There’s more at stake than just a trophy for Liverpool and Sevilla in tonight’s Europa League final.
A guaranteed place in the group stage of next season’s Champions League is the bigger reward for the teams which finished eighth in the Premier League and seventh in La Liga. For Liverpool, the prestige of rejoining the elite will help manager Jurgen Klopp’s plans to recruit and build a team this summer for his first full campaign at the Merseyside club.
“I am pretty sure that if we don’t win the title nobody will think it [the season] is a success,” said Klopp, whose side are favourites to win in Basel despite Sevilla looking to become the first team to win the competition for three successive seasons. “We already know about the desire of our supporters. We know how much they want to win this cup,” he added.
Liverpool midfielder James Milner said the team’s focus was “all about winning trophies” rather than qualifying for Europe’s top competition.
“I think it’s a nice bonus but I can’t honestly say we’ve thought about the Champions League too much,” Milner said.
The five-time winners of the European Cup and Champions League have no safety net tonight. Lose at St Jakob Park and there will be no magical nights of European football at Anfield next season.
Sevilla are at least assured of a Europa League place because of their domestic results, and have a second shot at a trophy. Coach Unai Emery leads his team in the Spanish Cup final on Sunday, where victory over Barcelona will earn a place in the group stage of the next Europa League campaign rather than in July in the qualifying rounds.
The stakes may be higher for Liverpool but Sevilla can write a greater chapter in the history of European club competitions. No team has won three straight Uefa Cup or Europa League titles, and a fifth for Sevilla – all within just ten years – would also extend the record they hold. Victory for Emery’s men – ahead of a Real Madrid-Atletico Madrid Champions League final – would also ensure a third straight season sweep of European club competitions for Spain.
Liverpool are among three clubs with three titles in the competition’s 45-year-history, and a fourth tonight to follow wins in 1973, 1976 and 2001 would equal Sevilla for the most. But one perfect record has to end: Sevilla and Liverpool have won all seven Uefa Cup and Europa League finals they have played.
Klopp is confident his players, who lost February’s Capital One Cup final to Manchester City on penalties, can deal with the expectation in a 35,000-capacity stadium which is likely to house around 20,000 – double the number of tickets the club received – Liverpool fans.
“We had pressure, so how could the pressure be bigger?” he said. “The mental side is a big influence, there is no doubt about it, but all we have done since we have been together we have done to be perfectly prepared for a game like this.”