Sevilla 3 Ben Yedder 51’, 61’ (pen), Pizarro 90+4
Liverpool 3 Firmino 2’, 30’, Mané 22’
Jürgen Klopp’s Reds betray all notions that they have somehow cracked the code for defensive stability with a vintage second half collapse.
Only two changes were made following Liverpool’s comfortable 3-0 win over Southampton on Saturday, as Loris Karius returned for his European duties, and Joe Gomez replaced Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back. With a quick turnaround, one might have expected a need for fresh legs in the starting eleven, but the pre-match physical testing presumably told the manager that wasn’t the case.
It started about as well as it could have for the visitors, as they took the lead in the second minute, following a corner. Georginio Wijnaldum flicked the delivery towards the back post, where an unmarked Roberto Firmino could slot home from a few yards out.
Much will be written about this being a game of two halves, but let the record show that Sevilla were always in it. On ten minutes, Sergio Escudero hammered a shot into the side netting from a narrow angle, and ten minutes later, the hosts missed two one-on-one opportunities in less than sixty seconds, first through Nolito, whose shot was well-saved onto the post by Karius, and then Wissam Ben Yedder, who put his finish inches wide of the German’s far post. Both opportunities arose after the Andalusians pressed aggressively in midfield and could attack a Reds defense in disarray.
Halfway through the opening period, Firmino raced through the Sevilla defense, only to see his effort parried for a corner. Undeterred, the Brazilian rose highest on the set piece, flicking the ball towards the far post for Sadio Mané to head home. It was a carbon copy of the first goal, and despite the scoreline flattering the Reds at this point, the deafening silence at a previously rampant Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán suggested that the tie was now decided.
On the half hour mark, this feeling was compounded, as Mané ran onto a simple long ball over the top and found himself through on goal. Sergio Rico did well to save the Senegalese attacker’s effort, but Firmino was on hand to deliver a no-look tap-in, putting the Reds three goals up.
The air had seemingly gone out of the Sevilla balloon, and the visitors were cruising. Dejan Lovren donned the clownshoes, swinging and missing wildly on a volley attempt, before Mohamed Salah put a 20-yard effort into the Charlie Adam memorial stand. The Egyptian would be gifted an opportunity to continue his rich scoring form five minutes from the half, as Philippe Coutinho played a sumptuous outside-the-boot through ball to diverge with Salah’s diagonal run, but the 14-goal man failed to convert.
The two sides could have not contrasted more sharply as the second half began. Where Liverpool looked to have moved on already, their hosts came out with a purpose. Ever Banega was allowed all of the space he could possibly desire and then some, while the Sevilla attackers were given time to double and triple up in the Reds’ wide areas. The strategy paid dividends immediately, as a flustered Alberto Moreno pushed his man in the back, giving up the first in a series of dangerous free kicks. Banega’s delivery was perfect, and Ben Yedder could head home at the near post.
The Reds were barely able to get a hold of the ball, much less get it out of their own half, as the Rojiblancos ran rampant, overloading the wide areas and crashing into the box. Eight minutes after the goal, Moreno again gave up a foul, this time inside the box. Ben Yedder was forced to step up twice, as a Sevilla played breached the box too soon, but converted both times with consummate ease.
Minutes later Karius, saved Franco Vazquez’s effort from a narrow angle and Escudero smashed the ball off the goalkeeper and the crossbar. Suddenly, it seemed inevitable that the Reds’ lead would be lost entirely.
Jürgen Klopp finally made the necessary changes, replacing Moreno and Coutinho with James Milner and Emre Can, instantly supplying the visitors with a measure of control, and eventually, some scoring chances. Salah took one touch too many, spoiling a wonderful opportunity created by Firmino’s work rate, Mané blasted a volley over the bar after a neat chipped through ball from Can, and a perfect counter attack was only denied at the very last possible second by an heroic effort from Banega, blocking Can’s cutback to Mané all alone at the back post.
In the third minute of injury time, less seasoned bloggers and journalists had finished their headlines about how the Reds nearly squandered all of their hard-earned bounty, but managed to stop the rot and save it in the end, when the death blow fell. Predictably, it came on the second-ball following a set piece, as Klavan’s clearance only made it as far as Guido Pizarro ten yards out, who did well to control and slam home the equalizer in one motion. Shenanigans. Pandemonium. Etc.
So. Good news and bad news. The Liverpool front three has scored 27 goals in all competitions this year, and there is still nearly two-thirds of the season to go. That’s pretty neat. However, the Reds are an absolute shambles at the back. With 28 goals conceded in 21 games, one needs to accept that the recent run of defensive solidity was most likely a blip rather than a trend, and that any time you watch this side, you’re likely to see at least six goals, any of which could go any which way.
No grades to hand out. Any player can look like a million bucks one minute and a drunk toddler the next. Karius made a couple of stunning saves, but is nowhere near any of the goals. The Morennaisance took a shot to the bow with the Spaniard’s worst performance of the year. Goal machine Salah missed a pair of sitters. Jordan Henderson did all the good work you could ask but was also directly at fault on the two huge chances in the first half. Klavan looks perfectly competent until he super doesn’t. Jürgen Klopp sketches up a pristine set piece play that results in two goals, but utterly fails to adjust until it is much to late in the second half.
It’s all bonkers. And Chelsea are coming to town on Saturday. Strap. In.