Good evening! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for tonight's Europa League
Group B clash between Sion and Liverpool
at the Stade de Tourbillon. Neither side have quite completed their jobs yet in the group stages, with Liverpool tonight looking to secure top spot and Sion hoping to seal their place in the knockout stages, so there is still plenty to play for here. Let's start with a look at the teams...
SION STARTING XI: Vanins; Ziegler, Lacroix, Rufli, Zverotic; Kouassi, Salatic, Pa Modou, Fernandes; Carlitos, Assifuah
SION SUBS: Fickentscher, Vanczak, Sierro, Mujangi Bia, Adao, Akolo, Follonier
LIVERPOOL STARTING XI: Mignolet; Clyne, Toure, Lovren, Smith; Henderson, Can; Milner, Lallana, Firmino; Origi
LIVERPOOL SUBS: Bogdan, Randall, Skrtel, Rossiter, Brannagan, Coutinho, Benteke
What can we make of those two teams, then? Well, starting with the hosts, manager Didier Tholot
has made three changes to the side that was beaten by Zurich at the weekend, with two of those coming in midfield as Pa Modou and Salatic both come into the starting lineup. Bia, who has brief experience of English football following a loan spell earlier in his career, and N'doye, who was sent off at the weekend, are the men to make way.
There will be a number of familiar names for followers of English football in Sion's side, perhaps most notably that of Reto Ziegler, who is the third new face in the side from the weekend. Ziegler spent a season with Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League and was later on loan at Wigan Athletic. During his time with Spurs he actually scored against Liverpool in a penalty shootout.
Zverotic was also based in England until the summer playing with Fulham, and he starts again tonight alongside Lacroix and Rufli, both of whom keep their spots from the weekend. Further forward, Kouassi and Fernandes complete the midfield, while the danger men will be Assifuah and especially Carlitos tonight.
As for Liverpool, the headline news for them is that Jordan Henderson will lead the team out for the first time under Jurgen Klopp
tonight as he is handed his first start since suffering a broken foot. He comes into the midfield trio alongside Emre Can and James Milner, which is arguably Liverpool's first choice three in the middle of the park. Lucas and Allen, meanwhile, have both been left on Merseyside.
© Getty Images
There is further good news for the Reds on the bench as Philippe Coutinho is named in the matchday squad having missed the last four games with a hamstring injury picked up during their victory over Manchester City, in which the Brazilian played a starring role. He is likely to play a bit-part role in the final 20 minutes or so just to give him some time back on the field tonight, with the hope that he will be fit to start at the weekend.
Klopp was expected to make changes to his side tonight with his side already through, and he has made six in all. Three of the back five stay the same, however, with Mignolet, Clyne and Lovren all keeping their places from the surprise defeat to Newcastle on Sunday. Skrtel, who scored an own goal in that match, drops to the bench and is replaced by Toure, while young Brad Smith fills in at left-back with Moreno rested.
Henderson and Can are two other news faces from the weekend defeat in midfield, and in front of them Lallana also comes into the side. The former Southampton man has yet to really nail down a starting berth under Jurgen Klopp
so far, and these European games may well be the best chances he gets to show the manager exactly what he can do from the start. He and Firmino will provide support for the striker, with the Brazilian being another who has blown hot and cold this season.
Up front, Klopp has given Origi another chance to impress following his hat-trick in the League Cup last week, with Benteke left on the bench. Origi may find himself with a few more opportunities in the coming weeks following the news that Daniel Sturridge has picked up yet another injury, and if he can put in another good goalscoring performance tonight then he may thrust himself into first-team contention for the weekend.
Liverpool can't afford to look beyond this match, however, with Sion entering the game as the team who need to make things happen. Their place in the last 32 is not yet guaranteed, and although they hold a three-point lead over Rubin Kazan, it is not entirely unlikely that that will be enough come the final whistle. Defeat tonight for Sion, coupled with a Rubin Kazan win in Bordeaux, would see the Swiss side crash out by virtue of their inferior head-to-head record.
