A week ago Liverpool were riding a wave of positive euphoria as Jurgen Klopp’s team were buzzing after an amazing come-from-behind victory against Dortmund in the quarter-finals.
That feel-good factor was rapidly erased when Mamadou Sakho’s drug test from the Europa League Last 16 round game against Manchester United was revealed to have failed. The partnership of Sakho and Dejan Lovren was broken as the Frenchman is no longer available for selection during the investigation.
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In came Kolo Toure against Newcastle and Liverpool let a two goal lead slip, dampening the mood and raising concerns ahead of this semi-final first leg in Spain. Sakho didn’t contest the ruling and is awaiting to hear how long he will possibly be banned for.
Klopp already received near season ending blows to first team players Emre Can, Divock Origi and Jordan Henderson. Though, the first two are trying their best to push their recovery in time for the final, if Liverpool get past Villarreal. They would probably only be fit to sit on the bench, as time is running out to recover and gain match fitness.
The big question is who to start in defence with Dejan Lovren. Klopp may keep Toure, or bring back Martin Skrtel who was disastrous against Southampton. He could also start Lucas Leiva there, who’s been impressive in the few times he played at the back. However Klopp is also desperate to use him in central midfield due to injuries of both his first choice central midfielders.
You’d think Joe Allen will then get a look in too. The big question upfront is whether Daniel Sturridge will finally start in a big game for Klopp now that Origi is injured. However Klopp may use Firmino as a false-9 due to his pressing qualities.
Liverpool’s out of backup options as Coutinho, Adam Lallana and previously James Milner would slot behind the frontman, but Milner may now have to be backup for one of the injured midfielders behind. That should see a weak bench in these semi-finals as Klopp doesn’t have much options to change a game.
Villarreal, meanwhile, have never made it past the Europa League semi-final. They’ve reached this same peak twice, but lost both times, and this team will be eager to be the first to make it into a European final. To make it this far, Villarreal steamrolled past Sparta Prague with a 6-3 aggregate in the quarterfinals. In La Liga, they are battling to keep their top four position, holding a three point lead over Celta Vigo. A European semi-final will always be given high priority, however, so expect manager Marcelino Garcia to field his strongest available team. Garcia will not have Leo Baptistao at his disposal due to injury, while defenders Jaume Costa and Mateo Musacchio are both doubtful for this match.