Liverpool: Firmino 21′, Salah 37′
Sevilla: Ben Yedder 5′, Correa 72′
In retrospect, the fact that Liverpool did not manage to score at least four goals in the first period of what ended up being a 2-2 draw to Sevilla, is near unfathomable, criminal even. A waste of an Anfield poised to repay the Spaniards in full for that heartbreak in Basel.
It didn’t start well of course. A fifth minute concession came as the visitor’s Wissam Ben Yedder popped up on the end of a simple cross put into what was on paper a defensively well-staffed box, a result of that familiar combination of a Bad Dejan Moment and Alberto Moreno’s propensity to exhibit the attention span of a squirrel. Gotta defend. Gotta defend. Gotta de---ooh, cool billboard ad!
Even then, Anfield wasn’t cowed; this was the same arena that had single-handedly brought Dortmund to it’s knees. Formidable though they were, Sevilla knew nothing about famous European nights on Merseyside. And for the 67 minutes, following the goal, that appeared to be the case, the noise steadily growing to a deafening roar and Jürgen Klopp’s Reds gleefully opening the throttle in response, pouring forward in numbers at every turnover.
Yes, down 1-0, but everyone in the stadium knew it was only a formality with the home side enjoying themselves as they ratcheted up the pressure: a Gini Wijnaldum nutmeg, Roberto Firmino flicking and tricking, even Joe Gomez pulling off a few Cruyff turns. Then, a one-two between Jordan Henderson and Moreno in the 21st minute followed by a quick cross across the floor for a Firmino tap-in transpired across approximately 2.5 seconds, surprising no one. A 16-minute blur of action later, Mohamed Salah seized the chance to feed a burgeoning goal addiction, muscling Steven N’Zonzi off the ball on the edge of the Sevilla box, and unleashing a heavily-deflected shot that obviously, inevitably found it’s way into the back of the net. The decibel level barely edged past it’s already manic point.
Philippe Coutinho looked on from the bench, an odd combover giving him a slightly forlorn look. Who needs him when we’re playing like this?—smugly, fleetingly crossed a few minds.
The Sevilla yellows cards started to come thick and fast, a heady mix of frustration and panic, culminating with Nicolás Pareja managing to both handle the ball in the box and rugby tackle Sadio Mané in a single movement. Penalty and another yellow.
…But then Firmino could not convert. The charismatic Brazilian sent Sergio Rico the wrong way but somehow cannoned his shot off the post. The air immediately left the stadium. Around the ground, there was an acute understanding that this shaky Red defense had needed that third goal. That fear was justified when the excellent Joaquin Correa burst through on 72 minutes to slot past Loris Karius to steal the points and cancel what ought to have been a demolition.
If Klopp’s men could play every Champions League match in that Anfield atmosphere, you would like the odds of captain Henderson lifting the trophy come May; but until the German can shore up the defense to withstand these silkier sides populating the continent, the nightmares of the abortive 2014-15 campaign will persist.