Liverpool FC defied its past and future, revealing its present self against Sevilla in the final of the 2016 UEFA Europa League.
The Reds lost 3-1 to Sevilla on Wednesday in Basel, Switzerland, dropping its first-ever European final and ending its 2015-16 season in abject heartbreak. Such feelings still feel alien to longtime Liverpool fans, but newer Reds have experienced disappointment on this scale before.
Daniel Sturridge gave Liverpool the lead in the 35th minute with a superb goal, which was worthy of their exceptional first-half performance.
But the Reds fell to pieces almost immediately in the second half. Sevilla striker Kevin Gameiro tied the score just 17 seconds into the period, and Coke added goals in the 64th and 70th minutes to condemn Liverpool to defeat.
Sevilla celebrates an unprecedented third consecutive Europa League title and a record fifth in its history.
Liverpool finishes runner-up in a competition that would have added unexpected success in an otherwise disappointing season.
Let’s take a closer look at how Europa League glory eluded Liverpool.
Sevilla had mastered the Europa League long before it ever faced Liverpool, but Wednesday’s game demonstrated the true value of the Spanish club’s know-how in European soccer’s secondary championship.
Aside from the opening five minutes, Liverpool played fantastically well in the first period. The Reds overpowered Sevilla with their energy, determination and organization. Sturridge’s fine finish was only one of numerous goal-scoring opportunities Liverpool created in the half. His goal overshadowed promising chances he missed in the 11th and 25th minutes.
The fact Liverpool shackled Sevilla for 45 minutes became a distant memory less than a minute after the re-start. Gameiro scored after Mariano collected Alberto Moreno’s sloppy clearance, dribbled through Liverpool’s soft defense and found Gameiro with a pass to the far post.
Liverpool simply never recovered from the blow, and Coke, Sevilla’s captain, struck twice during a stretch of the half his team dominated in every facet of the game.
Before the game, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp called the contest “50-50” but cited Sevilla’s experience and age, roughly three years older than the Reds on average, as potential advantages. Were they ever.
Sevilla made the most of its opportunities then locked down the game when Liverpool was reeling.
Much was expected of Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, but Liverpool’s Brazilian midfield magicians were largely ineffective. They combined on the goal-scoring sequence, but Sturridge’s finish was far more important than their passes.
Coutinho, 23, and Firmino, 24, will regret their overall performances in the final, given their contributions to Liverpool’s Europa League campaign. Coutinho, Liverpool’s two-time reigning Player of the Year, didn’t have a shot until the 80th minute when he fired over Sevilla’s goal. Klopp replaced Firmino after 69 minutes.
There also was plenty of controversy, as the referee denied Liverpool two penalty kicks that another official might have awarded on another day. Coke’s second goal came amid a disputed offside call. History will have to judge whether Sevilla’s substitutes influenced the referee’s assistant, as they warmed up on the sideline during that fateful moment.
Moreno, whom Liverpool bought from Sevilla three years ago, will face heavy criticism for his performance in the second half. Whether mixed emotions or other factors were at play, Sevilla brutally exposed the 23-year-old Liverpool left back’s defensive limitations on one of soccer’s biggest stages.
What the result means
Sevilla’s victory reaffirms Spain’s supremacy of European soccer, which began roughly ten years ago.
Had Liverpool won, many would have heralded the triumph as a harbinger of future success. But the Reds showed their true nature in the loss to Sevilla, overrunning the opposition for part of the game only to suffer the consequences of a limp performance in the second period. The classic tale of two halves reflects Liverpool’s season.
The Reds showed themselves capable of competing on equal footing with the best teams in England but also demonstrated a maddening inconsistency. They could look like potential English or Europa League champions on one day and like the eighth-placed team in the Premier League on the next.
Liverpool will break camp for the summer, and Klopp will restructure the squad. When they return in July, he’ll work them to exhaustion in the preseason so that they better represent him and his will on the field … and do so for 90 minutes more often than not.
Thumbnail photo via LiverpoolFC.com