19 May 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 1-3 Sevilla

Previous Match Infographics: West Brom (a), Chelsea (h), Watford (h), Villarreal (h), Swansea (a), Villarreal (a),Newcastle (h), Everton (h), Bournemouth (a), Dortmund (h), Stoke (h), Dortmund (a), Tottenham (h), Southampton (a), Manchester United (a), Manchester United (h), Crystal Palace (a), Manchester City (h), Manchester City [League Cup] (n), Augsburg (h), Augsburg (a), Aston Villa (a), Sunderland (h), Leicester (a), Stoke [League Cup] (h), Norwich (a), Manchester Utd (h), Arsenal (h), Stoke [League Cup] (a), West Ham (a), Sunderland (a), Leicester (h), Watford (a), West Brom (h), Sion (a), Newcastle (a), Swansea (h), Bordeaux (h), City (a), Crystal Palace (h), Rubin Kazan (a), Chelsea (a), Southampton (h), Rubin Kazan (h), Tottenham (a), Everton (a), FC Sion (h), Aston Villa (h), Norwich (h), Bordeaux (a), Manchester United (a), West Ham (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (h), Stoke (a)
As always for Europa League matches, all data from WhoScored.

(Nota Bene: Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)

Life is not fair. Sometimes there isn't a storytale ending.

Liverpool needed this. We needed this. And it's all set up perfectly.

The narrative's written. First, Manchester United. Then, that comeback against Dortmund. Then, a comprehensive victory over a similar, higher-in-the-table Spanish side in Villarreal. The overwhelming parallels with Liverpool's Champions League run in Benitez's first season 11 years ago.

Liverpool weather Sevilla's brief early storm. Liverpool are denied five potential penalties – three handballs, two fouls, a handball and foul on the same move in the 12th minute, the third handball seemingly stone-cold certain – but then Liverpool score one of the prettiest strikes you'll see, when Sturridge somehow breaks every one of Newton's laws of motion to score with the outside of his left foot in the 35th minute.

Sevilla had offered next-to-nothing after the first five-to-ten minutes of somewhat frightening possession with no results. Liverpool grew in control and confidence from then on. Sevilla took just one shot in the entire first half: Gamiero's overhead on a scrambled corner, covered by Mignolet if it was on-target at his near post. Liverpool should have made more of their dominance, should have created more chances – and it's not as if we're saying this for the first time this season – but between their control and the lead and the fact that the referee was the only thing keeping Sevilla in the game and THE NARRATIVE, it seemed as if Liverpool would be okay. Liverpool would continue to do good things in the second half, eventually get the second, and lift that much-needed trophy.


In the future, maybe don't concede 18 seconds after the restart.

It's hard to do more than scapegoat Alberto Moreno and ready the rocket to fire him into the sun. First, the weak clearing header to Mariano on Escudero's hopeful cross-field ball. Then, brainlessly charging in and trying to tackle rather getting into position to push Mariano wide or to the byline; he gave Mariano an angle rather than removing one, and reduced the amount of time Liverpool's other defenders had to get into position. He's got a record of doing similar over and over and over and etc.

To be slightly fairer, Moreno's not the only one at fault: Coutinho wandered into the middle on the kick-off, coming in to "track" N'Zonzi (who looking like coming forward but quickly retreated into his midfield position) rather than the right-back he should be up against, leaving Moreno to defend the entire side of his pitch when Escudero crossed; both Toure and Lovren were caught flat-footed on Mariano's centered pass, marking the same space which Can pretty much had covered; and at the last second, Toure tries to play the offside trap, which wouldn't have worked and he was the only one to do so. Sigh. And let's give credit where it's due: that was a lovely step inside and nutmeg by Mariano.

Most importantly, Liverpool still had 45 minutes to reassert themselves despite the set-back. There was still an entire half left.

Put simply – maybe too simply, but I doubt it – Liverpool lost their heads. "Oh shit, here we go again. And it's the final! Why, lord, why?!" Sevilla, who hadn't won this competition the last two seasons on blind luck, didn't lose theirs. They regrouped at halftime. They got the early goal and pushed for more. They got the needed bit of luck and combined it with an absolutely brilliant 25 minutes of football.

They broke Liverpool's lines, something they'd wholly failed to do in the first half. They beat and bypassed Liverpool's counter-press, most notably on the second goal. That was a thing of beauty. A bit of patience in their own half to draw Liverpool's attackers into the press then out of position, then Vitolo to Coke to Vitolo to Banega to Vitolo to Coke to smash through Liverpool's midfield. It was pass and move football that the all-conquering Liverpool side in the 1980s would've been proud of.

