Liverpool go into Thursday’s Europa League semi-final first leg against Villarreal with a long injury list as Jurgen Klopp looks to steer his side to a European final in his first season.
It would be the German’s second final as manager at Anfield in just a few months after he saw his side go down on penalties to Manchester City in the League Cup final back in February.
Klopp has not won on Spanish soil as a manager so far in his career and will be looking to change that record when his Liverpool team take on the La Liga side.
He will have to do it without several key players however, as Mamadou Sakho (left out due to failed drugs test), Emre Can (ankle), Jordan Henderson (knee), Divock Origi (ankle ligaments), Joe Gomez (knee) and Danny Ings (knee).
In contrast, Villarreal manager Marcelino practically has a fully fit squad to pick from with Leo Baptistao the only absentee as Jaume Costa and Mateo Mussachio passed late fitness tests ahead of the game.
Villarreal have won all their home games in the Europa League this season and have only conceded once at the El Madrigal stadium, so Klopp’s side have their work cut out if they want to take an advantage into the second leg.
The Spanish side are fourth in La Liga and are on course to qualify for the Champions League – something Liverpool are hoping to do by virtue of winning the Europa League as the chances of a top four finish are now gone for the season.
This is the first competitive meeting of the clubs after the previous encounter saw a 0-0 draw back in the preseason of 2008/9. Villarreal haven’t beaten English opposition in their last ten attempts while Liverpool have lost three of the last four ties with Spanish sides.
The last time Liverpool met Spanish opposition at this stage of the competition was in 2009/10, when Atletico Madrid went through on away goals after the tie ended 2-2 on aggregate. Ex-Manchester United forward Diego Forlan scored the crucial goal at Anfield to take his side through.
Klopp is unbeaten in Europe as Liverpool manager, however, having won five and drawn five from his ten continental fixtures so far. He also won his only European semi-final when his Borussia Dortmund side beat Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals back in 2012/13.
He is likely to send his side out with the intention of keeping it tight in the first leg so that there is plenty to play for at Anfield in the second leg. And there is no shame in not attacking after seeing Zinedine Zidane, one of 24 players recently immortalised in William Hill’s European football tribute, sending his Real Madrid side out not to lose at Manchester City on Tuesday evening.
Liverpool reached the semi-finals thanks to high-profile victories over Manchester United in the last sixteen and Dortmund in the quarter-finals. A dramatic 4-3 win over the German side sealed safe passage to the last four after Klopp’s side were 3-1 down at Anfield.
Christian Benteke is fit enough to take a place in the squad and will cover for the absence of his compatriot Divock Origi. Daniel Sturridge is likely to start upfront for the Reds and will be looking to continue his impressive goalscoring form.
This is certain to be a close pair of games and the winners will get no easy final with either Sevilla or Shakhtar Donetsk waiting in the final, which will be played in Basel this season.