Aldo: Europa League final will shape Liverpool's future for years
The Europa League final against Sevilla in Basel is likely to have a huge impact on Liverpool’s future for years to come…and the aftershocks will shape the Jurgen Klopp era at Anfield.
Pressure goes with the territory when you are handed the honour of pulling on that famous red shirt and as one of the fortunate few who had the chance to do just that, I speak from experience on that score.
The significance of this single 90 minutes of football may define Jurgen Klopp’s tenure as Liverpool manager, with the German knocking on the door of a very special achievement.
He could join the elite list of Liverpool managers to lift a European trophy for the club, with the other prize up for grabs raising the stakes to a whole new level.
A Champions League place is handed to the Europa League winners and if Klopp can go into the upcoming transfer window with a place in Europe’s elite competition to use as bargaining power, his hand will be hugely strengthened.
While old romantics like me want to believe that the magic generated on big nights at Anfield and the prestige of playing for one of the world’s great clubs should be enough to entice any player, that is not a view a lot of modern players would share.
Top players (and their greedy agents) don’t tend to worry too much about the club they are doing a deal with, so long as the wages are right and they are playing in the Champions League.
Liverpool can pay big money for the right players, but it is possible that they won’t have European football of any variety to offer if they are beaten by Sevilla, which might be a problem.
I still think Liverpool will be able to sign some good players this summer if it all goes wrong in Basel because Klopp is a manager anyone would want to play for. Yet he can target the game’s A-listers if he is a trophy winner.
While I am cautiously confident Liverpool will win, Sevilla will be no push-overs as they look to complete a remarkable hat-trick of wins in the Europa League.
In Kevin Gameiro they have a dangerous striker who can punish Liverpool and they have tricky midfielders like Yevhen Konoplyanka, who can pick open a defence if they have time and space to weave their magic. This is a team with pedigree in this competition and they are a step or two ahead of the Villarreal side Liverpool saw off in the semi-finals
However, Liverpool should get the job done so long as they turn up and play the way we know they can.
The one area of concern for me is in central midfield, with the duo of James Milner and Emre Can exposed a little by the speedy creativity Eden Hazard and his Chelsea team-mates threw at them in the 1-1 draw at Anfield on Wednesday.
Milner and Can looked isolated as they tried to fend off the attacking threat from a Chelsea team that has finally decided they can be arsed to play again in the last couple of matches. Sevilla must have noted that vulnerability.
I know Klopp has been talking up the performances of Adam Lallana of late, but he could be the player under threat if the manager opts to add a bit of steel to his midfield by selecting Joe Allen to start in Basel.
Lallana (below) has done better in the last few weeks, but regular readers of my Sunday World column will know that I believe the player signed for £25m still has a lot to prove.
Hopefully he shuts me up if he starts in the final. A midfield trio of Milner, Can and Allen would offer Liverpool a little more security, with Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge offering plenty of menace in the forward line.
However, I do expect Klopp to pick the team he started with against Chelsea last week, with Lallana in the side and Sturridge the match winner who has the class to tip the balance of the game in Liverpool’s favour.
Sturridge seems to have been trying to prove himself to Klopp since returning from his latest injury and if he scores the goals that secure passage to the Champions League, he will go a long way to ensuring that he will start up front for Klopp next season.
Alternatively, a defeat against Sevilla and more than a few players may be edged out of the club by Klopp, so this is a make or break night for so many reasons.
It will come as no surprise that I’m backing Liverpool to get the job done against Sevilla, but only if the manager gets his tactics right and Klopp’s key men play at the peak of their powers.
Anything less and Liverpool will end up regretting their missed opportunity in Basel for a long, long time. Come on you Reds!