Pablo Fernandez, the Sevilla fitness coach, was hauled down the Anfield tunnel on the final whistle while falsely accusing Jürgen Klopp of getting his opposite number, Eduardo Berizzo, sent to the stands. The majority left Anfield in more civil fashion while accusing the Liverpool defence of undermining the club’s return to the Champions League. The majority spoke the truth.
Liverpool dominated for long periods on their return to Europe’s grandest stage, recovered impressively from conceding an early goal to a wily Sevilla side and embraced Philippe Coutinho back into the fold on his first appearance since his thwarted attempt to join Barcelona. But, and it is a recurring theme, individual and collective defensive lapses showed the Champions League what the Premier League has long suspected – that Klopp has constructed an exhilarating attacking force on weak foundations.
Sevilla capitalised through Wissam Ben Yedder and the outstanding Joaquín Correa. They would have delivered a more punishing night for Liverpool had the substitute Luis Muriel not wasted a gilt-edged chance to steal victory in stoppage time. Joe Gomez was also sent off for a second bookable offence on Correa as Liverpool’s reunion with their 2016 Europa League final conquerors proved every bit as problematic as Klopp had predicted.
“The defence is always something that is being talked about: “We didn’t sign this or that,’” said the Liverpool manager, who was unable to prise Virgil van Dijk from Southampton this summer. “If these problems could be solved by one player then you can imagine we would have put all our money into it and say let’s do this. But it is not about this. It is about concentration in a game when you are dominant for long moments. We need to learn to be dominant and not give easy goals away. It is not a general defending problem but we have to improve 100%.”
In fairness Liverpool’s approach showed no lingering after-shock from Saturday’s 5-0 humbling at Manchester City. It was to their credit how they wrestled back control having gifted Sevilla a lead from their first attack although Dejan Lovren’s part in the opener was indefensible. Correa, Sevilla’s left-sided forward, posed a classy threat throughout but should have been stopped at source when Emre Can lost out in a midfield challenge. Correa released the overlapping Sergio Escudero on the left and when his low cross came into the Liverpool six-yard box Lovren missed his clearance completely, granting Ben Yedder the freedom to convert unmarked at the back post.
Liverpool reacted with purpose. Can, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino all went close before one of those well-worked team moves that Klopp loves so much delivered a deserved and seemingly inevitable equaliser. Jordan Henderson combined twice with Alberto Moreno, who excelled against his boyhood club, and the left-back delivered a perfect cross from the by-line for Firmino to side-foot home from close range.
Controversy surrounded Liverpool’s second when Mohamed Salah appeared to clip Steven N’Zonzi and regain possession of the ball in one movement 25 yards from goal. Danny Makkelie put his whistle to his lips but elected to play on, much to the visitors’ fury as Salah let fly from distance and his shot looped off the boot of Simon Kjaer and over the stranded goalkeeper Sergio Rico. Sevilla should have been further behind moments before the interval when the captain Nicolas Pareja handled inside his area and hauled Mané to the ground to concede a clear penalty. Firmino sent Rico the wrong way but his spot-kick sailed to safety off a post. The penalty miss was not as costly as Liverpool’s defending, however.
Sevilla’s frustration mounted as Liverpool continued to dominate the ball in the second half. Berizzo was dismissed when, having been warned for a similar transgression in the first half, he threw the ball away from Gomez as the Liverpool defender attempted to take a throw-in. His explanation was bizarre in the extreme. “There were two actions,” he said. “In the first half we were winning and Liverpool were attacking so I tried to throw the ball away and waste time to gain an advantage for my team. That was wrong and so in the second half, when we were losing, I threw the ball away to make up for being unsporting in the first half.” Berizzo invited Klopp into the away dressing room afterwards to give a fuller explanation.
Thereafter the visitors improved and when a gaping hole appeared in the Liverpool defence in front of Muriel, the substitute sent Correa clear and he lifted a cool finish over Loris Karius. A familiar tale.
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