Five key battles that could determine 2016 Europa League final outcome
Lee Gormley | May 17, 2016
Key battles for Liverpool versus Villarreal
St Jakob-Park is this year’s Europa League final venue, as Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool collide with Unai Emery’s back-to-back champions Sevilla in Switzerland during midweek, with both sides looking to secure European success after relatively underwhelming respective domestic campaigns.
Former Borussia Dortmund boss Klopp previously guided the German club to a Champions League final and can write himself into Liverpool folklore with a European title triumph in his maiden campaign on Merseyside, while Emery hopes to oversee an incredible third consecutive victory in this competition.
A key statistic regarding these two outfits contesting for Europa League supremacy is that neither have lost a final in this competition, including when formerly known as the UEFA Cup, with the Bathtubs winning all four outings and the Reds prevailing in their three final appearances.
There are set to be plenty of decisive duels on the Basel pitch this Wednesday night, so here are five key battles that could determine the fate of the 2016 Europa League crown…
Kevin Gameiro v Kolo Toure
With both sides having finished their domestic campaigns well outside the Champions League positions, a win in Basel will bring plenty of Swiss delight with automatic qualification for Europe’s elite club competition.
Following the departure of former star man Carlos Bacca to AC Milan, Sevilla looked unlikely of getting this far for a third time in as many years, but thanks to new goalscoring hero Kevin Gameiro they could create history.
The French forward has filled the void left by Bacca perfectly, repaying the club with his impressive season return of 28 in all competitions, with Sevilla having given him more responsibility and the number nine shirt last summer rather than seeking a replacement in the transfer market.
Gameiro, who is 5/1 with Coral to fire his side to victory in normal time (£20 max stake), has contributed seven goals and two assists in the Europa League so far, as well as six in his last five outings on all fronts.
At 35 years of age, Kolo Toure has become an unlikely key component for Klopp in Liverpool’s European exploits, recently helping keep a clean sheet at Anfield against Villarreal, and the Ivorian will need to use his strength and experience in order to keep Gameiro at bay at St Jakob-Park if the Reds are to prevail.
Yevhen Konoplyanka v Nathaniel Clyne
Sevilla are on the cusp of history this season, with no team having ever successfully won this competition three times on the bounce and, if the Bathtubs are to achieve such a feat, star man and Ukraine international winger Yevhen Konoplyanka will be key.
The dynamic wideman has long been tipped for a switch to the Premier League, with opponents Liverpool being touted as potential suitors in the past as well as Stoke City, and his astute attacking talents should be decisive for Emery’s La Liga outfit.
Sevilla’s 26-year-old forward has dispatched eight times on all fronts heading into the final, as well as a Euro 2016 qualifying strike for his country, and it’s Liverpool right back Nathaniel Clyne that could be tasked with halting his direct approach on the left side of midfield.
Konoplyanka’s pace and eye for a defence-splitting delivery has seen him rack up nine assists for the current campaign too, including seven in La Liga and, with Champions League goals against Borussia Monchengladbach and Manchester City last year before exiting, Clyne must be at his best to thwart such a threat.
Philippe Coutinho v Coke
Since being thrust onto the left wing for Liverpool, Brazil playmaker Philippe Coutinho has shone brightly for Klopp, causing chaos for defences in England and throughout Europe with his trickery and creative talents.
The 23-year-old was initially utilised in the number 10 role, but he has flourished since being shunted out wide and knows the importance of his position ahead of the final, stating: “In the position I play I have to create chances. When I suddenly cut inside space opens up giving me the opportunity to try to score”
A menace for all opponents, his German coach recently hailed the Samba starlet when saying: “Coutinho is a genius of a player”, though the Brazil attacker must bring his A-game in order to get the better of Sevilla right back Coke.
In what could be an intriguing battle down the wide areas in Switzerland, Spanish full back Coke must be aware of Coutinho’s fondness of cutting inside on his wicked right foot, with the former Inter Milan playmaker 7/4 to get on the scoresheet within 90 minutes.
Although, Sevilla’s 29-year-old has proved he can deal with swift players with his previous solid displays against the likes of Athletic Bilbao’s Iker Munian and Shakhtar Donestk’s Viktor Kovalenko this term, making this a potentially decisive wing battle. With 10 bookings for the defender this season, Coutinho can expect plenty of rash treatment too.
Daniel Sturridge v Daniel Carrico
Despite missing plenty of action this season through further injury setbacks, Daniel Sturridge has revived his form and fortunes in front of goal for Liverpool, while also earning a spot in Roy Hodgson’s recent preliminary England squad.
Providing he stays fit, Sturridge could be vital the Three Lions’ hopes in France for Euro 2016, but before then, Klopp will hope to get the best out of his finisher against Sevilla.
The Reds marksman has tucked home 12 goals so far this campaign and enjoyed a surge in recent outings, having dispatched five times in his last eight outings, including a semi-final second leg strike to help sink the Yellow Submarine.
Portuguese centre back Daniel Carrico will stand in Sturridge’s way in Basel, with the aggressive tackler hoping to limit the striker’s impact on proceedings, potentially by force, having been cautioned five times in his last 12 games.
The Bathtubs defender played a key role in getting through the semis over Shakhtar and even captained his team in the first leg against the Ukrainians, but he will need a similarly strong outing in the final against an in-form forward who is 9/2 to open proceedings.
James Milner v Ever Banega
With plenty of key match-ups taking place on the wings and in what could be a closely contested clash, energy in the central areas will be vital for success, and James Milner and Ever Banega will provide just that for the respective finalists.
Bursting from deep for the Reds to provide extra creativity while keeping his team compact in midfield, Milner’s influence has become a crucial component in Klopp’s sides, and he will face an interesting central battle with Banega.
The latter Argentine midfielder is set to join Inter this summer and will look to end his time at Sevilla with further success, having starred in last season’s Europa League victory, by adding to his nine goals and five assists so far this term.
If the South American is given time and space on in possession he could hurt Liverpool, meaning Milner must be a constant menace in the centre alongside skipper Jordan Henderson in order to give his side a chance of succeeding.
Liverpool and Sevilla finished their Premier League and La Liga campaigns in eighth and seventh spot respectively, meaning only a win in the Europa League final can gift them a Champions League place for next season. With such high stakes and a host of key battles set to take place, who will prevail at St Jakob-Park?