Prior to tonight, we had won each of our previous four games by a three-goal margin. So I can hardly proclaim that we should have seen last night’s collapse coming when we reached that margin, and that it was ‘typical Liverpool’.
However, Sevilla are a much sterner test than Huddersfield, Maribor, West Ham, or Southampton, and there were signs in the first half that all wasn’t going to be as easy as our quick-fire lead made out. Roughly twenty minutes into the game, I tweeted this:
Sevilla stepping it up now. Henderson and Wijnaldum need to improve their control in tight spaces
— James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_) November 21, 2017
That came after noticing on several occasions that we were looking to our midfielders to play us out of trouble, only to see them buckle under the slightest press and have the ball bounce off them. Admittedly this was only at 1-0, when the game was still open and Sevilla had carved themselves out a couple of chances. They retreated into themselves for the remainder of the first half after we extended our lead, but the signs were there that our midfield wasn’t going to be capable of putting their foot on the ball and seizing control of the game. Philippe Coutinho usually provides this when playing in the middle, but I get the feeling he was smelling and blood and roaming forwards more in search of a goal for himself.
If the game had picked up where it had left off when it resumed for the second half, we would have been fine. But Sevilla, whether through the hair-dryer treatment or tactical tweaks, came out a different side and were determined to put us on the back foot.
Many might have thought that that would play into our hands and allow us to counter, but the aggression they came out with startled us and we were simply resorting to long balls hoping that Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah would latch on to one.
It was a period that demanded a player who would slow things down, dictating the tempo in our favour and constantly being an outlet for those pressed when in possession. If Ever Banega could have switched sides, we would have been golden. But Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum alternated from dawdling on the ball and eventually losing it, to just outright hiding when someone was looking for a way recycling possession. At one point, Henderson took a free-kick backwards to Milner, who had three opponents in the vicinity and no teammates, and Henderson then moved away towards the centre circle instead of offering himself as an option. This forced Milner to go long, and we inevitably lost the ball. If anything acted as perfect example as to how our midfield functions, that was it.
Alberto Moreno will receive a huge amount of criticism for his part in the goals, and I can’t argue with that. The wayward control, the utter brain-farts, the reckless fouls. They all contributed to Sevilla’s comeback, and Moreno was hauled off before he could do any more damage. It was a throwback to the Moreno of old, and a brutal reminder of the calamities he is capable of at any point, in spite of an otherwise solid season.
But the bulk of my blame is falling on the midfield. Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan, while far from brilliant, didn’t do a whole lot wrong, and Joe Gomez was fine at right back. They were just bombarded with pressure and attacks in the second half, due to our inability to play the ball into our midfield and make the opposition chase shadows.
Henderson completed a mere 57% of his passes. Wijnaldum a more respectable 75%, but with fewer pass attempts to his name. Neither player was even trying to act as the link between our defence and attack, and that led to the disjointed mess that we saw. When we have our backs to the wall, the players we have in the middle seem all too happy to just be a runner who closes down and presses, but then treats the ball like a hot potato once/if regained. And when an opposition has their tail up and is on the attack, we already have a bad habit of caving in on ourselves and losing the mental battle. Being unable to seize any kind of control of the game means the slightest slip in concentration or dwindling of focus can cost us, and as seen last night, that can snowball into a complete capitulation.
Klopp seems completely disinterested in the kind of midfielder who even remotely goes against his ‘heavy-metal’ football philosophy, but to overcome this glaring weakness of ours, he may need to swallow his pride and look to acquire a player who can act as conductor on a far more calm, composed kind of orchestra.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)