West Bromwich (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Jurgen Klopp has tried to say all the right things, but Liverpool’s Premier League trip to West Bromwich Albion will be overshadowed by their looming Europa League final appearance.
Reds boss Klopp is likely to rotate significantly at the Hawthorns on Sunday in order to keep players fresh for the following Wednesday, when his side travel to Basel for the Europa League showpiece against holders Sevilla.
The general consensus is that the team Klopp picked for the midweek league match at home to Chelsea will start Liverpool’s first European final since 2007, although the German may be having second thoughts about that after a rather wobbly performance in a 1-1 draw.
Not that the visit to West Brom is completely meaningless because Liverpool could still secure a place in Europe through their league position.
Klopp’s team, who go into the final round of league fixtures in eighth place, are three points behind West Ham,in sixth, and one adrift of Southampton in seventh.
Sixth place would guarantee a Europa League spot, while seventh would do so as long as Manchester United win the FA Cup final against Crystal Palace.
That will all be academic if Liverpool beat Sevilla as that would ensure qualification for next season’s Champions League.
All the same, Klopp is aware that a win on Sunday could come in very useful.
“It’s very important because we can still move up two positions in the table,” he said.
“In this moment, Sunday afternoon is the most important game in the world.”
– Final decisions –
Klopp has three key players on the way back from injury, and all may yet play some part against Sevilla even if the West Brom fixture comes too soon.
Danny Ings is close to full fitness after battling back from cruciate knee ligament damage sustained soon after Klopp took charge at Anfield last October.
Fellow striker Divock Origi is also back in training, having been out since suffering an ankle injury in the 4-0 league win over Everton on April 20.
Captain Jordan Henderson is making good progress in his recovery from the knee injury sustained against Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League on April 7.
Of the three, Ings has the greatest chance of featuring on Sunday and Klopp appears to be keeping his fingers crossed that Origi and Henderson will be ready to face Sevilla.
“We have to see,” Klopp said. “I haven’t made final decisions. We will see about Danny Ings and if he’s ready for West Brom.
“With Divock and Hendo, they are both in a good way. Hendo has done a bit more.
“They are pretty close. If the final was one week later, now we’d be talking. But it will be close.”
In a season when the Liverpool fans who were present at the Hillsborough disaster were cleared by an inquest of any blame for the tragedy, West Brom will pay their own tribute on Saturday to the 96 supporters who died.
The West Midlands club have replaced 96 blue seats in the away section of the Smethwick End with 96 seats in Liverpool red.
The seats will remain unoccupied for the game and each will bear the name of one of the victims.
West Brom captain Darren Fletcher and former Liverpool striker Rickie Lambert, now with West Brom but born on Merseyside, will lay flowers in front of the away fans.
West Brom chairman Jeremy Peace said: “Albion and Liverpool have a rivalry which dates back to 1894 since when we have contested nearly 150 games.
“For a few moments on Sunday we will be as one and remember the context Hillsborough makes of our daily struggles.”