After a frustrating night in Spain for Liverpool Caislin Boyle gave us her thoughts on the game…..
The Andalusian atmosphere possessed the appropriate edge for such an important game where the stakes were high for both sides. Reams of fans flooded into the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium knowing that a victory would take their side through to the last 16 of this year’s Champions League. For Liverpool, we could achieve this feat for the first time in 9 years. Sevilla, for their part, were desperate to prove their mettle in Europe’s elite competition after building something of a dynasty in the Europa League. A game of two halves – I hate that expression.
Klopp chose to minimally disrupt his team for the visit to Spain; only Loris Karius and Joe Gomez came into the side, replacing Simon Mignolet and Trent Alexander-Arnold respectively. There’s plenty of justifiable clamour over the busy fixture list, but Klopp knew that if this team performed to their potential the game would be won with time to spare. And so it proved (for 45 minutes).
Sevilla brought in Rico, Mercado, Banega and Ben Yedder from their weekend win against Celta Vigo, with both teams opting for a 4-3-3 formation.
The common consensus is that Liverpool are a better team than Sevilla, with their recent domestic form patently better than their opponents. Ultimately, however, both teams occupy 5th place in their respective leagues so the game was never going to be easy. The reverse fixture was concrete evidence of that.
The 2-2 thriller was great for the neutral, but Liverpool fans went away worried by defensive frailties and attacking profligacy. Sevilla scored from their only shots on target while our superior attacking intent wasn’t rewarded with a win. However, this has been painted as a different Liverpool. The Tottenham humiliation has proven a nadir – since that game we have scored 13 and conceded only one.
In his pre-game interview Klopp was confident of a positive result, citing our improved defensive displays as cause for optimism. Klopp had never previously won as a manager in Spain and appeared eager to break that particular duck against a team who had not lost in their last 25 games at home.
The draw in the other Group E game relieved the pressure on both teams somewhat in terms of the requirements to secure qualification. However, you would not have known that from the way both teams attacked the game from the outset.
We got our dream start. With no time to be awed by the atmosphere Liverpool scored after 86 seconds. Good Sadio Mane play led to a corner, which was taken by Phil Coutinho, flicked on by Georginio Wijnaldum with Bobby Firmino lashing it into the corner. Don’t be fooled by the apparent ease of the finish – that was not easy. Firmino, often castigated for not scoring as much as an archetypal centre forward, he finished that chance we aplomb.
After scoring our fastest goal of the season the remit remained the same – win and progress. The early breach was only a bonus.
If Sevilla were rumbled, their play did not convey that. Ever Banega began trying to orchestrate proceedings by sliding a lovely through ball to Sabaria which was snuffed out. Banega was missing from the first game at Anfield and Liverpool had to be wary of his unique threat. Once again, they were only wary for 45 minutes.
Sevilla then had their best period of the first half, and their failure to score within that spell proved decisive in Liverpool steamrollering the Spanairds in the opening 45. Banega was at the centre of everything good, and began a move in which Sevilla carved out their first good chance. On 12 minutes a reverse ball from Nolito to Escudero led to a skewed shot which did not trouble Karius.
A pulsating atmosphere was intensified by the end to end attacking gracing the pitch. Sevilla had another good chance on 18 minutes -Nolito opened up the goal and curled one past Karius who brilliantly got a touch. That touch came back off the post as I breathed a sigh of relief from my armchair in Walton. Sevilla were relentless in their pushing forward and immediately after we were opened up again. Anfield scorer Ben Yedder narrowly fired wide as a 1-1 scoreline flickered before my eyes.
Firmino then missed a one on one after speeding away from Johannes Geis, winning another corner. Another Coutinho corner was flicked on, this time from Firmino with Mane the scorer. The Ben Yedder miss looked vital at this stage, as did the Karius save from Nolito. Some claim 2-0 to be a dangerous lead, but that cushion in a notoriously difficult away ground is all Klopp could’ve hoped for at this juncture in the game. If only the game could’ve ended there.
At this point it’s important to highlight the enjoyable irony in scoring two goals from set pieces, which have so often been our enemy.
