Swansea City v Liverpool - Premier League

The Klopp effect: how Liverpool became serious Europa League contenders

The Klopp effect: Liverpool's Europa League journey

If there were ever any doubts about the importance of the Europa League, then they have been dispelled at Liverpool this season.

For a competition so often deemed irrelevant, it has been the making of one manager at Anfield and the breaking of another.

The Reds' 1-1 draw with FC Sion at the start of October was one of the final straws that pushed Brendan Rodgers out the door, to be replaced by Jurgen Klopp.

SIGN UP NOW

Want to become a GMS writer? Sign up now and submit a 250-word test article: http://gms.to/haveyoursay4

Article continues below

Klopp's plans bearing fruit 

Looking at the Premier League table, it may be hard to tell that a change has taken place at all. At the end of October, Liverpool were seventh; they are now eighth. They finished sixth in the 2014/15 season and are on course for seventh or eighth this time around.

Their league story has been one of stagnation, yet their season can be seen as a success nonetheless, for the Europa League has been the stage where Klopp's grand plans have finally come together.

Article continues below

Few blame Klopp for Liverpool's erratic league form. He is yet to be given a chance to make the squad his own, though that will come this summer. It is the system that has improved, and their European run is a just reward.

Instead of seeing the Europa League as a chore, Liverpool are benefiting from investing their full energy into the tournament, which could win them a place in next season's Champions League if they go all the way.

Crystal Palace v Liverpool - Premier League

Instead of seeing the Europa League as a chore, Liverpool are benefiting from investing their full energy into the tournament, which could win them a place in next season's Champions League if they go all the way.

Liverpool's journey

It was impossible to tell at the group stage that the Reds would go on to set the competition alight in the way they have. Narrow victories over Bordeaux and Rubin Kazan were sandwiched by a drab goalless draw with Sion and a 1-1 draw with Kazan.

Their progress to the last-32 was far from inevitable, and things did not immediately seem to get much easier, as FC Augsburg ran them close with a 0-0 draw in Germany followed by an edgy 1-0 win thanks only to a James Milner penalty.

"Liverpool's Europa League dream seemed to begin the moment the name Manchester United was pulled out of the hat."

And there, the mediocrity ended. Perhaps an all-English tie was needed to remind them of what was at stake, but Liverpool's Europa League dream seemed to begin the moment the name Manchester United was pulled out of the hat.

TOPSHOT-FBL-EUR-C3-MAN UTD-LIVERPOOL

Louis van Gaal may have thought that Liverpool were "not the enemy", but the feeling was not reciprocated. The Kop was re-energised, and that intensity was reflected on the pitch with a 2-0 win. United were poor, but the only injustice was that Liverpool did not score more, with David de Gea making a number of unbelievable saves to give van Gaal's men a fighting chance in the return leg at Old Trafford.

In that game, even Anthony Martial putting United in front did not seem to discourage Liverpool, who equalised through a moment of individual brilliance from Philippe Coutinho.

Klopp's impact

Nevertheless, there was more to the Reds' uplift in form than the north-west derby. Klopp has not just been an animated inspiration on the sidelines. He is also a man who understands European football as well as anybody.

After all, he was able to take a nearly bankrupt Borussia Dortmund from Bundesliga no-mans-land to the 2013 Champions League final.

And given the way the quarter-final draw unfolded, it was evident that Liverpool had made a wise decision to employ a European master.

Liverpool v Borussia Dortmund - UEFA Europa League Quarter Final: Second Leg

Having seen Tottenham dismantled by Dortmund in the previous round, even the most ardent Liverpool fans must have been concerned. Spurs, after all, have boasted the Premier League's best defence this season, and even that conceded five goals over the course of their tie with the German side.

Dortmund and Spurs was the battle of the second-bests, pitting the runners up of the Bundesliga and Premier League against each other.

The extent to which Thomas Tuchel's side dominated was a terrible indictment of the quality of English football compared to its European counterparts, even if the north Londoners have always been ever so slightly half-hearted about being in the Europa League at all.

Memories made 

With that in mind, Liverpool cannot have felt anything but dread when they were drawn against Klopp's former manager. For all the mutual respect and familiar faces between the two clubs, Liverpool cannot have reasonably expected to put on the show that they did in that remarkable second leg at Anfield.

"Klopp's tactics played no small part in one of this season's most memorable moments."

The first, of course, finished 1-1, youngster Divock Origi keeping Liverpool in the tie. His injury in the Merseyside derby has interrupted a remarkable rate of progress for the 21-year-old, but he can rest assured that he has repaid the faith Klopp has showed in him.

To 'the second Istanbul.' Amid the hysteria surrounding the 4-3 comeback, it is easy to overlook that Klopp's tactics played no small part in one of this season's most memorable moments.

Liverpool v Borussia Dortmund - UEFA Europa League Quarter Final: Second Leg

Employing two holding midfielders did not initially pay off, as Dortmund surged into a two-goal lead, but the method in Klopp's madness was to persevere with his plan. A front four of Origi, Coutinho, Adam Lallana, and Roberto Firmino also paid dividends, with the first two making their way onto the scoresheet.

The European campaign has also had its surprise stars. Klopp has been able to get the best out of James Milner and Dejan Lovren, while Alberto Moreno has improved significantly.

The only disappointment is that Mamadou Sakho, who scored one of the key goals against Dortmund, will play no further part in Liverpool's journey after the defender failed a drugs test.

Lessons learned 

As Sakho serves to remind us, it has not all been plain sailing.

Klopp was criticised for being too negative in the semi-final first leg against Villarreal. Playing for a draw seriously backfired as Adrián clinched a 1-0 win for the Yellow Submarine in the 92nd minute.

Daniel Sturridge did not react well to being dropped, but he now has a point to prove at Anfield. He may well be supported by Jordan Ibe, who is in favour with the manager, though he doesn't offer much pace in attack.

"Liverpool should go into the semi-final full of confidence"

Emre Can will also be returning, a huge positive as he is one of their few central midfielders who is confident going forward, as he showed with his assist for Origi in the Dortmund game.

Liverpool v Borussia Dortmund - UEFA Europa League Quarter Final: Second Leg

If they are able to score a couple of goals with plenty of time to spare, Klopp may well opt to bring on some of his more physical players, such as Christian Benteke, to help with shutting out the visitors.

Liverpool should go into the semi-final full of confidence. That may be more difficult after their emphatic loss to Swansea, but they will be fielding a much stronger XI against Villarreal. In fact, opting for inexperienced youngsters against the Swans has just proven how much Klopp values the Europa League.

It's easy for anyone's home form to look good when their local rivals are Everton, but Liverpool really can make the most of being back on Merseyside. If they can produce anything like the performance they did against Dortmund, they could be on their way to Basel for the final.

Will Liverpool win the Europa League? Have your say in the comments. 

Want more content like this?

Like our GiveMeSport Facebook Page and you will get this directly to you.

Already Subscribed to Facebook, don't ask me again

Follow GiveMeSport on Twitter and you will get this directly to you.

Already Following, don't ask me again

Like our GiveMeSport Page and you will get this directly to you.

Already Subscribed to G+, don't ask me again