A draw, however, would be enough to guarantee their place in the knockout stages, while a win would see them progress through as Group B winners. That would be some feat for a side participating in the group stages of a major European tournament for the first time in their history, particularly considering they were regarded as the underdogs of the group when the draw was made.
They have amassed eight points from their five group games so far this season, averaging a goal a game at both ends of the pitch during that time. Should they make it through today, though, then they would be underdogs against most other sides in the last 32. They have, after all, scored fewer goals in the competition this season than any other side currently in the top two of a group.
Their 2-0 defeat at the hands of Rubin Kazan last time out was their first defeat of the season in this competition, and they have actually only won two of their last 10 Europa League or UEFA Cup outings. The majority of those matches came in the qualifying stages too, with defeats to the likes of Celtic, Fenerbahce and Galatasaray.
They are, however, unbeaten in their last four home matches in the Europa League or UEFA Cup, winning two and drawing two in that time. They have won four of their last eight home games in this competition including qualifiers, which is not a bad record for a club of Sion's stature.
Things haven't been quite as good domestically this season, however. A 1-0 defeat to bottom-of-the-table Zurich - managed by Liverpool legend Sami Hyypia, incidentally - was their eighth reverse in 18 league games this season to leave them in the bottom half. They are only four points off the top four, which is enough for a Europa League spot, but only two teams have scored fewer than them in the Swiss Super League this season.
They come into tonight's game having lost three on the bounce in all competitions, while their winless streak stretches one match further back. They have only scored one goal in that time too, and another defeat tonight would see them fall to four in a row for the first time since February 2014. Their record at home will fill them with confidence either having lost three of their last six outings in front of their own fans.
There is plenty of encouragement for Liverpool to take from Sion's plight, then, and they will be favourites for sure heading into this match. The Reds have really started to gather some momentum under Jurgen Klopp now, although that was halted somewhat by Newcastle United at the weekend. The Magpies picked up an entirely unexpected 2-0 victory at St James' Park, although that scoreline perhaps flattered them a little. Neither side deserved to win, but Liverpool did have a goal wrongly chalked off while Newcastle's first saw them given a huge slice of luck.
© Getty Images
They can afford to relax to some extent this evening, though, knowing that their place in the last 32 is already secured - as it has been in their previous two Europa League campaigns as well. Victory over Bordeaux on matchday five ensured that they would be in the hat for the knockout rounds, and they only need a point tonight to guarantee top spot as well. Defeat would see them finish second, but anything else and Liverpool will win Group B.
The Reds are one of only six unbeaten teams left in the Europa League this season, but it was drawing games that was their biggest downfall at the start of the campaign. They drew all of their first three outings 1-1, but have won the last two to take control of the group. Drawing had been a big issue for the Reds in all competitions towards the end of the Brendan Rodgers era and the start of Klopp's tenure, but they do seem to be turning those into wins more often than not now.
Indeed, Sunday's shock defeat to Newcastle ended a four-game winning streak for Liverpool, while they have lost just two of their last 12 outings under Klopp, winning seven of those since starting his reign with three consecutive draws. That run actually goes back towards the end of Rodgers's tenure too, with Liverpool having lost only two of their last 18 games in all competitions.
For whatever reason, Liverpool have generally been better on the road under Klopp than they have been in front of their own fans. Anfield is still waiting for a really encouraging display under the German, but there have been a number of them on the road, including convincing victories at Chelsea, Manchester City and Southampton. That made the defeat to Newcastle on Sunday all the more surprising, but Klopp will be hoping for a return to form away from home tonight.
As already mentioned, Liverpool are still unbeaten in their five Europa League games this season, and that run stretches further back to just one defeat in their last eight since a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Zenit in February 2013. Draws have, again, been the most common result in this competition down the years, though - they have shared the spoils in eight of their 17 Europa League group games to date, winning seven and losing two.
