Sometimes, writing about Liverpool is the best job in the world. This morning, it’s no fun whatsoever. Last night, Jurgen Klopp’s rabbits in second-half headlights succumbed to a 3-1 defeat after a totally unacceptable 45 minutes after the break – leaving our Europa League dream in tatters.
Here’s what went wrong:
1) A lack of intensity off the ball.
Liverpool are at our best when we press manically and play dynamic, fast tempo football. But like the League Cup Final, for whatever reason, we sat off the opposition and played too cagily. Was it nerves? Were the players tired? Difficult to say – but nerves should affect your touch, your passing – not your ability to chase the opposition. If it was a tactical decision; you’d have to ask, why…? Sevilla were not harried in the manner Villarreal or Borussia Dortmund before them were. When we did press, it wasn’t co-ordinated as a team, so Sevilla could pass their way out of it.
2) An inability to relax on the ball.
Bar a short period after we scored our goal, we played terrible football in Basel – carving out very little against a side with a tragic record away from their own ground this season. Emre Can and James Milner were bypassed centrally by defenders who didn’t trust their passing, and our usually technically excellent playmakers didn’t demand the ball enough – especially talisman Coutinho. At 1-1, the tie was level, but you wouldn’t know it by the way we gave away every pass that followed.
3) Individual mistakes.
We’re not here to slaughter Alberto Moreno. The poor guy is going to be in absolute bits today. But he messed up more than the rest in the second-half. He missed a tackle on Mariano for their opener, but it was Dejan Lovren who passed it to Sevilla and then got nutmegged in the lead up to their 2nd.
4) Questionable officiating.
Our semi-final win was made easier at Anfield by a referee who let things go, often hard tackles by Liverpool players. Jonas Eriksson though blew for everything, except when it really mattered. On three occasions the ball touched an arm of a Sevilla defender. We’re not sure necessarily certain which were and which weren’t penalties, but you’d hope to get at least one of three. The goal we had disallowed was rightly pencilled off, and Sevilla’s third was onside despite a lino flag – but it’s these things which need to go your way in a final.
5) As a club, team and fanbase, we took the win for granted.
Liverpool fans took over Basel. There’s been a carnival, celebratory atmosphere all week. Everyone’s been discussing our spot in next season’s Champions League and the players we could potentially sign as a result have been discussed by all. Everything was going to plan at 1-0 up. We had 75% of the ground, we were the better side in the first-half. Nobody foresaw what was to come. The Sevilla goal 17 seconds into the 2nd-half stunned the supporters and the players. Suddenly, everyone realised that the game wasn’t won and we were in a dogfight. Players froze. Nerves took over. The rest, sadly, is history.