Sevilla should have scored a second long before then, with Liverpool given a short reprieve first by Toure's last-ditch recovery tackle in the 48th, then Mignolet's point-blank save on Gamiero in the 60th. The first with Can and the center-backs the only Liverpool players in Liverpool's half (and all three fairly high up the pitch) as Liverpool pressed too hard too fast to get back in the game and lost consecutive aerial duels in midfield, with Gamiero released by an easy throughball; the second from a set play (Escudero's long throw) because of course there has to be at least one set play involved.

And then there's Sevilla's third. A flawless, cue-Yakety-Sax, oh-so-Liverpool capstone six minutes after Coke gave Sevilla the lead: first, Can's slip and giveaway in midfield, then Clyne's tackle at the top of the box hitting Coutinho and ricocheting perfectly for a wide-open Coke seven yards from goal, onside because of Liverpool's touches, with Mignolet unable to do much about it. As many Liverpool players were involved in the build-up to that goal as Sevilla players.

You need that bit of luck in finals. And you need talent, which Sevilla simply had more of, fully on display in the 25 minutes after halftime. And you need self-belief, which seemed to completely evaporate after Sevilla's first goal.

The belief we saw against Dortmund simply wasn't there. Liverpool did not, could not regroup. Sure, Klopp probably should have made changes earlier (*glares at 2-3 Southampton and 2-2 Newcastle*), but you've got to credit Sevilla for a good bit of that.

Experience matters. Sevilla, and the majority of these players, had been here before. Have won things before. Five of Sevilla's starters also started last year's final, with three others involved as substitutes. Liverpool, the vast majority of these players, haven't. The first hill is always hardest to climb.

This is how far Liverpool still have to go. A young side, nowhere near built in the new manager's image yet. A new manager who came in midseason, had to work with this unbalanced squad, and had to cope with numerous injuries and more matches than any of his teams' have ever played in a single season.

Yes, Liverpool lost two cup finals. And it really hurts. You can't help but wonder what might have been: both the relief of rejoining the big kids' table and the doors that qualification to next season's Champions League could have opened.

But Liverpool hadn't been in a single cup final since 2011-12, when Dalglish's side won the Carling Cup against second-division Cardiff on penalties and lost in the FA Cup to Chelsea. Those are the only two cup finals Liverpool have been in since Athens 2007. Nine years ago. Since then, we've seen Hicks and Gillett's attempt to gut the club, Benitez coming close to in the league and Europa League then getting sacked, The Hodge, Dalglish, and Rodgers. We've seen league finishes of 2nd, 7th, 6th, 8th, 7th, 2nd, 6th, and 8th.

And Klopp somehow got Liverpool to two cup finals in his first abbreviated season.

There is still a lot of work to be done. A lot of room for growth, for players individually and Liverpool as both a team and a club. And it's going to be a very interesting summer; in Klopp's first at Dortmund, they brought in 11 players (six for a fee, two free transfers, Schmelzer promoted from the youth squad, Kevin Prince-Boateng on-loan, and Sahin's return from loan) and sold or released nine.

It's been less than 24 hours, and I've mostly processed this. Accepted this. Mostly. As much as I can, and as much as I will. And I don't want to eulogize this match or this season (although, as usual, there will probably be a lot of season wrap-up graphics and stuff over the next few weeks). I just want next season now. Optimism, which still remains despite this setback and this season, is a hell of a drug. It's one we've been without for far too long.

Up the Reds.


j.spaceman said...

As a longtime reader who only de-lurked a few weeks ago (for the Villarreal match), I just want to say thanks again Nate for another season of quality perspective and comment. Yours is the only Liverpool website I visit now, after many others have come and gone. Now on-to some thoughts about the Final.

Firstly, I will point out my prescient comment from the Villarreal match, that Moreno would be the one most likely to wilt under the big lights. The tragedy of Liverpool's Europa adventure this season is that Klopp nearly overcame an extremely flawed and muddled situation to lift the trophy with a squad that was not built for a sustained campaign. You saw it, I saw it- Sevilla were there for the taking. But just nearly. I share your optimism, and I do believe that a ruthless transfer window might see a truly fit side for the shirt come August, but to miss out on two winnable trophies in your first half-season will gall the manager. And Alberto Moreno shouldn't play another game for Liverpool.

Your analysis of the first Sevilla goal hits the mark, it seems to be a case of being caught out in a classic premature half-time celebration mistake. A rookie new-to-finals move. Everybody is moseying out to the pitch, thinking of a glorious goal-filled second-half and lifting the trophy, the opposition is broken and on the run, all the plaudits, and so on. I'm sure this was not in Klopp's thoughts, but his players clearly were not prepared to play on the restart. Did he not communicate the danger of a wounded Sevilla side? Were the lads not revved up enough by the injustice of only 1 goal scored in the first half? Was the defense not committed to keep battling for that clean sheet from the moment they got back out on the pitch? My feeling is that a self-satisfied side after 45 minutes came back out on the pitch, and the other came out with a undeniable hunger and raging fever for the back of the net. And then there was Alberto Moreno, who just wants to score a curler from the top of the box, no matter what the situation or match.


j.spaceman said...

