We had more than one eye on the Europa League final during last night’s game against Chelsea. Our usual energy wasn’t there, challenges were being pulled out of, sloppy mistakes made, and our attitude seemed somewhat lackadaisical. It was akin to having a kick about in the garden before your ‘big’ Sunday League fixture.
Having said all that, Chelsea still struggled to assert any kind of dominance in the game, and we came away with a credible 1-1 draw. We didn’t get out of second gear – by choice, more so than anything – and still managed to be the better team on the night. Eden Hazard was Chelsea’s only spark, and handed them the lead with a wonderful goal, but our half-hearted display was still enough to keep the other ten players quiet.
It was clear that the priority was to get the benefit of 90 minutes football and maintain our match sharpness, without ever exposing ourselves to the risk of injuries. The team that began the game looks as close to the eleven that will start in Basel as we could estimate right now, so the chances are that not many of them will play on Sunday against West Brom. This could lead to a better final league fixture however, with players facing up to the Baggies with a point to prove, rather than the lethargic, disinterested attitude we faced Chelsea with.
The likes of Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen could play the game harbouring a genuine belief that they could fight their way into a starting berth against Sevilla. Christian Benteke, though surely out of the question in terms of the Europa eleven, may feel that he can force his way into Klopp’s thinking as a decent option off the bench with a good performance at The Hawthorns. Then we have Sheyi Ojo and Jordon Ibe also staking their claim to be involved, while Jordan Henderson and Divock Origi may yet return from injury in time to make the squad. There’s perhaps a slight chance that we could see the long awaited return of Danny Ings too, although it’s looking more likely that he’ll sit the rest of the season out and ease his comeback throughout the summer friendlies.
Squad players like Jon Flanagan, Kevin Stewart, and Martin Skrtel are all likely to play on Sunday too, with little hope of being involved in the final. But the former two have proved pretty dependable, and Skrtel is surely fighting for his future and in need of a good performance. Youngers like Pedro Chirivella and Cameron Brannagan are also ready and waiting if Klopp chooses to make wholesale changes. Brad Smith is available having missed the Watford game through suspension, and Sergi Canos could feature having returned from his loan spell at Brentford.
It’s a game away to a team whose height of ambition was to avoid relegation, to determine if we ourselves finish 6th, 7th, or 8th, only days before we play a season-defining European final. You can forgive anyone for feeling underwhelmed as the 2015/16 league season draws to a close. But in itself, I think we’ll have a more entertaining game than last night’s against Chelsea, and what we do versus West Brom will be very telling in terms of what we can expect for Wednesday.
It’s hard to do too much analysis of the Chelsea game, as our downfalls were pretty much all self-inflicted. The trio of Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho, and Adam Lallana all had poor games, lacking their usual industry and enthusiasm. Daniel Sturridge tried hard, but had an off game in terms of his end product. We probably should have done more in defence to halt Hazard in his run before the goal, and Simon Mignolet had his usual mixed bag of shaky moments combined with a couple of smart saves. Ultimately, it was the disjointed team performance of a squad whose mind wasn’t on the game. That won’t be the case come next Wednesday, so it would be unfair for anyone to judge too harshly and use it as logic as to why Sevilla may come out on top next week.
There’s no doubting how big a game the Europa League final is for us. A trophy is desperately needed, and the benefits of a win will have huge repercussions into next year in terms of granting us entry to the Champions League. Klopp has one last chance to assess things as the league draws to a close on Sunday, and he can do so relatively pressure free. Ideally we’ll sign off the season with two wins, but if we’ve only got one left in us, let’s make it the right one.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)