They did end a run of six consecutive European away games without a victory on their last trip in this competition, however, beating Rubin Kazan 1-0 having drawn 1-1 with Bordeaux in their opening away game of Group B. In the Europa League specifically, Liverpool have only won two of their last six away Europa League games stretching back to September 2012, losing three and drawing one.
PREDICTION: We're 10 minutes from kickoff in Switzerland, which means that it is time for a prediction! Klopp may have made six changes to his side for tonight's match, but he will be expecting a response from the drab performance at St James' Park on Sunday. Sion need a result themselves, but Liverpool should have just too much for the hosts. I'm going for a 2-1 away victory.
The history books certainly point towards a Liverpool victory tonight, with Sion having come up against the Reds on three previous occasions and losing two of those, with the only exception coming at Anfield in October. Those are the only matches Sion have ever played against English opposition too, so they are yet to win against a Premier League side in Europe.
Speaking of the history books, Sion hold a unique place in them for European football having become the first visiting side to ever score three goals at Anfield in European competition. That happened in the second round of the 1996-97 Cup Winners' Cup, but the only problem was that they conceded six times in a high-scoring defeat to Roy Evans's side. Since then, only Barcelona, Chelsea, Udinese and Real Madrid have managed the same feat.
Liverpool's last trip to Switzerland ended in defeat at the hands of Basel in last season's Champions League, but their overall record against Swiss opposition is a favourable one. They have lost only two of their 13 meetings, winning six and drawing five. However, only one of those wins have come in the last seven meetings, with all five draws also coming in that time. On Swiss soil, their record stands at three wins, two defeats and a draw.
Adam Lallana got on the scoresheet nice and early in the reverse fixture at the start of October, before Assifuah levelled things up for Sion to earn his side a point. A repeat of that tonight would suit both sides fine, but hopefully we won't see either team settle for just a draw.
KICKOFF: Here we go then! Liverpool get us underway at a freezing Stade Tourbillon, but the hosts are the team straight on the front foot and Mignolet has to come out of his area to mop up an early ball forward.
There is a cracking atmosphere inside the ground tonight, with the stadium having been sold out weeks in advance. The fans are certainly doing all they can to get their side in gear early on here.
CHANCE! Big chance for Liverpool early on as Firmino stabs a ball through to Smith on the left, and the youngster plays a lovely cross into the box. It is at an awkward height for Origi, however, and he can only hook it backwards when a better contact would have resulted in a goal. Moments later Can drives an effort well over.
Decent spell of possession from Sion, who have made a fairly solid start to this match. They are playing a fairly defensive formation, however, so you can expect to see the visitors the lion's share of possession tonight.
SAVE! Vanins has a comfortable save to make here as Firmino lets fly from range, only to see his shot take a deflection which sends it into the arms of the keeper.
Smith has been fairly heavily involved in these early stages, and he has looked good so far. He has made a couple of decent defensive contributions, but what has really caught the eye is his crossing into the box so far. He can really whip it in.
Smith is again involved here as he races forward down the left and easily coasts past his man, only to see his cross this time cleared behind for a corner.
Good pressure from Fernandes as he chases Toure all the way when the Liverpool defender was looking to shepherd the ball out, only to have to knock it behind for a corner in the end.
Good footwork from Carlitos as he skips past Can before going for goal from 25 yards, but his effort is high over the crossbar.
This time it is Firmino who beats a man with some good movement, but his effort from range is deflected straight into the arms of the keeper.
CLOSE! Another shot arrives from range, but this one is much closer to finding the back of the net. Origi is the man to have it, turning and firing a bobbling ball towards goal with plenty of power, but it swerves a yard or so past the post.
Liverpool have enjoyed 64% of the ball in this match so far, but they are yet to do anything really substantial with it. Their best work has come down the left flank so far tonight.
SHOT! Decent sight of goal for the hosts this time as Fernandes carries the ball forward, with red shirts in support. He opts to go for goal himself, though, and drags a tame effort comfortably wide.
Carlitos has looked like the danger man for Sion so far, as expected. He can be a tricky customer and helps to win his side a corner here that drops out to Ziegler, who fires one high and wide.
