Liverpool may have already booked their place in the knockout phase of the Europa League, but they will be keen to avoid defeat in their final group match at Swiss side Sion on Thursday. Jurgen Klopp’s team sit top of Group B, a point ahead of their opponents, meaning top spot will be up for grabs at the Stade de Tourbillon. That would not be an insignificant prize, given it would mean avoiding not just the other group winners in the Round of 32, but also the eight teams that will drop into the competition from the Champions League.
For Liverpool, there is the extra incentive of bouncing back from just the second defeat of Klopp’s reign. A 2-0 loss to a struggling Newcastle United side on Sunday represented a significant setback just four days after a 6-1 drubbing of Southampton, and dampened suggestions that the Anfield side could be real contenders for the Premier League title in Klopp’s first season in charge.
The primary aim will be earning a return to the Champions League, a goal that has two possible routes, with not only the prospect of finishing in the top four of the league but also winning the Europa League. The second path could certainly be helped by a positive result in Switzerland.
On paper it appears a straightforward task. Sion have struggled in the Swiss Super League this season, and currently sit sixth in the 10-team division having only won twice in their last 10 matches. Yet Sion have already provided a roadblock for Liverpool this campaign. At the start of October, a dismal 1-1 draw at Anfield is thought to have been the final straw in the reign of Brendan Rodgers, with Klopp’s predecessor being relieved of his duties just three days later. But Klopp has stressed that both teams will be very different from that last meeting.
“Since [the first game] it's been about two-and-a-half months, so it's a long time in football and in England it's 425 games!” he quipped in his pre-match press conference, according to Liverpool’s official website. “Nothing is the same so I don't believe in comparison of games against. I know everybody is able to develop and, if you think you can develop, then the other team can develop too.
“You have to watch the last three games, that's more important than our game [in October], and that's what we did. [There are] a few injuries, a suspension for Sion, so things are different. We are absolutely prepared and we know it's difficult. We have a game on Sunday, they have a game on Sunday, so there's no difference, but tomorrow they have to win to go through and if we win we are first in the table -- that's what we want to be.”
Klopp has confirmed that he will be without Daniel Sturridge for at least the next 10 days. The striker, who has been riddled with injuries for the past 15 months, has picked up a hamstring strain, and Klopp has stressed that it is crucial that he now builds up his fitness before returning. Also out on Thursday will be Mamadou Sakho, Danny Inga, Joe Gomez, Jon Flanagan and, with an illness, Jordan Ibe. Lucas Leiva, Joe Allen and Alberto Moreno have been left in Liverpool.
For Sion, who will be without suspended midfielder Birama Ndoye, the match has even more importance. While a victory would see them top the group, a defeat could see them dumped out of the Europa League entirely. Rubin Kazan sit three points back and, with the benefit of a superior head-to-head advantage, could overtake Sion with a victory in Bordeaux.
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 1