Liverpool change a certainty after Europa League defeat to Sevilla

For the Liverpool fans making their way back into Basel after the Europa League final, the road ahead was littered with empty bottles and broken dreams. For a brief sliver, the 11 minutes following Daniel Sturridge’s exquisite 34th minute goal when Sevilla were rocked back on their heels, another famous European night in the club’s […]

For the Liverpool fans making their way back into Basel after the Europa League final, the road ahead was littered with empty bottles and broken dreams. For a brief sliver, the 11 minutes following Daniel Sturridge’s exquisite 34th minute goal when Sevilla were rocked back on their heels, another famous European night in the club’s history had seemed certain.

But the second half was harrowing from just 20 seconds in, when Kevin Gameiro slotted in Mariano Ferreira’s cross for the equaliser. After that, the night went flat and Jurgen Klopp no longer seemed the warrior-poet miracle worker that his team’s run to the Europa League final had suggested. In sober reflection, Liverpool were nowhere good enough to beat an experienced, canny opponent as Coke struck twice within six minutes to deny them glory.

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Sevilla were admittedly excellent, a combination of muscle and the sharp Spanish passing game that so frequently takes apart English teams in Europe. Their third straight Europa League crown owed much to breaking the fragile confidence of Klopp’s team. In those moments when Ever Banega, Vitolo and two-goal captain Coke were running the show, Liverpool looked very much the broken team that Klopp’s predecessor Brendan Rodgers left behind in October.

“That shows our development is not as good as we thought,” Klopp admitted afterwards. Next season, with no European football to distract them, the sole goal must be to improve on eighth in the Premier League — a lowly position for a club of such pretensions and history.

Waves of emotions had carried Liverpool to the final, when Klopp had been able to harness Anfield’s fervour during home legs against Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal in happy succession. On those nights, his team played as if powered by that frenzied passion.

Yet the atmosphere of Basel disconnected that force. As Sevilla wrested control of the night, Klopp called for more from the fans in the stand behind the goal to his left but received an unsatisfactory answer.

There was no increase in volume; pessimism had already set in. The last decade, in which Liverpool have won just the 2012 League Cup final, looks to have had a deleterious effect on supporters’ belief system. In Basel, there was no repeat of the deafening wall of sound that fired Liverpool back into the 2005 Champions League final against AC Milan, when 3-0 down and doomed to embarrassment.

Perhaps fandom has moved on since that time. Only a hardcore of 10,000 had received tickets through official avenues, and the small Swiss city had been full of a broad spectrum of the club’s worldwide support. Those who could afford to pay had made their way into St Jakob’s Park; those who could not were either back on Merseyside, or sipping beer as they watched the game in Basel’s Marktplatz.

In any case, Liverpool’s team did not feature as relentless and unbending a leader as captain Steven Gerrard was 11 years ago. James Milner, Gerrard’s equivalent at St Jakob’s Park, is a dependable type, but neither he or his colleagues are capable of such heroic inspiration.

“When you leave yourselves too much to do one too many times it’s pretty difficult to keep doing it,” said Milner, with humble realism, afterwards.

Basel is set to be filed away with Athens 2007, the disappointing follow-up to Istanbul, where AC Milan gained revenge with a 2-1 win. That was a night when Rafa Benitez tried to conquer Europe with a forward line containing Peter Crouch, Dirk Kuyt and Jermaine Pennant. On paper, the likes of Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino look capable of better but while the Englishman scored that glorious goal from Coutinho’s pass, the Brazilian pair were anonymous.

ESPN FC’s Steve Nicol reveals his Liverpool player ratings and takes aim at left back Alberto Moreno for his sub-par performance.

In prematch, Klopp’s toothy smile had beamed positivity about a group of players written off under Rodgers as faulty products of the club’s transfer policy. “There was such a big amount of doubt on these players,” he said on Tuesday. “Now it’s a big opportunity to make a final step with this team.”

By 11 p.m. on Wednesday, the message had been amended. “This team will be a little bit different, that’s clear,” Klopp said. “We will do something with transfers, that’s clear.”

Leading the list of priorities should be the future Alberto Moreno, the former Sevilla left-back whose name had been second in Twitter’s UK trends on Wednesday night. Club legend Jamie Carragher’s tweet urging that “Jurgen, transfer committee, sign a f—ing left-back” was hastily deleted, but still made its mark. The 23-year-old was poor, though not much helped by Coutinho’s lack of cover in front of him, from where Ferreira made repeated powerful runs down the flank.

Sources close to the club have told ESPN FC that Klopp’s outward backing of his players is not always matched behind closed doors. Emre Can, who played well during the first half in Basel, and Firmino, who disappointed throughout, are the German’s favourites; the rest feel that the manager is not yet sure about them.

“The first thing you have to do when you look at the man in the mirror is criticise yourself,” Klopp concluded. Such self-assessment seems sure to bring sweeping change at Anfield next season.

John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter@JohnBrewinESPN.

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