After an emotional few days for both city and club, Liverpool face Spanish side Villarreal in a Europa League semifinal that is sure to be emotionally charged.
In a week where the search for on-field success took a back seat to the pursuit of long overdue justice, something like normal service will be resumed for Liverpool when the club travel to Spain to face Villarreal in the first leg of their Europa League semifinal on Thursday.
Jürgen Klopps’s side thrived on their underdog status during their thrilling 5-4 aggregate victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinal earlier this month. That result has seen the English side promoted to competition favorites in some quarters but Villarreal, who currently sit fourth in the La Liga table, will be tricky opponents, according to a wary Klopp.
“We've watched Villarreal five or six times,” he said in a press conference on Wednesday. "They defend in an organized way, are patient enough to wait for mistakes and then use those mistakes."
Although insisting he and his team are only focusing on the next game, the German coach hinted at the final in Switzerland: "When I came (to Liverpool) in October, Basel wasn't a real thing to think about. Now it's not far away."
Liverpool will be without a host of key players for Thursday night’s clash in the Madrigal, though. German midfielder Emre Can, in-form striker Divock Origi and captain Jordan Henderson miss out through injury, while French international center back Mamadou Sakho hasn’t travelled to Spain as he awaits the result of a UEFA investigation into an Liverpool defender may have failed drugs test ahead of Dortmund gamealleged failed doping test.
In better news for the visitors, right-back Nathaniel Clyne is expected to return after missing the 2-2 draw with Newcastle through illness. Belgian target man Christian Benteke is fit to play a part if called upon.
Klopp said he isn’t short of options to replace Sakho: "We have Martin (Skrtel), Kolo (Toure), Lucas and Tiago Ilori, so we have a few players who can play center-half," he said.
For their part, the hosts are likely to be at full strength, with only former Spurs striker Roberto Soldado a doubt for the game. Villarreal are fourth in La Liga but have only scored one goal and collected one point from their last three league games. However, their coach Marcelino said reputation and form would count for little on the pitch.
"Maybe Liverpool could be considered favorites because of their history as a club," he said. "But we don't consider ourselves in any way inferior to them and we think we can beat a team as legendary as Liverpool."
Villarreal have announced they will offer a tribute before the game to mark the ruling that the 96 Liverpool fans who died at the Hillsborough tragedy 27 years ago were unlawfully killed. The return fixture on May 5 will be the first at Anfield after the verdict and is likely to be an emotional affair.
Shakhtar Donetsk vs Sevilla
Their consecutive successes in 2014 and 2015 have made four-time champions Sevilla the most successful side in the history of the Europa League/UEFA Cup.
The Spanish side, seventh in La Liga, travel to Ukraine in a bid to capture an unprecedented Europa League hat-trick in consecutive years. They will have fond memories of this particular fixture after an incredible meeting in 2007. A stoppage-time equalizer from Sevilla goalkeeper Andres Palop sent a last-16 tie into extra time before the Spaniards went on to win the competition.
Sevilla are likely to be without Jose Antonio Reyes for both legs of the tie as a result of an appendicitis, but head coach Unai Emery will be able to count on fit-again players Vitolo, Benoit Tremoulinas and Nico Pareja.
The match will be played in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv as the hosts and 2009 winners have defied their exile from war-torn Donetsk to reach the last four in some style, with wins over Schalke (3-0 on aggregate) Anderlecht (4-1) and Braga (6-1).
The second legs of both ties will be played on Thursday March 5 and the final will be played in Basel, Switzerland on May 18.