2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 West Brom (a); 1-1 Chelsea (h); 2-0 Watford (h)
Sevilla: 1-3 Athletic Bilbao (a); 1-4 Granada (h); 3-1 Shakhtar (h)
Previous EL rounds:
Liverpool: 3-0 Villarreal (h), 0-1 Villarreal (a); 4-3 Dortmund (h), 1-1 Dortmund (a); 1-1 United (a), 2-0 United (h); 1-0 Augsburg (h), 0-0 Augsburg (a); 0-0 Sion (a); 2-1 Bordeaux (h); 1-0 Kazan (a); 1-1 Kazan (h); 1-1 Sion (h); 1-1 Bordeaux (a)
Sevilla: 3-1 Shakhtar (h), 2-2 Shakhtar (a); 1-2 Athletic Bilbao (h), 2-1 Athletic Bilbao (a); 3-0 Basel (h), 0-0 Basel (a); 0-1 Molde (a), 3-0 Molde (h)
Liverpool: Lallana 3; Coutinho, Milner, Origi, Sturridge 2; Benteke, Can, Firmino, Ibe, Lovren, Sakho 1
Sevilla: Gamiero 8; Llorente 3; Banega, Kolodziejczak, Konoplyanka, Rami, Vitolo 2; Iborra, Mariano, Tremoulinas 1
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (SWE)
Coincidentally, the last time Liverpool saw Jonas Eriksson was the last time Liverpool were in Basel: a 0-1 loss in last year's Champions League group stage. No, that wasn't the match where Markovic was sent off.
Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Lovren Toure Moreno
Lallana Firmino Coutinho
Gulp. Has it really been nine years since Liverpool were last in a European final? Deep breaths, deep breaths, deep breaths...
We're all but certain what Liverpool's side will look like. Nine of the XI are nailed-on starters. Origi's in the squad, but almost certainly only available as a substitute. The only question seems whether Henderson's actually ready to start, and if he is, whether he replaces Milner or Lallana. Either way, it should be 4-2-3-1, with Henderson and Can in midfield and either Lallana or Milner ostensibly on the right.
If Henderson does start, I suspect it's Lallana left out. Milner can press and cross from an "attacking right" position – he doesn't press as effectively as Lallana, he's not as dangerous with the ball, but he's arguably been more important to the attack this season – with Lallana better suited to be an attacking change coming off the bench. But I still think it's Henderson left on the bench, just because he's been out for a while and has struggled with injuries throughout the season. Trust the line-up which won 3-0 against Villarreal. Dance with the one that brung you.
Either way, I'd rather not see Liverpool in a 4-3-3. That way lies Firmino on the right. That way lies less attacking cohesion and a more defensive Liverpool. That way usually lies a less impressive Liverpool. League record be damned, Sevilla are a very good side, especially in this competition and especially on the counter-attack. But Liverpool have gotten to this point by playing their game, not by reacting to the opposition.
But we're still less certain which Liverpool we'll get. The more defensive (and, yes, often 4-3-3) Liverpool who twice drew 1-1 and once lost 0-1 away in the last three knockout rounds, or the more attacking Liverpool who won 2-0, 4-3, and 3-0 in the home legs? It won't be Anfield, but I suspect it'll still be a fairly partisan crowd. As it was in Istanbul 11 years ago, in Athens nine years ago.
Rise to the occasion. Play your game.
Meanwhile, Sevilla gave up on the league even more than Liverpool, finishing seventh, 12 points behind fourth-place Villarreal (they finished fifth in 2014-15, 16 points ahead of Villarreal). They won just one of their last nine league matches – a 2-0 derby win over Real Betis – drawing one and losing seven. Seven. They lost the last two (since qualifying for the EL final) by margins of 1-4 and 1-3, with vastly changed XIs. And like Liverpool, Sevilla haven't qualified for Europe next season due to their league failings, although they still have the chance to be in the Europa League even if they lose tomorrow by beating Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final.
Sevilla didn't win a single away match in La Liga this season – nine draws and ten losses – and won only one of their seven European away matches. Let's hope playing in Basel still feels like an away match for them.
Having not watched Sevilla often (read: pretty much at all) this season, my best guess at their XI is the same which won 3-1 over Shakhtar to advance to this final. Soria; Mariano, Rami, Carrico, Tremoulinas; Krychowiak, N'Zonzi; Coke, Banega, Vitolo; Gamiero. Coke is usually a right-back, but started in attack against Shakhtar; if Emery chooses a more orthodox winger, it'll probably be Konoplyanka, who's fit again after an injury worry but started on the bench against Shakhtar despite being fit for that match. Jose Antonio Reyes and Michael Krohn-Dehli are their only injury absences.
Sevilla's goals in the 3-1 win over Shakhtar seem a good demonstration of what they're capable of in attack. The first came from Gamiero's awareness, dispossessing a dawdling defender then running straight at goal. It wasn't a concerted press, although they'll do that at times, but just paying attention. The second, Krychowiak's through-ball for Gamiero, came just after halftime to deflate the opposition, less than two minutes after the restart, less than three minutes after Shakhtar had leveled the score. The third, Mariano from distance with Shakhtar's defenders backing off, a first-time strike before the defense could get into position, sealed the match.
Sevilla don't play a possession game – averaging slightly less than 50% in La Liga – but not every one of their goals is a lightning counter-attack or a set play, like Liverpool's last Spanish opponent. They don't score tons, especially in the league, but they've scored 14 through the eight knockout matches: three matches with three (all at home), two matches with two, one match with one, and two matches with none. But they score when it matters, as they did against Shakhtar. And Kevin Gamiero is at the heart of it.
Gamiero, with 28 goals in all competitions, has scored more than Liverpool's top two players combined (Coutinho and Sturridge, each with 12). He's scored as many Europa League goals as Lallana, Coutinho, and Sturridge combined, and Sevilla's only been in this competition since the Round of 32.
The only starter in the above guess at Sevilla's XI under 26 years old is the goalkeeper, 23-year-old David Soria (34-year-old Beto's the usual keeper in La Liga, but Soria's started all eight in this competition). Rami and Tremoulinas are 30; Mariano, Coke, and Gamiero are 29; Carrico, N'Zonzi (yes, that N'Zonzi), and Banega are 27; Krychowiak and Vitolo (and Konoplyanka) are 26. They're an experienced side. And the majority of them have been here before.
Long story short, Sevilla just win in this competition. They do *just enough* in the knockout rounds, and then perform in the finals. They're the title holders the last two years running, and no side has ever won three years in a row.
This will be Liverpool's 63rd match of the season. It'll be Sevilla's 62nd, with the Copa del Rey final to come on Sunday. It is the culmination of both sides' seasons. If they win, the season's a success, league results be damned and forgotten. If they don't, it's a failure, simple as.
So don't fail.