Europa League 2015/16: Liverpool's road to the final

With the Europa League final less than 48 hours away, we look at how Liverpool got there.

Europa League 2015/16: Liverpool's road to the final
Liverpool salute the Kop after beating Dortmund (photo: Ian Hodgson)

Liverpool will face off against Sevilla in Basel on Wednesday, bidding to win their first European trophy for 11 years in the form of the Europa League.

Whilst the Reds' league campaign has been fairly forgettable, it's been a thrilling ride in Europe. But how exactly have they made it all the way to the final? Let's take a look.

Rodgers begins the group stage

After finishing sixth in the 2014/15 Premier League, Liverpool earned automatic qualification to the group stages, where they were drawn in Group B alongside Bordeaux, Rubin Kazan and FC Sion.

It is worth remembering that the Reds didn’t start the competition with Jürgen Klopp at the helm, Brendan Rodgers took charge of their first two group games before getting sacked in early October.

Neither of the early performances gave reason for Rodgers to keep his job, Liverpool stuttering to a 1-1 draw against Bordeaux in France before Sion restricted them to the same scoreline at Anfield. Adam Lallana scored the opener in each of those games.

In comes Jürgen to seal top spot

Klopp’s first ever home match as Liverpool manager commenced on the third matchday of the group, but even he was unable to break the curse of the 1-1 draw, Emre Can equalising against Rubin Kazan after Marko Devic had given the Russian’s an unlikely lead with a half-volley.

Qualification was looking like it might not happen, until Klopp’s side managed to put two wins on the bounce together. Jordon Ibe rattled in the only goal of the game away to Kazan, before James Milner and Christian Benteke ensured that the Reds came from behind at home to Bordeaux. On that same night, Sion lost to Kazan, sending Liverpool top of the group with one game to play.

That game was against the Swiss side, ending 0-0 on a forgettable night to secure top spot for the Merseysiders. Liverpool finished the group with two wins, four draws and no defeats. They scored six goals, conceding four.

Augbsurg, Milner and a lifeless last 32

Whilst there were some interesting match-ups in the group stage, knockout football was where the real drama began, admittedly once the Reds had navigated a last 32 tie against Augsburg.

The Bundesliga side, struggling in the league, were playing European football for the first time in their history, delighted to draw Liverpool after dramatically getting through their group on the last evening of action.

It was a fairly professional job from Klopp’s side, who drew 0-0 in Germany before an early Milner penalty put them 1-0 up in the return leg. Despite some nervy moments, the scoreline stayed like that from there on in, and into the last 16 they went.

Milner's penalty secured progression against Augsburg (photo: Ian Hodgson)
Milner's penalty secured progression against Augsburg (photo: Ian Hodgson)

The small matter of Manchester United

The last 16 was where the real fun began, Liverpool pitted against bitter rivals Manchester United, the two clubs meeting for the first ever time in European competition. The atmosphere at Anfield for the first leg was wonderful, Liverpool taking full advantage to win 2-0 thanks to Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino. In truth it could, and should, have been much more. The Red Devils would have been out there and then, had it not been for a display of wonderful goalkeeping from David de Gea.

Still, thanks to the Spaniard, there was still a chance of a comeback in the second leg - especially after Anthony Martial’s penalty put the hosts ahead on the half hour mark. United had Liverpool on the rails, until a superb bit of individual brilliance from Philippe Coutinho swung the tie back into his side’s favour.

Taking the ball on the left wing, Coutinho burned past Guillermo Varela with sheer pace, dribbling into the box before lifting the ball over de Gea with a perfectly executed chip. That left the home side needing three more on the night, the Brazilian had firmly taken the wind out of their sails.

Coutinho's dink against United was voted goal of the season at the Liverpool end-of-season awards (photo: Getty)
Coutinho's dink against United was voted goal of the season at the Liverpool end-of-season awards (photo: Getty)

One more historic European night at Anfield

If the last 16 draw had produced drama through pairing Liverpool and United together, the quarter final spectacle went one better, sending Klopp back to his old stomping ground - Borussia Dortmund.

Away from the story of Klopp facing his old club so soon after leaving, Liverpool weren’t fancied at all against a team hot on the tail of Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. They’d seen off Tottenham Hotspur, who were well above Liverpool in the Premier League, in the previous round, and it was expected that they’d ease into the last four with little trouble.

They didn’t take the Klopp effect into consideration. He set up the Reds brilliantly for the first leg in Germany, with his choice to pick the young Divock Origi ahead of Sturridge up-front paying off, as the Belgian gave his side an unexpected lead. Mats Hummels’ headed goal meant that it finished 1-1 on the night, but that didn’t sour the mood as Liverpool took an away goal back to England.

What happened back at Anfield was beyond belief, another indescribable night of European action at the famous ground, a night that will go down in the history books. After 10 minutes, it looked to be all over. Dortmund raced into a two goal lead through Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, leaving Liverpool needing to win the game that night in order to go through.

Origi’s goal just after the interval, courtesy of a marvellous assist from Emre Can, gave the home fans some joy that was quickly cancelled out by Marco Reus’ curling finish. Liverpool needed three in less than 25 minutes. Problem, what problem?

Philippe Coutinho's goal gave hope, Mamadou Sakho's header gave belief. Dejan Lovren gave Anfield lift-off. (5) 4-3 (4). They were into the semi final's.

Lovren's goal sent Anfield wild (photo: Getty Images)
Lovren's goal sent Anfield wild (photo: Getty Images)

Sinking the Yellow Submarine

There were some suggestions that after the excitement of United and Dortmund, Liverpool might not have enough left in the tank for Villarreal. 

It was always going to be tough against the Spanish song, who have one of the meanest defences in Europe, and it looked like it could be curtains for the Reds when Marcelino's side scored a last minute winner in the first leg, leaving Liverpool without an away goal and with a defecit to overturn back at Anfield.

However, backed by an unbelievable atmosphere once again, the Reds delivered. Daniel Sturridge was on hand to pressure Bruno Soriano into pushing the ball into his own net, before the striker added a second himself to give Liverpool an overall lead. Lallana sealed the win with time left on the clock, and here we are now - Liverpool in the final.

One more step to glory?

So, Wednesday 18th May 2016. Sevilla - Liverpool. What happens at the end of the road?

We'll have to wait and see.