Liverpool surrendered a three-goal lead to draw 3-3 with Sevilla in an extraordinary game on Tuesday night. After all their recent progress, familiar defensive problems resurfaced…
When the half-time whistle sounded at the Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium on Tuesday night, Liverpool could hardly have been more comfortable. Jurgen Klopp’s rampant side had rattled in three goals courtesy of Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, and Sevilla – unbeaten in a year at their home ground – looked down and out.
It seemed a continuation of the turnaround which had seen Liverpool win their previous four games by an aggregate score of 13-1, but instead, a grimly familiar capitulation allowed Sevilla to rise off the canvas and somehow preserve their unbeaten record. “If anyone should know it’s never over when you’re 3-0 up, it’s Liverpool,” noted former captain Phil Thompson afterwards.
The draw is not disastrous. Liverpool still only need a point from their final group game against Spartak Moscow in order to guarantee their place in the knockout stages. But the return of old defensive frailties is a depressing setback for Klopp ahead of important Premier League games against Chelsea and Everton.
It was a particularly galling evening for Alberto Moreno. The left-back has earned plaudits for his improvement this season, learning to curb his attacking instincts and seemingly ironing the individual errors out of his game, but on his return to his boyhood club, he lacked conviction and concentration from the outset.
He was fortunate that his poor positioning was not punished when Wissam Ben Yedder dragged a chance wide from Liverpool’s left in the first half, but his luck run out after the break. The foul for Sevilla’s first goal was needless, with Ben Yedder duly leaping in front of him to head Ever Banega’s free-kick beyond Loris Karius.
Liverpool’s composure deserted them, and it wasn’t long before another Moreno error proved costly. This time he failed to control a Philippe Coutinho pass just inside Liverpool’s box, tripping the onrushing Ben Yedder, who made no mistake from the resulting spot kick. “Moreno was as nervous as a kitten and he got punished,” added Thompson.
With Franco Vasquez running riot on Sevilla’s right flank and Sevilla threatening to follow up their second goal with an immediate equaliser, Klopp was forced to withdraw Moreno for James Milner in the 63rd minute. It seemed they might have weathered the storm after that, but the stoppage-time equaliser exposed their set-piece problems yet again.
Klopp’s side have already conceded five goals from dead ball situations in the Premier League this season, and Sevilla’s late equaliser was the third they have let in in this year’s Champions League. Of the 32 sides competing in the competition, only RB Leipzig and Qarabag have conceded more.
The latest came as a result of yet another individual error, with Ragnar Klavan’s mistimed header from Sevilla’s corner falling straight to the feet of the unmarked Guido Pizarro, who fired home through a crowd of bodies from 12 yards out. Klopp, who had praised his side’s new-found defensive resolve before the game, could only grimace in the dugout.
“In the second half we stopped playing football and were passive,” he said afterwards. Indeed, the stats showed Liverpool’s passing accuracy dropped to just 59 per cent in the second half as the players struggled to keep their cool. “We opened the door for them and didn’t close it in the last minutes,” added Klopp.
He rejected questions over the mentality of his players, insisting they simply need more experience, but for a side who lost 18 points from winning positions in the Premier League last season, it is difficult to escape the feeling that there is something amiss. After all the progress of the last few weeks, Liverpool must now pick themselves up again.