Jurgen Klopp has insisted that Liverpool’s Europa League semifinal with Villarreal is far from over as they head into Thursday’s second leg at Anfield. Villarreal struck an injury-time goal through Adrián López in Spain last week to spark wild celebrations from the hosts and bitter disappointment for the Merseyside visitors. Still, Klopp has stressed that while the manner of the defeat may have been hard to take, it presents a far-from insurmountable hurdle to reach the Europa League final.
“In a European match you can lose away 1-0—it's absolutely normal,” he said at his pre-match press conference. “Nothing happened, we have the second half of this semi-final and we thought a lot about our game and we know more about what is useful and necessary for this game against Villarreal. We know about their strengths but we saw our strength too, even in the first game. Our skill, our quality, our passion, our readiness together with the atmosphere of Anfield—that's what I'm looking for.”
Klopp went on to specifically cite the Anfield crowd as a major weapon in the corner of his side. And, just three weeks on from a remarkable comeback from 3-1 down to beat his former club Borussia Dortmund 4-3 in the second leg of their quarterfinal, Klopp is calling for another special night at the famous arena.
Confidence, too, can come from the fact that midfielder Emre Can is back available after missing the first leg with an ankle injury. However, Mamadou Sakho, one of the inspirations behind the comeback against Dortmund, remains sidelined after his provisional suspension for failing a drugs test, while Divock Origi is sidelined through injury.
Liverpool will go into the match after a performance Klopp labeled as one of the worst of his reign, when losing 3-1 to Swansea City on Sunday. The result came with a lineup featuring eight changes from the one that went down to defeat in Spain less than three days earlier. But then Villarreal also made eight changes to their side at the weekend and emerged with a 2-0 victory over Valencia that sealed their place in the Champions League.
Whereas for Liverpool, the Europa League represents their last chance to reach the Champions League and achieve something tangible from a season of transition, for Villarreal it has already been a hugely impressive campaign under coach Marcelino. But the prize of a first ever European final for the club is nevertheless an alluring one.
As they look to seal their place on Thursday, Marcelino will have a full squad at his disposal, and he has stressed that his players can thrive in the famed Anfield atmosphere and against what is likely to be a more attack-minded Liverpool side.
“We feel we have the capabilities to make it through to the final,” he said. “In no way whatsoever will we be affected negatively by the atmosphere; if anything we will be affected positively.
“It's going to be different to the first leg. We expect them to push us high up the pitch from the start and to play more directly. They may play a different system with a different player or two but it won't condition what we do. We know where they're dangerous and the important thing is to counter their strengths.”
D: Clyne, Lovren, Toure, Moreno
M: Can, Milner
Lallana, Firmino, Coutinho
D: Mario Gaspar, Musacchio, Ruiz, Costa
M: Dos Santos, Bruno, Trigueros, Suarez
F: Soldado, Bakambu
Kickoff time: 3:05 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1