The UEFA Europa League finalists will be decided tonight when Liverpool face Villarreal and Sevilla host Shakhtar Donetsk in two hotly-anticipated semi-final clashes.
Midfielder Emre Can returns to the Liverpool squad after missing the last 5 games due to an injury he picked up during the quarter-final win over Dortmund. Striker Daniel Sturridge will also be pushing for a start tonight, though seemingly out-of-favour with boss Jurgen Klopp.
Since his arrival at the club, Jurgen Klopp has named very strong starting line-ups for their Europa League ties and the Reds boss will be hoping to lead Liverpool to their first European final in almost a decade.
Klopp’s side were heavily tipped favorites to win the Europa League after their dramatic victory over his previous club Dortmund in the quarter final. A last-minute Adrian header in the previous leg, however, means the Reds are chasing a one goal lead and will have to be at their best.
“If we play our best then we can go to the final,” said Klopp. “These players gave me a lot of positive signs about their qualities.
“We are ready. All we did since October was to be perfectly prepared for a game like this. We are not expecting a guarantee to go to the final. We are expecting everything and see what we get for it.”
Centre-back Eric Baily returns from injury for Villarreal as does Leo Baptistao meaning the Spanish side have a fully fit squad to choose from.
“We come here full of hope,” said Villarreal manager Marcelino. “We are going to give everything we have got and enjoy ourselves. We feel we have the capabilities to make it through to the final.”
Marcelino’s team face a side that have won 5 European Cups and lifted the Uefa Cup 3 times before it was rebranded as the Europa League. Whereas his side have reached a European semi-final 4 times including tonight, only to never make it to a final.
“Liverpool as a club have an extraordinary squad of footballers when you consider Benteke cost the whole turnover as Villarreal as a club,” said Marcelino.
“But this group of players needs to be proud of what they have achieved as we are already qualified for the Champions League. This is an occasion to be celebrated.”
The other semi-final clash taking place tonight sees Sevilla host Shakhtar Donetsk after a late Kevin Gamerio penalty earned Sevilla a 2-2 draw in east Ukraine in last week.
Those away goals mean a goalless draw will be enough for Unai Emery’s Sevilla side to progress, but the Spanish boss it certain that Shakhtar won’t make it easy.
“We’re expecting the best Shakhtar there is, they won the tournament in 2009 and they’re used to winning their league.” Said Emery. “It is a big ask – they’ll be 90 tough minutes and we need to be ready for it.”
Sevilla will be without midfielder Michael Krohn-Dehli after he was taken off on a stretcher in the first leg with a serious knee injury.
Shakhtar are not without their own injury woes, as Dentinho and Oleksandr Hladkyy are both big doubts to be included in tonight’s squad. Meanwhile, Marcio Azevedo is out because of a knee problem.
The winners of tonight’s fixtures will meet each other in the Europa League Final at Basel’s St Jakob-Park Stadium on 18 May.