Klopp factor key as Liverpool reach final

"He kicks every ball with you," James Milner told UEFA.com, citing Jürgen Klopp's passion as a major factor in Liverpool reaching the UEFA Europa League final.

Jürgen Klopp leads the celebrations at Anfield
Jürgen Klopp leads the celebrations at Anfield ©Getty Images

During the celebrations at the end of Liverpool's UEFA Europa League semi-final victory over Villarreal, the loudest cheers were reserved for Jürgen Klopp.

The German stood in the middle of the Anfield pitch and punched the air. The crowd roared. He did it again, and they roared louder. He did it a third time, and the volume rose another notch still.

It tells you just who they think is responsible for Liverpool's presence in the final in Basel on 18 May. There were some terrific individual performances from Liverpool players last night but Klopp's electrifying influence since his arrival at Anfield lies at the heart of a run that has taken the three-time UEFA Cup winners past Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and now Villarreal.

If you cast your minds back to Liverpool's opening UEFA Europa League group stage home game against Sion on 1 October, Anfield was a subdued place and Liverpool a subdued team. It was the penultimate match of Brendan Rodgers' reign and it finished in a 1-1 draw. Seven days later, Klopp was announced as Liverpool's new manager.

Yesterday, as against United and Dortmund, Anfield crackled with positive energy and it did so because of Klopp. He has revitalised this Liverpool side and – just as significantly – achieved an instant connection with the club's supporters.

In the space of seven months Liverpool have become a club transformed and the energy in their performance was incredible. They tore into Villarreal, who were completely overwhelmed by the speed and intensity of Liverpool's football. James Milner, one of the Reds' best performers, said: "The tempo was set early on – we didn't let them settle on the ball and we had a good gameplan to stop them playing."

Klopp: 'Perfect performance'
Klopp: 'Perfect performance'

The noise of a raucous Anfield crowd was a factor ("they set the tone for us," said Milner) yet, in reality, it is Klopp who has set the tone. Milner says the sight of the German on the touchline has a massive impact, explaining: "He is a great manager to play for. He loves the game, he kicks every ball with you and is so passionate.

"He gets the crowd going. If you're tired in the game and look over and see the manager bouncing around on the sidelines, it helps you go that extra mile; everyone puts it in."

In seven months at the helm Klopp has taken Liverpool to two cup finals. They lost the first, in the League Cup, on penalties to Manchester City, but will face Sevilla full of confidence. "He has obviously done a great job so far," added Milner. "It's our second final of the year and hopefully we can win this one to finish this season, a season of transition, with a piece of silverware."

How Liverpool beat Villarreal
How Liverpool beat Villarreal

Liverpool's list of heroes last night was a long one. There was an important early save by Simon Mignolet from Mario Gaspar. Roberto Firmino had a hand in all three goals. Adam Lallana pressed as tirelessly as anyone, and hit the third goal. Daniel Sturridge, a substitute for the first leg, showed his class with the second goal. Emre Can was influential on his return after injury. Dejan Lovren made a brilliantly-timed tackle on Cédric Bakambu as the Villarreal forward threatened to burst clear early in the second half.

It was Lovren who reflected afterwards that Klopp had every player at Anfield playing with a smile on their face once more. "Klopp has changed so many players," he said. "Some players didn't have the confidence at the beginning of the season, even me. It's massive for everyone and the fans enjoy seeing us with a smile – we're all playing with a smile right now."

James Milner speaks to UEFA.com
James Milner speaks to UEFA.com©UEFA.com
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