It's difficult to pin fault Klopp for anything, the right move may have been to ditch the half-time talk at something like 55 minutes gone and simply throw Origi on for Bobby Firm. With a full 30 minutes Origi might have menaced that Sevilla back line and maybe makes at least two or three clear cut chances, with only 10 and some stoppage he was never going to be anything but lucky to find goal. The Kolo Last Ditch Tackle after Sevilla's opening sucker punch was to me the reddest of flags that something had to change immediately, but I understand the course Klopp took- at 1-1 a quick offensive change looks like a capitulation and might signal the wrong intent to his players still on-field. In a one-off final management is always on a razor's edge: Damned if you do, damned if you don't, dance with the devil that brung ya, don't be too hasty to use subs because of "looming" extra-time, etc. Yet Klopp is going to be furious with himself that he couldn't reign in the madness of the second half. Even at 1-2, I felt all the attack needed was immediate injections of pace and power and Sevilla would have given at least one right back. The strange sense of imperviousness that suddenly came over their defense was at best a mirage, only 20 minutes earlier they looked like shipping at least another two to a rampant Liverpool attack. The lack of decisive substitution has to be pegged as his one clear mistake, and continues an end-of-season trend towards conservatism that Klopp has, to his credit, mostly stuck to. He clearly understands the longer con of building a truly hardcore heavy-metal side, but the lack of European football next season will be his biggest motivator. He will feel that he failed, and die-hard competitors like Klopp abhor a failure. A delivery of silverware in the domestic cups next year would be a worthy amends, but I think for Klopp the real prize will be contending for the title come next May- and, encouragingly, he does have the experience of fighting for a title against one of the biggest juggernauts in sport, so he will not doubt his ability to lead a side to the top.

A note on the two or three clear penalties: though frustrating because of the impossibility to change the actual result, the impact of the non-calls on the match was undeniable. If this had been a major international tournament final, or a Champions League final, Eriksson and his crew would have been pilloried in every corner of the sport world for extreme negligence of their duties. As it stands, in a second-tier competition, you get what you pay for, and everyone shrugs and throws up their hands. Football referees have a tricky and tough job, but when a major rule is broken repeatedly they are expected to at least catch some of that rule-breaking. That is what they are there for. To have a major European officiating crew fail so spectacularly when it really matters merely points to a systemic problem with UEFA and FIFA, and increases my skepticism that world football is going in a positive direction. The reports of pre-match fighting amongst Liverpool and Sevilla support only adds a bit of fuel to my thesis.

In the post-defeat haze, I do see one glaring positive: a defeat in a final can galvanize a side that has never been there before. It can light a fire under some players who know they could have bossed that game. It can give the manager a summer motivation tool, and a villain to kick against next season. Shared trauma brings players together, helps create the kind of siege mentality that propels an average Leicester side to run away with the title.

The squad needs to be thinned out, then beefed up.

We'll see about that.

Next year, a title is all I will be satisfied with. All I can hope is that every member of Liverpool's squad and staff are already chomping at the bit to satisfy.

Up the reds.


Ryan McKain said...

Nate,again thanks for a great blog. I always wait for your review before reading others. Please keep on doing what you do and thank you for another great season.

Up the Reds.

Anonymous said...

Even with that disastrous second half, we just needed that slight bit of luck/good fortune/intelligent play in the first half to win that match. If (IF!) Sturridge would have had that slight amount of awareness to realize he was offside on that corner and backed away from Lovren's headed goal to not render himself active, we would have had a 2nd goal. If that ref would have called one of the four big shouts for penalties we would easily have had a 3rd goal. Going into the half with a 3-nil lead, I doubt we would have wilted like that in the 2nd half.

Moreno's clearing header directly to Mariano within a minute of the restart was diabolical when he had Coutinho wide open 10 yards in front of him. Just had to head the ball upfield 10 or 15 yards to Phil, instead of wide directly to Mariano. Only a slight amount of awareness was needed. Then to dive in on the ensuing tackle and get megged in a dangerous area, was doubly diabolical.

We needed that big forceful "presence" to step up and right the ship and give the team that sense of belief at that moment. Nobody stepped up. Sevilla sensed that doubt and had the talent to make it count.

As the players sat at the bar later drowning their sorrows, Klopp stepped up, as he did after the City cup final loss. "I felt really really shit three hours ago. It was really shit two hours ago, but now we are back here together and it is better. This is just the start for us." Klopp then led his squad in a rendition of The Kop Chant "We are Liverpool".

Love this fucking guy.

Can't wait for next season.