It hasn't exactly been a thriller so far, it must be said. Both sides would take a draw and that is how they are playing at the moment, unwilling to take any unnecessary risks.
Almost a big chance for Liverpool as Lallana pinches the ball from Kouassi after pressing him well. He plays it in to Origi and the ball breaks for him, but a defender comes across to make a tackle just as the Belgian was about to pull the trigger.
We've seen a few wayward shots already tonight, but this is probably the worst of the lot so far as Lallana blazes an effort about as high and wide as you can get.
UPDATE: There has been a goal in the other match in Group B, and it is a potentially significant one as Rubin Kazan have taken the lead against Bordeaux. That means that a Liverpool goal would set Sion on course for a Europa League exit.
YELLOW CARD! Assifuah is the first name in the book this evening for a foul on Can, who had stepped in to dispossess the Sion man after some neat work on the right touchline.
Still no chances to speak of here, with the exception of Origi's early effort. This game is waiting to spark into life, with neither side able to grab hold of proceedings so far.
Still Liverpool control possession, but they are posing no more danger to the Sion defence than the hosts are to theirs. They simply haven't offered enough in the final third so far.
The Sion players and fan are up in arms against Smith for a robust aerial challenge that they clearly believe deserves punishment beyond a yellow card. The referee keeps his head, however, and just issues the youngster with a warning.
Smith is certainly looking to make a name for himself in this match, and he has done a good job of it so far. He is being afforded plenty of space down that left flank.
Having said that, the youngster is walking a bit of a tightrope at the moment. He has committed a few fouls in the last few minutes and, while none of them have been worthy of a booking, he may soon become a victim of the totting-up process.
We will have one added minute at the end of this first half.
HALF TIME: Sion 0-0 Liverpool
We're goalless at half time, then, and in truth the scoreline accurately sums up what has been a pretty appalling game so far. Neither side has even looked like scoring since the opening minutes of the game, and both look very much like they would settle for a point apiece. That would be enough for Liverpool to win the group and for Sion to qualify, but I'd hope to see a little more attacking intent in the second half.
At this point I usually go through the highlights of the first half, but it really is slim pickings tonight. The best moment of the half came after just five minutes when Firmino played the ball through to Smith down the left, and the youngster swung a dangerous cross into the box. Origi met it, but couldn't divert the ball goalwards at an awkward height when he perhaps should have done better.
Origi has had one powerful effort that flew narrowly wide of the far post, while Firmino has also had a couple of cracks from range. For Sion, Fernandes dragged one effort wide when he had two men in support, but that promising attack is as good as it has got for the hosts so far. In short, it has been a tough watch.
Much of that can be attributed to the pitch, in fairness to the two teams. One full side of it is frozen and the rest of it is awfully bobbly, making it really difficult for any of the players to bring the ball under their spell. There have been a few very wayward shots as a result, while some half-chances have gone begging too. The surface really has spoilt the game so far.
All we can hope for is a little more excitement in the upcoming 45 minutes, but there haven't been many signs that that will be the case. One positive for Liverpool has been the performance of Smith at left-back, with the youngster arguably the standout performer so far.
KICKOFF: Sion get us back underway for this second half looking to see out the coming 45 minutes and book their place in the last 32.
CHANCE! Half a chance for Liverpool as Origi takes the ball down in the area and fires a cross into the box that just hits Milner and goes into the arms of the keeper. Had he been able to get out of the way of that one then Firmino would have had a glorious chance at the back post.
This game really does need a goal. One at either end should change the entire complexion of the match, with a Sion goal leaving Liverpool needing one to win the group and a Liverpool strike potentially sending Sion out of the competition.
YELLOW CARD! Kouassi becomes the second player in the book for a foul on Lallana, which means that he will miss the next European match through suspension.
Still nothing of major substance to report in this second half. I can't even say the game is bubbling under the surface - it shows no signs of sparking into life to be honest.
