Liverpool’s “new maturity” was abandoned in Seville as they threw away a three-goal lead in another second half capitulation against the Spanish side
“They haven’t played us here yet,” was Jurgen Klopp’s witty pre-match retort when asked about Sevilla’s 25-game unbeaten record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan and by half-time in Tuesday’s Champions League encounter, those words were in bold.
But after the interval, Liverpool were reminded of just how nightmarish the second 45 against Los Rojiblancos can be, having previously suffered their powers of resurgence.
In three matches against the Spanish side, the Reds have let in seven goals following the break – three in the 2016 Europa League final, one in the reverse fixture this season at Anfield with Ben Yedder’s double and Guido Pizarro’s late leveller completing a curious trend of Liverpool ceding complete control to descend into chaos.
Here, the Merseysiders completely betrayed their recent improvement in game management and what Klopp termed their “new maturity.”
They had been more measured, enjoyed greater balance and built off defensive solidity after the 4-1 humiliation at Tottenham, which was followed by 13 goals in four games with just one breach of their backline.
A brace from Roberto Firmino as well as a diving Sadio Mane header with just 30 minutes on the clock seemed certain to see Liverpool continue their formidable streak, but their bad habits quickly returned.
Alberto Moreno, the poster boy of their turnaround, again crumbled against his former club and was culpable for their opening two goals. Soon after the restart, the left-back committed an unnecessary foul on the right with Ever Banega’s delivery headed across goal and in by Yedder at the near post.
Only nine minutes later, the Spaniard stuck out a leg and conceded a penalty, which the French forward converted. Moreno’s composure had long gone by that point, and he wasn’t alone in this regard.
He should have been replaced sooner and more leadership was needed both from the touchline and on the pitch. Liverpool’s midfield was non-existent with captain Jordan Henderson failing to calm matters and restore cool heads.
Nothing seemed to stick for the tired attack and the question marks returned en masse at the back, erasing the good work of the first half like Loris Karius’ superb save to deny Nolito at 1-0.
Sevilla continued to be encouraged, continued applying pressure and Liverpool continued to react with panic.
Pizarro’s equaliser at the death was as predictable as it was painful that qualification will now go down to the final game for the Reds despite their dominance in the group.
“The description is easy – two different halves,” Klopp said post-match.
“A fantastic first half of my team and in the second half we made the mistake that we didn’t carry on playing football. It’s normal that you try to control the game then, but a team like we are have to control the game with the ball – and we didn’t play football anymore.
“We became a little bit passive, they scored the first one and it was obvious the atmosphere changed immediately. It gave them a big boost. Until the second goal, we were reacting but after the second goal I think it was an open game again. We could have scored off counter-attacks, but we didn’t.
“We opened the door for them and didn’t close it anymore, so they could score in the last minute and that was the story of the game.
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“It was a misjudgement. We wanted to play like we played the first half but, of course, control the game a little bit,” the Reds boss continued.
“Why should we take a lot of risk? But then you become a little bit passive and that makes no sense, it doesn’t work. Free-kick, penalty, we scored twice from a set piece in a fantastic first half but two goals came from a corner. It’s football and until the final whistle, everything is possible. I knew that before – I don’t doubt the mentality of the boys.”
Liverpool are still favourites to progress to the knockout stage of the competition and top their mini-league, but as long as their weaknesses are allowed to resurface, they will remain with their hands over their heads at the final whistle when it matters most, rather than with them aloft in triumph.