Munich — Rarely has one man been the focus of such attention
in the Europa League.
But Juergen Klopp's return to Borussia Dortmund as Liverpool
manager for the first leg of the quarterfinals was always going to be an
emotional affair with such a strong bond between him and his former club after
seven largely successful years.
Klopp oversaw steady progression after taking over Dortmund
in 2008 and led the young side to back-to-back Bundesliga titles by 2012, when
the club claimed its first double by humbling Bayern Munich in the German Cup
final. A Champions League final appearance in 2013 was as good as it got after
The end, when it came in 2015, was mourned by Dortmund fans
who remembered only the good times, as well as Klopp's infectious good humor
"Danke Kloppo" (Thank you Kloppo) was trending on
Twitter at the time.
Klopp is already extremely popular among Liverpool fans and
players for much the same reasons, with his passion for the game and his new
club clear to all from his behavior on the touchline and in news conferences.
Klopp quickly put his stamp on Liverpool through the team's
high-energy approach and fierce pressing game. Results have generally been
inconsistent but are starting to improve, like they did at Dortmund, and
Anfield has become something of a fortress. Fans appear happy to give him time
to build his own team.
It's widely felt that Liverpool will be a force under Klopp,
especially once he gets his own players in, and that the pair are a perfect fit
- just like it was at Dortmund.
Also read: Liverpool’s Klopp relishing return to Germany
Here are some things to know about Thursday's matches:
Of course Liverpool's trip to Germany isn't just about Klopp
- even if German broadcaster Sport1 was reportedly planning a "Kloppo
Cam" focused only on the Liverpool manager for the duration of the game.
For Dortmund, the Europa League represents arguably a better
chance of silverware than the Bundesliga, where it trails Bayern by five points
despite producing the best-ever campaign by a second-place team.
Dortmund also has a German Cup semifinal match to come
against Hertha Berlin, but progression in Europe is a priority.
Ilkay Gundogan, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Mats Hummels
took part in Tuesday's training session and look set to return, leaving Neven
Subotic the only player on Tuchel's injury list.
Liverpool playmaker Roberto Firmino looks set to miss out
with a hamstring injury.
Fernando Llorente returns home to face the player who took
his place in the hearts of Athletic Bilbao's supporters.
Llorente joined Sevilla this season from Juventus, but the
Spanish striker grew up playing for Bilbao from 2005-13 before heading to
"I spent 17 wonderful years of my life in Bilbao,"
Llorente said. "It was always an honor to play for them. Now it is my turn
to play against them, and I will give everything for the Sevilla shirt. It will
certainly be a very hard match."
Bilbao is now led by veteran striker Aritz Aduriz, who
recently got a call-up for Spain based on his excellent scoring form since
taking over for Llorente.
The 35-year-old Aduriz leads the Europa League this season
with eight goals, making Bilbao the competition's top-scoring team with 20
goals in 10 matches.
Two-time defending champion Sevilla has struggled on the
road this season and has yet to win away from home in five European matches.
With a berth in next season's Champions League just about
assured, Villarreal can now focus on winning an elusive title.
A 2-1 win at Eibar on Sunday gave Villarreal control of
fourth place in the Spanish league with an eight-point cushion over fifth-place
Villarreal has twice reached the semifinals of the Europa
League, to go with one semifinal appearance in the Champions League, and is
aiming for another shot to add to its InterToto trophy from 2003.
Playing some of the most attractive passing football in
Spain, Villarreal is anchored by midfielder Bruno Soriano. At Eibar, the
captain played his 364th match for Villarreal, surpassing Marcos Senna's club
record of 363.
"The most important thing now is to achieve all the
exciting goals we have this season," Soriano said.
Villarreal hasn't conceded a goal while winning all five of
its home matches in Europe this season.
Sparta, meanwhile, is undefeated in 12 Europa League matches
and has won its last three away matches in the tournament.
Braga, the only Portuguese club with a chance to win four
competitions, is unbeaten in five European home matches this season.
The northern Portuguese club still has a chance to win
titles in the Europa League, Portuguese Cup and the Portuguese League Cup, as
well as lying fourth in the domestic championship
Shakhtar has yet to lose in this season's Europa League.For
the latest on national news, politics, sport, entertainment and more follow us
on Twitter and like our Facebook page.