Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes his side face a challenge of mini-Champions League proportions in UEFA’s second-tier competition.
The German thinks the presence of the Reds and north west arch-rivals Manchester United in the last 16, facing each other in Europe for the first time at Anfield on Thursday, highlights how difficult it is to win the competition.
And despite suggestions the tie is worthy of Champions League status, Klopp insists it is not far off any way.
“What is Champions League level? I saw a lot of rubbish games at Champions League level,” he said.
“Liverpool and Manchester United want to always be part of it but I always said the Europa League is a very exciting tournament.
“There’s a long way to go but we can see the (finish) line. There’s only top-quality teams in this tournament.
“From now on it’s something like a small Champions League. We can’t change we’re not in the Champions League but we can only do our best to change it in the future.”
Liverpool have lost their last four matches to United, only one of which Klopp was in charge for, and never in their history have they lost five but the manager is confident they are much better placed now.
They were the better side in January when they lost 1-0 at Anfield to a Wayne Rooney goal and on that day they were without the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Divock Origi – all now available after injury.
“This will be a completely different situation, that’s for sure,” added Klopp.
“I’m not sure who will be ready yet but we are in a better situation clearly.
“We have more available and can make changes when we want to.
“To us that now is our job – we have to use that situation in the moment because no-one knows how it will be next week, it’s the best moment for us to play these important games.”
Forward Adam Lallana is yet to win against United having moved to Anfield in the summer of 2014 and is looking for some long-awaited payback.
“Since I’ve been here I’ve not won a game (versus United) so it is a great challenge for the team to put that right,” he said.
“There is something special which rides on a game between Liverpool and United.
“We have played well against the so-called bigger teams and got good results except Manchester United, when we have lost both games (this season).
“Sometimes you come out on the wrong end of it but luckily enough for us we have the chance to put things right and over two legs we are confident we can to do that.”
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