The Europa League is drawing closer to its conclusion and Basel is awaiting the finalists as the semifinals conclude this week. Liverpool and Villarreal will have the deciding fixture at Anfield, meanwhile Shakhtar and Sevilla will try and break their 2-2 deadlock in Seville.
The Shakhtar and Sevilla matchup will be an interesting one as Sevilla are the favorites despite losing six of their last ten games in all competitions. The back-to-back Europa League champions have been able to make it this far in the tournament despite having a less than stellar record in their domestic league as of late. But a bit of serendipity for the Spanish club, as they are unbeaten in their last six matches against Ukrainian opposition with four wins and two draws.
However, manager Unai Emery is wary of facing off against an opponent like Shakhtar, as he is squaring off against a more experienced coach in Mircea Lucescu. Unai said, “We’re expecting the best Shakhtar there is — they won the tournament in 2009 and they’re used to winning their league. Their coach is much more experienced than I am. It is a big ask — they’ll be 90 tough minutes and we need to be ready for it.”
Look for Sevilla’s defense to be extra wary of Shakhtar’s offense of Eduardo and Facundo Ferreyra as they try to hold on to their slim away goals lead. Also, the offense is not to be overlooked as Kevin Gameiro has five goals in the competition so far, with teammate Fernando Llorente looking to tack on to his two goals.
In contrast, Shakhtar has not lost a game in six as they come off a great win against recently crowned Ukrainian champions, Dynamo Kyiv. However, their focus is now on Sevilla as they have to travel to Spain and they will have to deal without midfielder Fred, who is suspended for this match. Even with Fred out, manager Lucescu is looking to play a more attacking style of football for this upcoming game.
Lucescu stated, “In Lviv we had a very good first half, but failed to convert several counterattacks. Our biggest mistake, though, was that in the second period we sat back on our 2-1 lead, content to keep it that way until the end of the match.” They will have to rely on speedy forward Eduardo, who scored two goals in their 3-0 win over Kyiv, to give them the offensive spark they need.
As for the Liverpool/Villarreal match, it should be a battle between two great teams that are eyeing a European final in a very long time. Liverpool is severely ravaged due to injuries with such names as Origi (ankle/foot), Henderson (knee), Rossiter (hamstring), Ings (knee) and Gomez (knee) out. But even with those injuries to key players, Liverpool has a squad that can make it to the finals and Jürgen Klopp has a strong belief in his team.
“If we play our best then we can go to the final. These players gave me a lot of positive signs about their qualities. We are ready. All that we have done since [I arrived in] October was to be perfectly prepared for a game like this,” Klopp told the media on Wednesday. Liverpool will have the home crowd to energize the Merseyside squad and will look to Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge to give Liverpool the equalizer and maybe more, in this semifinal matchup.
Villarreal is coming into this game lucky to have scored a late goal in the first leg in Spain, thanks to substitute Adrián López. Villarreal is on a hot streak of sorts as they have a club record 12-match unbeaten streak in Europe as they hope to make it 13, eyeing a spot in the finals for the first time ever in club history.
Villarreal’s defense has been stingy as of late, not allowing a goal in 280 minutes and they will hope to keep that going as they make their way to Liverpool. Villarreal manager, Marcelino, told the media about how he expects Liverpool to come out in this week’s game, “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.”
Defenders Antonio Rukavina, Víctor Ruiz and Mario Gaspar will have a busy day as they will be tasked with keeping the dangerous Liverpool attack from breaking through. It seems like Marcelino will want to play a defensive style of play, looking to hold on to their slim 1-0 lead they achieved in Spain. It will truly be a battle of tactics as both teams are willing to leave it all out on the pitch for a ticket to Switzerland.