‘Capitulation’ probably just about sums it up. Last night has likely left a sour taste in all of our mouths. It was certainly a tough result to take, but the manner of the 3-1 defeat to Sevilla is what is eating me up. I said this at half time:
We know what happened next. In honesty we hadn’t really started the first half well either, but neither had Sevilla. We couldn’t count on such luck continuing into the second half though, and after a bright spell including Sturridge’s goal, it was vital that we put Sevilla on the back-foot again straight away after the restart.
However, our next touch of the ball was Alberto Moreno’s woeful attempt at a headed clearance. The time after that, we were picking the ball out of our net. Whatever Klopp said at half-time was suddenly out the window, and we were back to square one.
It was a blow, but it was hardly the earth-shattering setback that we made it look. It’s hard to understand what happened to us after their goal, but everything about Klopp wanting us to be ‘believers’ just wasn’t epitomised in the team at all. Heads dropped, the pressing stopped, and we genuinely looked like a team that was 5-0 down. We started to make the sort of mistakes you only make if your head isn’t in the right place. Simple passes were going astray, big, strong guys like Emre Can and James Milner were being bundled off the ball easily, and the defending was all over the place.
Sevilla didn’t play brilliant football. They only had to be decent, and they absolutely waltzed through us. This was our chance to win our first trophy in four years, to guarantee Champions League football next season, and to cap off a brilliant European campaign as winners. If you lose heart at 1-1 in a game where all that’s at stake, you know something’s wrong.
Things went from bad to worse after the equaliser. Two more goals followed without reply, either on the score sheet or in terms of our general response within the game. Admittedly we can point to a few penalty shouts in the first half that would have swung things our way (the handball and possible foul involving Firmino being the clearest shout, for me), but when you go on to play that bad for an entire half of football, you can only blame yourselves. It’s up to the players to take the initiative when it seems things aren’t going their way. A repeat of our Dortmund heroics just never seemed on.
I think the rot has just set in too far with a lot of our players. That includes some of the lads that will likely still be here next season, but just can’t be trusted to consistently do what we need them to on the pitch. Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana, and James Milner have all made strides as the season has gone on, but there’s still question marks over whether any of them should be in our first team next season. They rightly get the praise they deserve for their improvement from the level they were at, and it’s not even that they were the worst performers in yesterday’s game, but time after time they are failing to provide us what we need. It’s tricky for them, as players who come on leaps and bounds like they have tend to endear themselves to supporters for their efforts (think Lucas Leiva and Jordan Henderson for other examples of this), and yet with three simple signings we could improve significantly on each of them and get a player more suited to our needs.
We need a centre back who can snuff out the danger before it grows, is comfortable on the ball, and organises and arranges the players around him. This isn’t Lovren. We need a midfield playmaker who dictates our game, constantly wants the ball, and can ping in quick, forward passes to our attacking midfields when they pick up pockets of space. This isn’t Milner. And we need a winger who runs directly at defenders, has bags of pace, and provides width. This isn’t Lallana.
They could each have a role to play within the squad once we get the players who address those issues and our starting eleven gets a better structure, shape, and style. But as much as these players offer hard work and positive attitudes, that’s no substitute for pure, genuine quality. And as we’ve seen too often, the inconsistency they offer just isn’t good for us. For every Villareal game, there’s a Sevilla. You can’t build a team around passive players who are only at their best when the stars align and every piece of the puzzle fits. You need proactive players who grab games by the scruff of the neck and force their quality upon it.
Enough has been said about both Simon Mignolet and Alberto Moreno. The latter was the worst offender yesterday against his former club, and worryingly it may not even have been his worst performance in a red shirt. And all season long there have been calls for a change in goal due to Mignolet’s nervy exploits. They too may stay as part of the squad, but they’d need to perform at an exceptionally high level for a sustained period of time before being trusted enough to return to being first choice players.
Kolo Toure was our star man last night, though he may have now played his last game for the club. If not, a new contract for him would surely only be to keep him around as backup. Meanwhile, our Brazilian duo were very quiet and, while they are undoubtedly special players, they both need to show their talent more often. Sturridge – goal aside- wasn’t at his best, and substitutes Divock Origi, Joe Allen, and Christian Benteke all had little to no impact upon the game.
I don’t think we can afford to paper over the cracks in this squad. We know we have Joel Matip and Marko Grujic arriving, and if rumours are to be believed we’re close to sealing a few other deals as well. People will claim that making too many signings at once will give us another season of transition and players settling in, but I only think that’s true if you don’t buy well. Teams like Southampton and Atletico Madrid have recently lost a lot of their best players, but bought smartly to replace them and just picked up where they left off. It’s time for us to give this squad the injection of quality it needs. Two finals in seven months of Klopp’s tenure isn’t bad going, but two final losses and an 8th place league finish implies that we’ve got holes to plug. We need to make the signings that knock a lot of our current first teamers down to the squad players they should be, and to do that we have to be ruthless. There’s no room for sentimentality in football, and so if nothing else the Europa League defeat might have been the kick up the backside we needed to finally reshape this squad into one capable of going that extra mile.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)