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Liverpool's Road to the Europa League Final

On the eve of their Europa League final, we look back at the fourteen games in Liverpool's long European campaign that led the team to Basel.

Martin Rose/Getty Images

The Europa League this season has been a long, and at times, arduous campaign for Liverpool Football Club. To make it to the final means having gone through fourteen Thursday night games over the course of eight months. While it seems like a drag in November, persevering and making it to the final in May makes all of the struggles worth it. On the eve of Liverpool's big match against Sevilla, we take a look back at the fourteen games that led us here.

Group Stage:
Group B: Bordeaux (FRA), FC Sion (SUI), FK Rubin Kazan (RUS)

17 September 2015

Bordeaux (Jussie) 1 - 1 Liverpool (Lallana)

1 October 2015

Liverpool (Lallana) 1 - 1 FC Sion (Assifuah)

22 October 2015

Liverpool (Can) 1 - 1 Rubin Kazan (Devic)

With three points, three goals, and three draws in the first three games, it would have been hard to fathom the idea that Liverpool would make it as far as they have in the Europa League. The first two of these games were managed by Brendan Rodgers, and both were saved by the hard work of Adam Lallana. The game against Rubin Kazan was new manager Jurgen Klopp's first home game. It was fitting, then, that one of the most impressive players of the Klopp era, Emre Can, was the one to provide him with his first opportunity to break out that enthusiastic goal celebration.

5 November 2015

Rubin Kazan 0 -€” 1 Liverpool (Jordon Ibe)

26 November 2015

Liverpool 2 (Milner [pen], Benteke) -€” 1 Bordeaux (Saivet)

10 December 2015

FC Sion 0 -€” 0 Liverpool

Two victories in six games, in the end, was all Liverpool needed to end up the top of their weak group after for a time looking in danger of failing to advance entirely. Christian Benteke's strike against Bordeaux sealed the deal in the first half of the Bordeaux game. It also spared Simon Mignolet's blushes after the keeper gave away a crazy free kick for time wasting that led to a Bordeaux goal. In a season when Liverpool couldn't seem to stop conceding goals to the opposition, that may win the award for dumbest goal given away. Despite clinching a spot in the next round by November, Liverpool looked deeply unimpressive throughout the first stage of this tournament.

Round of 32 - FC Augsburg (GER)

18 February 2016

Augsburg 0 - 0 Liverpool

25 February 2016

Liverpool (Milner [pen]) 1 - 0 Augsburg

If this Europa League campaign does, indeed, make history, this will undoubtedly be the forgotten round of games, thanks to the big name competition that followed. That's not fair to the Bundesliga side, however, because in the end, they gave Liverpool their toughest set of matches. A James Milner penalty at Anfield in the return fixture was the only goal that came between these two sides. In the end, Liverpool prevailed, but it never felt as though they settled the tie, until the final whistle blew. The next round though? That one Liverpool dominated all the way through.

Round of 16 - Manchester United (ENG)

10 March 2016

Liverpool (Sturridge [pen], Firmino) 2 - 0  Manchester United

17 March 2016

Manchester United (Martial [pen]) 1 - 1 Liverpool (Coutinho)

Amazingly, until these two matches, Liverpool had never faced their bitter rivals, Manchester United, in European competition. For that reason alone this draw was a big deal. It felt inevitable that with both Liverpool and United making it past the round of 32 that they were destined to face one another. If you want to just feel happy, I suggest rewatching the highlights of that first game at Anfield. The scoreline may have read 2-0, but that doesn't begin to do justice to the comprehensive domination of Liverpool over United from kick-off. Goalkeeper David De Gea was United's saving grace, making at least three world class saves to deny Liverpool goals from point blank range.

The second leg of this fixture at Old Trafford was the site of Philippe Coutinho's Liverpool goal of the season. When you think of a solo stunner from Coutinho, you probably imagine one of his many long range efforts that are hit with so much power that they nearly tear a hole in the back of the net. This one was different, though: a slick bit of footwork, a majestic burst of speed, and the ball somehow getting over the line at an angle from where it should be nearly impossible to beat the keeper. The fact that the keeper in question was De Gea made it even more impressive.

Quarterfinals - Borussia Dortmund (GER)

7 April 2016

Dortmund (Hummels) 1 - 1 Liverpool (Origi)

21 April 2016

Liverpool (Origi, Coutinho, Sakho, Lovren) 4 - 3 Dortmund (Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang, Reus)

If Liverpool facing Manchester United was inevitable, then them going up against Klopp's former team less than a year after he'd resigned amidst a shower of mutual affection was -- I don't know -- inevitable-er. Somehow, some way, it was always going to come down to Liverpool against Dortmund. With that kind of narrative already in place, there was a chance for these two encounters to be a bit anti-climactic.

Yeah, that's not what happened. A tense opening match in Dortmund saw Liverpool with a marginal advantage, thanks to the away goal rule. It was an advantage that Dortmund undid within the first five minutes at Anfield. By ten minutes in, they were up 2-0, a lead they took into half time. It was in the second half when that old adage about the magic of European nights at Anfield proved true. Liverpool came back from 2-0 down and then a 3-1 deficit to win the match 4-3 after a headed goal by Dejan Lovren in the 93rd minute. A good, old fashioned come-from-behind victory with a last gasp winner would have been a highlight of the season regardless of the occasion. The fact that it happened in Europe against such an elite opponent, and coming on the heels of that Manchester United dismantling, made it one of the highlights of the last decade.

Semi-finals - Villarreal (ESP)

28 April 2016

Villarreal (Lopez) 1 - 0 Liverpool

5 May 2016

Liverpool (Bruno [og], Sturridge, Lallana) 3 - 0 Villarreal

Despite making it through two extremely challenging draws, both of which felt like finals in their own ways, Liverpool still had one challenge left. Villarreal had things locked down in the first leg when they hosted Liverpool at El Madrigal. Their defense did its job admirably before snatching a last second goal thanks to substitute Adrian Lopez. With that goal, Villarreal dealt Liverpool their first loss in the Europa League, a run that lasted twelve straight games.

Liverpool made them pay for this at Anfield, with Sturridge responsible for an own goal early on, followed by his own in the second half. Lallana finished it off the game 81 minutes in, but their opponents never looked capable of getting back into the game. If for nothing else, this match will always be remembered for Daniel Sturridge's goal celebration, his characteristic wriggly-arms dance discarded for an expression of sheer joy and relief that showed how much that goal meant to him.

What started out as an inauspicious campaign -- one that took Liverpool four games to notch their first win -- has the potential to make history on Wednesday when Liverpool face Sevilla in the final.

This tournament saw Liverpool take on their fiercest rivals followed by their new manager's former club -- a team who also happen to be one of the best in Europe. It seems fitting to cap off such a challenging set of draws by making Liverpool unseat the current titleholders in order to lift the trophy. Getting to a final is never easy, but this journey in particular has been an entertaining one, and there's only 24 hours until the big finale.

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