, Denis Suarez and Roberto Soldado. The well-informed few are of the opinion that after recent injuries and possible suspensions Villarreal are as good if not better than Liverpool.
If the Merseysiders are to progress at all it is going to be as difficult and as trying as the encounter was against Borussia Dortmund. While maintaining a sense of realism it is very difficult to suppress the enthusiasm generated by eliminating the tournament favourites. It will be Jürgen Klopp’s task to ensure his team don’t get carried away with the excitement created by the supporters while simultaneously instilling a sense of confidence in his attackers to take advantage of playing away from home in the first leg.
Featured Image – Bleacher Report