The third goal was no set piece. More familiar to Liverpool fans, the terrifying pace of Mane took him away from the beleaguered Geis. Rico saved the initial effort but the follow up came to Firmino who tapped home. Three goals, two scorers and one foot in the last 16. All this with no goals from our dynamic Mo Salah. That’s the beauty of this Liverpool team – we are a multi-dimensional threat. But could we hold out? Not to give away the ending, but no.
Klopp’s plan to play his strongest 11 in the expectation that changes could be made (without materially affecting the result) was coming together nicely. Liverpool were making the holders of a formidable home record look silly. The question remained as to whether Liverpool could remain defensively competent against a Sevilla team barely resembling that which broke our hearts in the 2016 Europa League final. The newly resolute Liverpool would face a staunch test for the remainder of the game. It was a test they would fail (in part) on 50 minutes, then entirely by the 94th.
Ben Yedder scored with a flick from a Banega free-kick… Ever (pun intended) the thorn in our side, Liverpool should have known his threat in this competition. He was on the scoresheet in the reverse fixture and he has scored 9 goals in 12 Champions League appearances.
Then came the penalty for the foul on Ben Yedder by Moreno. The initial effort was dispatched, the referee demanded a retake after encroachment. The second effort was dispatched with equal confidence, so the referee’s desire to adhere to the rules mattered little to the Reds. For all of Moreno’s recent improvement, his involvement in both goals was reminiscent of the Albie of old. Ben Yedder and Sevilla were right back in it.
Escudero blasted a shot which was saved by Karius and pushed onto the bar. The first half demolition job was being swiftly replaced by the chaotic anarchy that gives us fans palpitations.
Evidently determined to break that streak of never winning in Spain, Klopp made a double change, sending on Emre Can and James Milner for Coutinho and Moreno respectively. I was tempted to wax lyrical about our improved substitute options had the situation not been so serious. In that moment, however, I just wanted Milner for his calming presence.
Banega, Escudero and Sarabia were causing Liverpool all kinds of problems with their creativity, direct running and feverish play around the box. The substitutions had to diffuse things. Luckily, Milner particularly tempered proceedings and was involved in the move that allowed Salah his first involvement of the second period.
King Mo had his first true chance of the game which he should have taken first time. Allowing the Sevilla defender to close him down proved his undoing. That said, the overarching feeling was that of shock as we were actually in the Sevilla box. Despite the frenzy it didn’t feel like missing that chance would be decisive. Important, yes, but decisive, no. We were still leading and Liverpool had regained a foothold in possession.
Luis Muriel came on for Nolito on 72 minutes, the Colombian a potent attacker in his own right. He was hoping to replicate the impact of Vasquez who had offered more than Nzonzi upon his introduction.
Liverpool should have sealed it on 77 minutes. The ball broke, Salah sped away, slipped the ball into Can, who tried to cut it across to Mane for the tap in. He was foiled by a strong defensive challenge by Banega, the offensive hero for Sevilla proving his defensive worth. Fans were hit with the uneasy feeling that the elusive win was going to be cruelly snatched away.
On 80 minutes the first goal scorer at Anfield was replaced by the second – Correa in for Ben Yedder. In this final 10 minutes Liverpool looked increasingly likely to hold on, the final sub being used up by Alex Oxlade Chamberlain.
On 87 minutes Oxlade Chamberlain was almost immediately involved. Milner had a prime opportunity to cut the ball back to the Ox, but chose the wrong pass. With approximately 5 minutes on the clock, Liverpool fans were praying to any suitable deity that we could see out the win.
4 minutes added on, 240 seconds never seemed so long. Sevilla won a corner on 92 and a half minutes, there was melee in box which led to a Pizarro goal. That’s how it finished.
They say it’s the hope the kills you. A result which Liverpool would’ve taken before the game now felt nothing more than an abject disappointment. This was a game where neither team could defend corners, a true game of two halves.
It was another thrilling display for the neutral, but the Liverpool fans will return to England worried about the defensive frailties that allowed this draw to happen. The inquest begins ahead of the Chelsea visit. Qualification is still eminently within reach, but what of the psychological effects?
Previous good form could be dismantled by an untimely collapse. Ultimately Klopp will try and spin this positively, that is part of his job. He’ll need to for his brittle players ahead of an increasingly rampant Chelsea arriving in L4 on Saturday evening. I’m not looking forward to it.