Liverpool lost their second cup final of the season on Wednesday thanks to Sevilla’s remarkable resurgence in the second half. TheHardTackle draws seven conclusions from an eventful night in Basel.
Liverpool’s run to the final suggested destiny was on their side, but Sevilla prove their Europa League pedigree in winning the tournament for the 5th time in their history. A sublime finish from Daniel Sturridge sent Liverpool on their way, but a stunning comeback highlighted by Sevilla’s equalizer 17 seconds into the second half was enough to help Sevilla make history. e take a look at the main talking points from the 2016 UEFA Europa League final:
Klopp’s subsitutions in the wrong order
The composition of the starting lineup and the bench was influenced by match fitness as well as the performances at home against Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal. Klopp’s game management is his main strength as manager, but his substitutions on the night were in the wrong order. Divock Origi’s work rate up front makes him a valuable asset away from home, but Liverpool needed to regain control of midfield first before attempting to pressurize Sevilla’s defence. Hence his introduction before that of Joe Allen left Liverpool with not one, but two isolated forwards.
A midfield two of Emre Can and James Milner is great going forward at Anfield, but the priority when playing away from home should be to ensure you are not overrun in the centre of the pitch. Supporters are generally keen to focus on the goals conceded, but the incessant wave of attacks that Kolo Toure was forced to heroically stave off were a function of a lack of bodies in midfield.
Liverpool would probably have still lost the game, but Joe Allen’s introduction in the 73rd minute was about 10 mins too late. Liverpool did succeed in coming back from two goals down against Borussia Dortmund, but Allen was substituted in much earlier (after 57 mins), giving him enough time to shut the game down and for the Reds to regain control in midfield. An extra body in midfield would have prevented Sevilla from so easily setting up the second goal, and by the time Allen was on the pitch, Sevilla had no interest in pouring bodies forward any more.
Sturridge world class but Liverpool missed Origi
Daniel Sturridge’s goal to give Liverpool the lead was the kind of finish only world class strikers can pull off. He may not be well liked at Liverpool but it is worth remembering hat despite only having played 25 of Liverpool’s 63 games this season, he is still Liverpool’s top goalscorer in all competitions. Liverpool have sold their top scorers for the season two years in a row, and selling a player capable of scoring goals like that is the kind of madness that would prevent Jurgen Klopp from turning the Reds into serial winners.
That being said, Liverpool need to set their team up differently when they aren’t playing at home. Liverpool do not need to gegenpress the opposition to death at home, as they generally have more of the ball anyway. Hence, while a striker like Sturridge will always be in business at Anfield, the need to stop the opposition from playing away from home makes it important to go by a “horses for courses” approach in deciding who starts up front.
This is by no means a slight on Sturridge’s ability, but the skill-set of a fully fit Divock Origi would have been more valuable against Sevilla. Origi did a fantastic job in preventing Julian Weigl making plays from deep at Dortmund, and would have been a valuable presence early in the second half once Ever Banega started to pull the strings.
Kolo Toure needs to be given a new contract
The former Arsenal and Manchester City defender is one of the few players to have won Premier League titles with two different teams, and this was evident in his performance on the night. Toure has been perceived as a figure of comedy in the past, but he is the type of player who supports others during tough times on and off the pitch — Luis Suarez soon after “Crystanbul”, Daniel Sturridge during his run of injuries, Mamadou Sakho after his failed dope test, as well as time and again on the pitch when Kevin Gameiro was running at Simon Mignolet.
Kolo Toure’s age ranges from 35 to 65 depending on how many beers you have had, but he is one player who contributes to the team irrespective of how long he is on the pitch. His performance on the night was a demonstration of the value any coach wants to realize from experienced players. The value of experience is not realized simply because you have played more games than someone else (we’re looking at you, Martin Skrtel). Toure’s ability to quickly develop a defensive partnership helps him understand when to charge forward and when to hold his position, and he spent the entire second half covering for the other defenders, winning nearly every duel he was a part of.
If this is Kolo Toure’s last game for Liverpool, there was no better way for him to bow out.
Liverpool’s best players went missing
The best players come alive in big games, but Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino were anonymous on the night. Coutinho was unrecognizable from the player that won four awards at Liverpool’s annual awards night. Performances like the one at Basel have not been on display on more than one occasion this season. Coutinho’s reputation is built from his ability to obscure bad overall performances with moments of magic that decide tight games, but there was nothing of this sort in the biggest match of his career thus far.
A weakness of Coutinho that is seldom talked about is the lack of support he provides fullbacks behind him on the left, particularly away from home. He does great work in pressing opposing fullbacks on the front foot at home, but his lack of support for Alberto Moreno only highlighted how ineffective he was in that respect on Wednesday. His touch (that turned into a pass) to Coke that prevented the 3rd goal being disallowed for offside in Liverpool’s favour summed up his night.
Roberto Firmino is in fine goalscoring form but his style of play makes him a player that decorates games instead of running them. While that guarantees goals from Firmino over the course of a season, his performances can be a let-down at the most inopportune time. His main weakness is the tendency to give the ball away easily, and this was highlighted by a misplaced pass intended for Sturridge that ultimately resulted in Dejan Lovren being forced to foul Kevin Gameiro early in the game, leading to a booking for the Croatian centre-half.
Sevilla targeting Moreno’s shows why fullbacks are defenders first
The lack of support for Alberto Moreno meant that he was outnumbered 2-on-1 by Mariano and Coke on more than one occasion in the second half, but his errors cost Liverpool yet again on the big occasion. The former Sevilla left-back made multiple mistakes for Sevilla’s first goal, and was out of position for their third. Referee Jonas Erikson allowed plenty of handballs to go unpunished in the first half, but he didn’t have as detrimental an effect on the result as Moreno had on the night.
The defensive performance of his Sevilla counterpart Sergio Escudero only highlights how bad Moreno’s performance was. Escudero received very little support from Vitolo on Sevilla’s left flank, but did not allow that to affect him as he gradually succeeded in preventing Nathaniel Clyne from making any forward contribution during the second half.
This isn’t the first time Moreno has cost Liverpool. He also put in a poor performance in the Capital One Cup final against Manchester City, and if it had been spotted by the referee, his fouling of Roberto Soldado inside the box when Liverpool were 2-0 up at Anfield against Villarreal would have prevented the Reds from even reaching the Europa League final in the first place.
Moreno’s age will be used to defend him, but having the experience of being the only player in Liverpool’s squad to have won the Europa League should have helped him. Moreno is 23 years old, and if Jurgen Klopp decides that he is not the type of player he would want to buy if he were 4-5 years older, then Moreno is in real danger of losing his place in the squad for good.
Unai Emery’s tactical switch at half time
Sevilla started the first half more concerned with beating Liverpool’s pressing game than actually playing the kind of football that brought them to Basel. They spent the majority of the first half hitting long balls towards a striker who isn’t even 6 ft tall, allowing Liverpool to settle down into the game and eventually take the lead. Their first half strategy was smart in theory, but not so smart based on the execution. Given that there was no choice but to attack, Unai Emery reset his approach at half time, instructing his players to play the kind of football that ultimately helped overrun Liverpool.
Unai Emery’s record in the league does not make for spectacular reading, but three European trophies in three years does not come your way if you aren’t a good manager. It isn’t easy to manage a game better than Jurgen Klopp, but Emery did it. It is rumoured that Everton are interested in bringing him in to replace Roberto Martinez at Goodison Park, and his achievements with Sevilla (and earlier with Valencia) will make it easy for the Toffees to warm to him.