Liverpool face a familiar foe on Wednesday night as they take on Unai Emery’s Villarreal in the Champions League semi-final at Anfield.
The Spanish boss certainly enjoyed success against the Reds after guiding his former club Sevilla to a 3-1 win over the Merseysiders in the 2016 Europa League final.
However, while the Liverpool squad were under Klopp’s management at the time, it’s fair to say that Germany’s starting XI that night was an early evolution of the relentless winning machine that fans of the club are used to seeing these days.
Looking back on that final, Klopp said: “I said that night, I think we’d come back, not knowing we’d come back, but at that moment I really thought we had a chance. to come back stronger and we did.
“Would it have been different since if we had won that night? I do not think so.
“I would have loved to lift that trophy that night, but you have to learn from those things and that’s what we tried to do.”
Fast forward to 2022 and Liverpool have a squad that is the envy of most clubs in world football, but six years ago things were very different.
In fact, only two of the club’s starting XI in this Europa League final are still in Klopp’s current squad.
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A defensive line that included Simon Mignolet, Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Kolo Toure and Alberto Moreno was not a setup that would scare an elite level opponent.
However, the midfield combination of James Milner – one of two players still at Anfield – and Emre Can was certainly respectable.
In attack, a supporting trio of Adam Lallana, Firmino – the other from the current squad – and Philippe Coutinho offered plenty of creativity, but perhaps lacked the kind of flair that players such as Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Luis Diaz offer the Red Snow.
Up front, Daniel Sturridge had the potential to score big goals, but perhaps lacked the pedigree to win a major European final by the scruff of his neck.
Compare that to today, and it’s easy to see why Liverpool are now considered one of the strongest teams in the game.
While Mignolet had some ball-playing abilities, the addition of Alisson Becker was definitely an upgrade as they signed an excellent shooter and someone who was comfortable with the ball at his feet.
In Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip, Liverpool have two of the best defenders in world football, which is helped by Fabinho’s role at number six.
Clyne and Moreno offered a degree of offensive threat but struggled to combine that with their defensive abilities, something which was mastered perfectly by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.
With Jordan Henderson providing toughness and leadership, Thiago Alcantara provides a vital quality in the middle of the park, while Salah and Mane have the pace and work ethic to stretch defences, and also have the edge to be a deadly force in front of the goal.
Klopp likes his forwards to work hard and push high up the pitch, something Sturridge has often struggled with, meaning the addition of Diogo Jota who can do that with his goalscoring duties makes him an upgrade. indisputable.
But, despite what many would consider an improved squad, Klopp still believes a clash with Emery’s side at Villarreal could spell trouble for Liverpool, particularly after knocking out Juventus and Bayern Munich en route to the Champions League. semi-finals.
“Of course we made a proper analysis of them,” Klopp said ahead of Wednesday night’s first leg.
“I had a lot of respect for Unai Emery and Villarreal before, because I saw the games against Bayern Munich and Juventus but with one eye.
“But then I looked at them properly: Wow! Impressive. Unai is obviously a detail-obsessed manager who prepares for all different situations in a game. It’s really very good.
“Different ways to build, different ways to press, different ways to react on different results. Really, really impressive. He’s obviously a world-class coach and he’s doing an incredible job there.
Having clinched against Emery six years ago, Liverpool’s aim will surely be to make sure they don’t underestimate a Villarreal side who have already proven their ability to mix and match with the best.
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