Sion try a free kick off the training ground as the ball is slipped to Ziegler, who peeled away from his man. However, his subsequent cross is easily cleared by the first man.
Half a chance for Sion as Carlitos swings a corner towards the near post that reaches Lacroix, but the defender's header is poor and doesn't threaten Mignolet's goal.
UPDATE: Some good news for Sion as Bordeaux have levelled things up against Rubin Kazan in France. If that result remains the same then Sion will be through whatever happens here.
LIVERPOOL SUB: Well, this game is screaming out for a bit of creativity and it may have just been handed it in the form of Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian is handed half an hour in place of Milner here.
Another half chance for the home side as Assifuah turns inside the box and goes for goal, but Lovren is in the way and deflects the shot behind for a corner.
This has been a bit better from Sion in the last few minutes. This time Carlitos makes headway down the left flank before cutting back on himself and sending a low cross towards the near post. Assifuah throws himself at it, but he is a yard or so short of connecting and Mignolet collects it.
UPDATE: Thankfully, things are happening in the other Group B match tonight, and it is yet more good news for Sion. Bordeaux have completed the turnaround and now lead Rubin Kazan 2-1, which means that the Russians need two goals without reply to stand any chance of progressing.
We still have 20 minutes to play in this match, but I'm sure most people would be happy if the final whistle was blown now. It isn't an entertaining one for the neutral, and a draw suits both sides.
CHANCE! Something has happened! Can sneaks a pass through to Origi, who suddenly finds himself in the area with only the keeper to beat, but Vanins does really well to get a hand to the ball when Origi tried to take it round him. Origi gets the ball back and crosses it into the middle with the keeper stranded, but Sion survive.
SION SUB: The hosts make their first change of the night as Assifuah trudges off to be replaced by Geoffrey Mujangi Bia.
Coutinho gets involved for the first real time since coming on as a sub, bursting into space inside the Sion half, but Firmino can't bring the subsequent pass under his spell.
LIVERPOOL SUB: Henderson's first start under Klopp comes to an end with 15 minutes remaining as he is replaced by Jordan Rossiter.
Still just the one shot on target in this match for both sides, which is an indication of just how poor this game has been. Liverpool have enjoyed 62% possession but have created very little.
Bia has pretty much just summed this game up with a terrible effort that goes out for a throw-in. Really, really poor.
UPDATE: There has been another goal in Bordeaux, and things aren't quite over yet there as Rubin Kazan have equalised to bring it back to 2-2. Another goal for the Russians, coupled with a Liverpool goal here, would send Sion out.
YELLOW CARD! Clyne goes into the referee's book for a foul on Carlitos, and he can have no real complaints about that one.
CLOSE! That's more like it from Liverpool as Smith, who has been quiet in the second half, bursts forward down the left and swings a cross towards Origi. The Belgian stretches every sinew and gets the faintest touch on the ball, but not enough to truly trouble the keeper.
Liverpool have been the aggressors of the two teams, but that is not to say that they have gone out in search of the win here. They look just as content with a point as Sion.
Nearly a late shooting chance for Sion as Fernandes picks the ball up and manages to get past one, but then the ball runs away from him and the chance goes begging.
LIVERPOOL SUB: A third and final change for the visitors sees Firmino replaced by Cameron Brannagan.
There will be three minutes of added time before the referee finally brings an end to this abomination of a game. I'm not quite sure where the three minutes have come from considering nothing has actually happened!
SION SUB: The hosts make a late, late change just to wind down the clock a little more. On comes Joaquim Adao and off goes Rufli.
FULL TIME: Sion 0-0 Liverpool
The referee brings an end to proceedings at the Stade Tourbillon, and this one will not live long in the memory unless you are a Sion fan. They book their place in the last 32 of the Europa League, while the goalless draw is also enough to see Liverpool top the group.
That is all we have time for this evening! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for tonight's game, which didn't see much goalmouth action but which did see both Sion and Liverpool do what they needed to do. I will leave you with our match report
, and be sure to stick around for reaction. From me, though, it is goodbye for now!