Liverpool boss Klopp chases lost spark in Villarreal reunion

London (AFP) – Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has vowed that his team will rediscover their mojo in time for Thursday’s Europa League semi-final second leg at home to slick Spanish opponents Villarreal.

After a 1-0 first-leg defeat, Klopp saw a much-changed side beaten 3-1 by Swansea City on Sunday and goes into the biggest game of his seven-month tenure on the back of the first successive losses of his Anfield reign.

Including a 2-2 draw against Newcastle United, Liverpool have now gone three games without victory in all competitions, but Klopp is confident that they will rediscover their poise when the moment comes.

Reflecting on the defeat by Swansea, he told the Liverpool website: “We played like we played and I saw it for the whole 90 minutes and there was not a lot I enjoyed, to be honest.

“We have to think about it and we have to recover, which is very important, and we will play much, much better than we did on Sunday.

“We have to accept the result, which is what we do, and then we work and we will be better on Thursday.”

Following the euphoria of the astonishing 4-3 second-leg win over Borussia Dortmund in the previous round, Liverpool found themselves drawn into a more cagey affair in last week’s first meeting with Villarreal.

After both teams had hit the post, Liverpool looked set for a creditable draw, only for an injury-time counter-attack to culminate in Adrian Lopez giving Villarreal a slender advantage.

Seeking to reach a first continental final since the 2007 Champions League decider, Liverpool approach the second leg needing to cancel out Villarreal’s lead but without exposing themselves on the counter.

With the defeat at Swansea having damaged their chances of qualifying for next season’s Europa League via the league, winning this season’s competition, which will yield a place in next season’s Champions League, has now taken on even greater importance.

Klopp made eight changes for the trip to the Liberty Stadium and is expected to restore players including goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, midfielder James Milner and forward Roberto Firmino to his starting XI.

– ‘Chance of a lifetime’ –

There is also a possibility that he will be able to call upon German midfielder Emre Can, who reportedly returned to training ahead of schedule on Monday after spraining ankle ligaments against Dortmund.

Liverpool remain without captain Jordan Henderson, whose season has been ended by a knee ligament injury, and central defender Mamadou Sakho, who has been provisionally suspended by UEFA after failing a drugs test.

Striker Divock Origi, who scored twice across the two legs against Dortmund, remains sidelined with an ankle problem.

Villarreal travel to Liverpool full of confidence after securing a return to the Champions League for the first time in four years with a 2-0 win at Valencia in La Liga on Sunday.

Coach Marcelino, whose club have never reached a major final, could even afford the luxury of making 10 changes at the Mestalla from the side that beat Klopp’s men in the first leg.

He has a fully fit squad to choose from as Ivorian international Eric Bailly has overcome the hamstring injury he suffered in the first leg to travel with the rest of the squad.

“On Thursday we have the chance we have been waiting for all our lives,” captain Bruno told the club’s website.

“It is a step the club still hasn’t been able to take and we will face up to that challenge in the best way possible. We will be at 100 percent to achieve this objective.”

Europa League winners for the past two seasons running, Sevilla are in the driving seat in the other semi-final following a 2-2 first-leg draw away to Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk.

The victorious semi-finalists will meet in the final at Basel’s St Jakob-Park stadium on May 18.

Fixtures (aggregate scores in brackets)

Thursday (1905 GMT):

Liverpool v Villarreal (0-1), Sevilla v Shakhtar Donetsk (2-2)

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