Reserves draw as Reds' 1st XI eye final

Jordon Ibe equalising for a second-string Liverpool side against West Brom, as the Reds end eighth - their joint lowest spot since returning to the top flight 54 years ago. Manager Juergen Klopp is unequivocal in prioritising their Europa League show
Jordon Ibe equalising for a second-string Liverpool side against West Brom, as the Reds end eighth - their joint lowest spot since returning to the top flight 54 years ago. Manager Juergen Klopp is unequivocal in prioritising their Europa League showdown, the team's first continental final in nine years. PHOTO: REUTERS

Liverpool focused on beating Sevilla to enter Champions League, Henderson may feature

LONDON • Juergen Klopp is ready to turn his full attention to Liverpool's first European final for nine years, after the Reds finished their Premier League campaign with a 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.

The Liverpool manager admitted his senior players were already thinking ahead to tomorrow's Europa League final against holders Sevilla in Basel, Switzerland, before last Sunday's domestic finale.

On previous occasions this season when he has rotated his squad, Klopp has insisted that freshening things up was necessary to give Liverpool the best chance of winning.

Away to West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, he made 11 changes and the argument stopped holding credibility.

This was not about prevailing in this fixture, it was about triumphing in their next one and given that it happens to be the Europa League final, Klopp's strategy was understandable.

A 1-1 draw ensured that Liverpool finished eighth in the Premier League, their joint lowest placing since returning to the top flight under Bill Shankly in 1962.

If that is underwhelming, their season could still be transformed should they defeat Sevilla tomorrow. It is not only a European trophy at stake for Liverpool, a place in next season's Champions League could also be earned.

So, he made 11 changes at the Hawthorns, with most of the men likely to start the final left on Merseyside to rest while Liverpool's understudies collected a point thanks to Jordon Ibe's fine equaliser after Salomon Rondon's opener.

"We made a few changes - 11," smiled Klopp. "It absolutely made sense because it's perfectly clear you cannot play here with 50 per cent concentration.

"I know about playing finals and it would have been quite difficult for the players. It was clear it was going to be quite intense.

"The young boys did really well and we played football.

"The problem would be if we came with other players and they were already with their mind on the next game. That would be absolutely normal, we cannot change this."

Asked to rank Liverpool's next game in terms of importance, Klopp was emphatic: "It's not how important it is for me. It is a European final. What could be bigger?"

The squad could be boosted tomorrow by the presence of captain Jordan Henderson, who returned from a lay-off of more than a month by playing 26 minutes as a substitute and showed no ill-effects from his knee injury.

"I didn't want to force the situation and say 'come on Hendo' but he didn't feel anything in the last few sessions so we wanted to try to give him 20 minutes," Klopp said.

"In the end it was nearly half an hour. It's good to have him back, for sure."

But Danny Ings seems certain to be missing in Basel, despite making his own long-awaited comeback from a knee injury. After being out since last October, the striker figured as a late substitute.

"It's nice to be part of it and nice I could give him the opportunity," said Klopp. "It's not that we thought he should come in and score three goals, it was more to give this really nice lad something before the break."

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2016, with the headline 'Reserves draw as Reds' 1st XI eye final'. Print Edition | Subscribe