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The hot topic: UEFA Europa League final

We gathered our reporters in Basel, John Atkin and Santi Retortillo, together with UEFA Champions League podcast regular Paul Saffer to chew the fat over tonight's final ...

Like Éver Banega, sit back and enjoy our reporters' chat ...
Like Éver Banega, sit back and enjoy our reporters' chat ... ©Sportsfile

Paul (Paul Saffer, @UEFAcomPaulS): Welcome to a new idea we're giving a whirl on UEFA.com where we gather our reporting team to talk turkey ahead of a big game – and the UEFA Europa League final seems a good place to start. Joining me from Basel are our English language reporter (and, it should be said, my boss) John Atkin, and his Spanish counterpart at the match, Santi Retortillo. John – how's the build-up been going out there?

John (John Atkin, @UEFAcomJohnA): St. Jakob-Park is quite far out of town so it's hard to tell how the atmosphere in the city is changing but as the day has gone on and the sun has burned off more cloud cover, the number of fans milling around trying to work out whether the concrete edifice is a stadium or a shopping mall has grown. (It's both, by the way. And also an office block. And apartments.)

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Paul: Also, an old people's home built into the stadium (it was already there so they had to build around it). Santi, as usual Sevilla are here in the final but it's hardly been a great Liga season, and obviously they crashed out of the UEFA Champions League. What's their UEFA Europa League secret?

Santi (Santi Retortillo, @UEFAcomSantiR): Of course, Sevilla didn't win a single away game in the Liga and in the UEFA Europa League they've only managed one away win (at Athletic Club in the quarter-finals), but you can't deny that the Andalusian club, as Unai Emery said in our interview, "enjoy suffering". And Sevilla have developed a habit of winning the UEFA Europa League.

Paul: John, that seems to have gone for Liverpool under Klopp too, great stuff in Europe no matter how they've been going in the Premier League ...

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John: Quite. There's no hiding from the fact that this has been Liverpool's worst domestic league campaign since they returned to the top flight in 1962. Unless, of course, you reach a cup final. Or better still, two. Both teams have an unerring habit of pulling it out of the bag when it matters: Sevilla with that timely away win and Liverpool with that remarkable comeback at home to Dortmund. Klopp was asked in Wednesday's press conference whether this season would be a success or not if Liverpool lose. He reckons it has to be; I'm not so sure Liverpool's expectant fans will see it that way, much as they love him.

Santi: Even in Spain, everyone has an opinion on Klopp. His touchline manner is unique.  Everyone remembers how his Borussia Dortmund made Real Madrid suffer that night in 2013 with whirlwind after whirlwind of attacks, when Robert Lewandowski scored four.

Paul: It's definitely true that he started at Liverpool with loads of credit in the bank, even compared to most new managers, and now there's a second chance of a first trophy in a while after the near miss against Manchester City in the League Cup

John: He was trying to distance himself from his former self today (specifically that Rock n' Roll comment he made while he was Dortmund boss) when a journalist asked him what band Liverpool would be. You almost felt sorry for him. Then he started discussing Metallica .... Like a man complaining that everybody is looking at him and being surprised when you reply that it's probably because he's not wearing trousers.

Paul: Some people just can't help but drip charisma. I know the feeling. About other people.

John: Unai Emery is interesting. My uninformed observation was that he can bear the look of an undertaker gravely stood at a chapel doorway as mourners file by. But today he was pretty animated, making jokes and even doing some physical comedy with a bit of shadow-boxing. Confidence, perhaps?

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Santi: Sevilla certainly know what it takes to win finals after their triumphs in 2014 and 2015. They faced a really tough game against Benfica, they suffered for 120 minutes and then Beto was in inspired form in the penalty shoot-out. Against Dnipro they faced a different type of team and had to impose their play in the second half, thanks to the inspired form of Carlos Bacca. On this occasion, Sevilla will try to put the brakes on the attacking speed of Liverpool and try to unleash an in-form Vitolo and Kevin Gameiro, who never fails to rise to the big occasion.

Paul: That's a good point – a Klopp team can be stopped only if you prepared to work incredibly hard because they will keep attacking, I'm thinking of Bayern in the 2013 final at Wembley where they certainly had to 'suffer' before that late winner.

Santi, in England Liverpool still retain that big club feel despite their long run without a league title (there's perhaps only one bigger club in the Premier League, which I won't name out of self-preservation) – how's their reputation in Spain?

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Santi: At a time when no Spanish team had won the European Cup for more than a decade, Liverpool emerged and began a golden era with Bob Paisley and from then on people in Spain started to learn about Liverpool. In the last few years, with Rafa Benítez on the bench and the Spanish legion of players in the squad, Liverpool became a much-loved team in Spain. They are a huge club who have a lot of admirers in our country.

John: I'm not sure Sevilla are as well-known in England, but fans have had a pretty steep learning curve over the past fortnight and they will find out a great deal more tonight.

Paul: Agree with that John, though I think people are now very familiar with the top Liga teams, not just the big two, through blanket TV coverage.

Anyway, you both need a pre-match walk/sauna/siesta before kick-off, so it's time to get off the fence and give your predictions.

Santi: Against Benfica in 2014, Sevilla came very close to losing but they ended up winning it. Against Dnipro, Sevilla were the favourites and nearly ended up losing the game, but this time Unai Emery's side have a huge challenge in front of them: winning the tournament for a fifth time and becoming the first team to win it three seasons in a row. I'm going for 2-1 to Sevilla, with goals by Gameiro and Vitolo.

John: I'm a man who likes to give a definitive answer, even if it's built on little more than a whim. BUT, the teams have been so inconsistent this season that it's almost impossible to predict. I can't see either team keeping a clean sheet, and Liverpool have a lot going forward. How they cope at the back with Vitolo (and his license to roam), and the power of Gameiro could be key. If they can limit the damage then I reckon it's theirs.

Paul: ...and I'm leaning Sevilla, though I do believe a non-Spanish club will win a major UEFA men's club football competition at some point. I truly do. Anyway, thanks John and Santi, get following them on @UEFAcomJohnA and @UEFAcomSantiR for coverage in English and Spanish respectively (and, obviously, @EuropaLeague, where you can have your say using #UELfinal) – and I'll leave you with the preview ...

Liverpool v Sevilla: Basel awaits final showdown