Europa League final 'vital in Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool revolution'
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp stood in the sunshine in Basel's St Jakob-Park Stadium as his players huddled around him, hanging on his every word.
It was a sign of the hold that the charismatic German has on his Liverpool squad after eight months in charge - and how they have come to believe that every word he tells them carries weight.
After the League Cup final defeat by Manchester City on penalties in February, Klopp assured his disappointed players that there would be other finals. And so it has proved, as Liverpool face Sevilla in the Europa League final in Basel on Wednesday.
This is not simply a quick win for Klopp. With Champions League qualification the prize, this is the game that will shape his summer strategy and Liverpool's immediate future.
Champions League key to Klopp's plans
The Europa League has almost been treated as an unwanted intrusion into the calendar, Uefa's second-class citizen behind the riches and glory of the Champions League.
This all changed when a Champions League place was awarded to the winners - leaving Klopp and Liverpool with the opportunity to compensate for a pedestrian eighth-place finish in the Premier League with a seat at European football's top table.
Klopp wants to win silverware swiftly after losing out on the League Cup, which came on the back of three successive final defeats with previous club Borussia Dortmund - in the Champions League in 2013 and the German Cup in 2014 and 2015.
"I have too many silver medals, it's true," Klopp said in his pre-match news conference in Switzerland. "But better that than no medals at all. The longer and longer it is without a win, the harder you try and the more likely it is you will win."
It is not simply the success itself that will mean so much to Klopp and Liverpool, even though it would give them their first trophy since the 2012 League Cup. It would give huge momentum to their plans to challenge at the top of the Premier League and in Europe.
Liverpool's name and history alone are guaranteed to attract top players, while Klopp's record of success, his personality and his natural bond with players are other qualities they will be able to exploit.
A move to Anfield is not quite such an enticing prospect without European football. For any potential signing, the extra burnish will be added by a Champions League place.
Put together, an offer of Liverpool, Klopp and Champions League football would tick most of the boxes for top players in a summer when competition for targets will intensify with the arrival of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, Antonio Conte at Chelsea and, potentially, Jose Mourinho at Manchester United.
Those inside Anfield will need to be able to play every card at their disposal - and that is the difference between victory and defeat on Wednesday.
Win and Liverpool are right back in the elite. Lose and a big chunk of their summer bargaining power disappears at a stroke.
Is Klopp the perfect fit?
When Klopp walked into Anfield in October, he said his first task was to turn "doubters into believers".
It was hard to find any Liverpool fans in Basel who are not convinced by Klopp, but any remaining doubts will be blown away if he wins the Europa League so soon after his appointment.
And watching the German in action in a small media room at St Jakob-Park, barely throwing a glance at the huge silver trophy to his right, it was easy to see why he is already so revered.
Liverpool fans like to feel their manager represents them, feels like them, in the technical area. Klopp's all-consuming passion and animated demeanour does the job.
In Basel, he was talking their language once more as he said: "We already know about the desire of our supporters. We know how much they want to win this cup. They showed us in an impressive way at home and away travelling with us.
"It was great to see some people who didn't even travel away, Liverpool supporters who lived in Russia. We would really love to be the team that can make their dreams come true."
Klopp does not just get his players involved - when it was needed against Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals and Villarreal in the last four, he got Liverpool's fans involved. He has not simply revitalised a group of players, he has revitalised the club's support.
Klopp the rejuvenator
As Liverpool's players went through an hour-long open training session in front of the world's media beneath the steepling stands in Basel, Klopp circled as they took one last chance to impress before he names his line-up.
They were in high spirits and Klopp was all smiles as he shook hands with the winners of a game between his squad before players such as James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge broke off to practise penalties.
Klopp has been in charge of Liverpool for 51 games, winning 23, drawing 17 and losing 11. It is a mixed record but one that would look so much better with a trophy at the end of it.
And the bonus has been Klopp's ability to rejuvenate players who will play key roles for Liverpool in Basel.
Dejan Lovren will be the centrepiece of Liverpool's defence. The Croatia international had a shocking first season at Anfield following a £20m move from Southampton but has been commanding in this campaign, while Adam Lallana, who also struggled since arriving from St Mary's for £25m, has thrived under the German.
Milner has been one of Liverpool's most important players in recent weeks, while young Belgium striker Divock Origi, criticised for his early efforts under previous manager Brendan Rodgers, now looks a potent force and a star of the future.
All may have very big parts to play on Wednesday.
Signpost to the summer?
There is nothing better than a trophy to send managers, players and fans off happy into the summer break - but failure in Basel may just concentrate Klopp's mind even further on what needs to be done in the summer.
Christian Benteke says he wants to stay and fight for his place after a mixed first season following his £32.5m summer move from Aston Villa. Will he get a chance to prove his worth on Wednesday? Sturridge has the opportunity to show just how much talent he possesses and how he can make a difference on the big occasion.
Klopp will need to strengthen in some areas and the win that would bring Champions League football would enable him and Liverpool to attract bigger and better.
Liverpool have already secured Schalke defender Joel Matip on a free transfer for next season, while they are being heavily linked with Mainz's 22-year-old goalkeeper Loris Karius in a £5m deal designed to increase pressure on first choice Simon Mignolet.
A new left-back appears to be a priority given Alberto Moreno's struggles, while Liverpool have also been linked with Bayern Munich's Mario Gotze and Udinese's emerging young Poland midfielder Piotr Zielinski, rated at £10m.
Places in the team and in the Champions League are up for grabs on Wednesday. The stakes could not be higher as Liverpool prepare to take on Sevilla.