Peter asks Martin Hughes his take on Liverpool`s capitulation in Sevilla
Have you ever turned on your TV and looked through the movies for something to watch? You find a movie that, by all intents and purposes, looks like it could be a cracker – excellent cast, some star names and filmed in some of the best locations. The bizarre thing is that it’s a romantic, feel-good movie that turns into a ghastly horror film. I like to call it Liverpool Football Club.
Last night’s movie, filmed on location at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium in Seville, was one such masterpiece. All the star names were there – Coutinho, Salah, Mane and Firmino and they didn’t disappoint. Just two minutes had passed when they combined to score the first goal of the night with Firmino finishing a decent set-piece from a flicked-on Coutinho corner. Unfortunately though, the cheers from the crowd weren’t as loud as they should have been, even at an away game, as hundreds of Liverpool fans were still queueing outside the stadium trying to get through the turnstiles in a situation not disimilar to that tragic day in Sheffield over twenty years ago. The organisation from the stewards and police was almost non-existent and, as fans become more vociferous as minutes passed, the officials became more obtuse with stories and pictures of unwarranted violence from the police against, basically, pissed-off fans. Eventually, most were allowed into the stadium, but nowhere near their allocated seats. It could have been so much worse.
On the pitch though, things just kept getting better. This time, Mane was taking advantage of some sloppy Spanish defending as he made it two for The Reds with an almost carbon-copy goal as the first, this time using his head for a similar, skillful finish. But, again, it could have been so much worse. Just minutes before the Sevilla net was rippling, Karius’ side netting was shaking, and seconds later he was pulling off probably the save of the night to push a shot onto the inside of the left-hand post which, fortunately, ricocheted back stright into the grateful ‘keeper’s hands following a defensive error from Joe Gomez. This was shortly followed by another effort from the Spanish outfit that grazed the outside of the other post. But Liverpool’s second goal, shortly after the Sevilla offensive, seemed to kill off any Spanish resistance, and as Mane had his shot saved later in the first half, only to be put away in authoritive, and somewhat disrespectful style again by Firmino, it looked like it could be a cricket score by the end of the night.
As fans stayed in their seats during half-time, for fear of what may happen if they were to leave them, two team talks were taking place under the stands – two team talks that, between them, would turn this feel-good movie into a gory horror show, for the Scousers at least.
As the teams came for the second half, Jurgen Klopp’s pre-match interview rang in this fans’ ears. He spoke about maturity, a more defensive approach. There was no way a Sevilla team that had shown very little in the first half could ever come back into this game. Was there? It wasn’t long before Alberto Moreno showed signs of his previous frailties, dismissed by many following his excellent start to the season, as he gave away a needless free-kick on the edge of the penalty box near the by-line. Liverpool’s zonal defending looked as shaky as ever as the free kick was delivered from Benega, and a run to the near post by Ben Yedder left the hapless Moreno flat-footed as the Sevilla stalwart, a constant tenderness in Liverpool’s posterior, pulled a goal back. Surely just a consolation though.
At this point it was as if the two teams had changed shirts at half-time – Liverpool looked shaky, distracted, disjointed and disorganised. Sevilla looked anything but, and conjured images of what must have happened in the Spanish dressing-room during the break. It wasn’t long before Moreno’s misery was compounded as he gave away a penalty due to a sloppy first-touch that left him stretching to retrieve the ball, catching Ben Yedder’s foot and sending him, eventually, theatrically crashing to the ground. The referee seemed to take an age to make a decision, taking information from one of the officials behind the goal. Eventually, though, he pointed to the spot and moments later the ball was nestling in the back of the Liverpool net. But, in a night filled with drama, the referee deemed that the Sevilla players had encroached into the area and, to the howls of abuse from the Spanish fans, ordered it to be retaken. The result was the same however, this time the ball coming to rest in the other side of Karius’ netting.
Seeing Moreno’s night crumbling around him, and Liverpool’s hope of Champions League qualification with it, Klopp made the obvious change and brought Milner on to put an end to fifteen minutes of misery for the Spaniard. In the same moment, Coutinho was also dragged off for Emre Can in an attempt to strengthen the almost invisible midfield, so much was Sevilla’s dominance at this point. The changes seemed to stifle the game and the next thirty minutes or so passed with more gamemanship and skullduggery from Liverpool’s opponents, but with little effect than to waste time. Ironically, The Red’s naivety to ignore those same tactics, as every other continental team would employ in their situation, was their ultimate undoing. Two minutes into time added on, Sevilla once again scored from a set-piece, Liverpool’s zonal marking once again under scrutiny for the goal, Pizzaro bundling the ball through a crowded, but ultimately ineffective defence.
Suddenly it was 3-3. I say suddenly because the last forty-five minutes hadn’t really happened had they? Surely I’d dozed off at half-time and dreamt a nightmare? As I rubbed my eyes and focussed on the scoreline in the top-left corner of the screen, it confirmed my worst fears – it had all just happened, even if I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t.
As the Liverpool fans were kept in the ground while the jubilous home fans made their way out into the city streets, many were silent, as disbelieving as me, as to what had just happened. A team that had dominated the first half had been dominated themselves in the second. Yes, you could argue that the football the guys in the red shirts had played was much better to watch, but there are no extra points given for style, just goals.
The fans that were forced to watch the game from various welcomong bars in the city consoled themselves with copius amounts of SanMiguel, discussing the age old problems of Liverpool’s defensive shortcomings. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough beer in the World to solve those problems.
Sevilla 3-3 Liverpool