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.
Ever heard the phrase "a game of two halves"? The Europa League final is like its platonic essence. pic.twitter.com/l7smD8mAfz— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) May 18, 2016
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.
Got interested in the age structure of @SevillaFC_ENG squad after reading about their scouting process @EuropaLeague pic.twitter.com/8dpQOkVBSC— FitbaFancyStats (@226blog) May 18, 2016
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.