That Liverpool dominated for long spells of the first half before Sevilla, now winners of the competition for three consecutive years, summoned all their quality and know-how to run clear of their English opponents in the second half is the accepted synopsis of Wednesday night’s Europa League final in Basel.
Sevilla were the masters of Europe’s second tier competition, the template for Liverpool, a beta version of Jurgen Klopp’s working, to follow. The Spaniards had been here and done it twice before and Liverpool, currently an early demo of the product Klopp has had in production for the last 7 months, had no answer to their cunning expertise of how European finals work.
Liverpool’s well-versed pressing game meant they went in at half-time buoyed by Daniel Sturridge’s fine opening strike and with enough of the game to suggest they had Sevilla on the ropes.
However the second ’45 was a different affair and the nous of Ever Benega and Vitolo, now boasting a combined 5 Europa League winners medals from their time at the Roman Sanchez Pijuan, began to toll over the relative inexperience of James Milner and Emre Can.
Kevin Gameiro, also now with a hat-trick of Europa League titles, made it 8 goals from 14 appearances in this year’s competition, while Coke, the vice-captain who has been with the Andalusians since 2011, struck the two goals to put the final beyond Liverpool’s reach.
Jurgen Klopp’s men had little answer to their opposition’s class and knowledge of this grand stage and this would provide a hard lesson in a steep learning curve. The German will take many positives from his first half-season at Anfield and the way they settled into a rhythm and disrupted Sevilla in the first-half will be added to that list, but he will have the right to be disappointed by one of the names he would have been relying upon to produce a performance in Basel.
Alberto Moreno, who has of course been part of a successful Europa League side with Sevilla two years ago, endured a torrid second half and would leave Switzerland with a barrage of criticism being aimed his way.
The 23 year old, inside 15 seconds of the second period, aimed a weak clearing header to the feet of Mariano whom he then engaged with an anaemic challenge which the Brazilian right-back brushed aside to cross for Gameiro’s simple equaliser.
It is hard to quantify the debilitating effect that goal had on Liverpool who suddenly broke into a chorus of misplaced passes and fragmented moves that could not have been in starker contrast with their assured first half display.
“At this moment we lost faith in our style of play” Klopp said, “we changed from passing quick and simple to complicated and lost our formation”.
Shell-shocked and loss of control
Can and Milner, as if shell-shocked by their manager’s carefully laid plans falling through so easily, lost control and sloppy, erroneous balls towards the attack-line of Daniel Sturridge, Phillipe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino became more frequent. Vitolo, Benega and Coke then ruthlessly seized upon such disorder as they linked together to carve a neat second goal.
In a rare second half foray into the Sevilla half it was left to the hapless Moreno to epitomise the lack of control Liverpool were exerting, roaming forward to break-down a promising move by shooting from 25 yards only to see it blocked.
Five minutes later and the contest was over; Banega’s cross causing chaos in the Liverpool defence and the ball broke to Coke standing all alone on the right side of the box. The 29 year old could not pass up such an invitation and his shot was past Simon Mignolet’s right-hand before anybody could ask “where’s Moreno?”
Doubts have been casted before
It was easy to make a scapegoat out of the left-back when responsibility could be laid at the door of Can or Milner for losing control of possession to easily, at Sturridge and Coutinho for drifting out of the game so much in the second half they were virtually anonymous or at Mignolet for a hesitant, unassertive display that put his defence under unnecessary pressure.
But the truth is questions have been asked about Moreno too often before, when steaming up the left-flank in the League Cup final to present the room for Fernandinho’s opening strike for Manchester City, or leaving his station to bomb forward too much in Liverpool’s semi-final away leg with Villarreal.
Moreno offers a lot going forward, he has four assists in the Premier League this season and with 61 chances made he is level with Milner as Liverpool’s most creative player, but his defensive failings have been exposed too many times.
As Sevilla manager Unai Emery said in defence of his former player, “I always see the glass half-full because Mariano has a great offensive ability and I see him as a great offensive player rather than it being poor defending”
It is telling that Emery sold Moreno to Liverpool for £12 million in his first 6 months in Andalusia and the great offensive ability he speaks of will be of little comfort to Klopp whose pressing game requires defensive stability and organised calm.
In Basel, it will be assumed that Moreno’s inability to deliver may have surpassed Klopp’s patience.
Jamie Carragher, consumed by the passion and frustration of the evening, Tweeted a damning request for Klopp or his transfer committee to sign a “f**king left-back” and the German will surely be looking for an alternative to the Spaniard when he starts his squad renovation process this summer.
Not someone to be relied on
He will have to find players who, while adhering to his demands of intense pressing, don’t succumb to shambolic disorganisation as quickly as those did last night. But as Moreno showed, the experience of being a previous winner doesn’t mean immunity from amateurish performances on the grand stage.
If it is a night that is to be decisive for Klopp’s Liverpool, it is one that will teach them that they need players who can be relied upon to keep their heads and use their nous in matches like this.
Moreno has shown he is not one of them.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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