UEFA Europa League Final Thoughts

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Introduction

The football proverb ‘a game of two halves’ would be so apt for this UEFA Europa League final in Basel tonight. Liverpool were in cruise control at the interval but the game was turned on its head when the reigning champions decided to run at the heart of the Liverpool midfield and back four. Liverpool were punch drunk come the end of this contest and much to ponder for Klopp and anyone associated with the football club. Seville’s three in a row is accomplished; a sign that La Liga is the league to watch and for certain pundits to do more research before they make bold predictions that a team will ‘win easy’.

Liverpool penalty shouts

What do those officials behind the goals do? Two stonewall penalties not given to Liverpool in that opening period who exposed massive space afforded by the Spanish side. Nathaniel Clyne was given the freedom of the park in that first half and produced several quality crosses which should have being slotted home. The opening goal of this final was a sublime finish. Daniel Sturridge was the standout for Liverpool tonight, looked sharp and his finish (ball starting outside the post leaving was quality) on thirty-five minutes. The goal nearly led to a deserved second before the interval but the match officials failed to give a stone ball penalty when Krychowiak handled the ball in the area, shambolic officiating again. Seville got their get out of jail card and the second half was an entirely different story.

Liverpool capitulate or Seville that good?

Seville to their credit regrouped at the break and their decision to run at the heart of Liverpool’s defense paid dividends immediately. Coke played the captain fantastic role with a brace of goals but question marks have to be raised on Liverpool central midfield who failed to protect their back four but Moreno for the equalizer was disastrous; a nothing header clearance and then over commits on the tackle. The central defenders and goalkeeper as well failing to close the space out once Moreno was easily beaten. Liverpool were now a boxer who was hit by a sucker punch; their senses were gone and Seville ruthlessly exposed the lack of leadership in the team with two other quick fire goals which exposed more weak back four defending. Clyne’s momentarily ball watching fatal for the second and then the third goal which was correctly given was the end product of a Liverpool rearguard in sixes and sevens. It looked to me that Liverpool ran out of gas in the second half; all the energy was spent in that opening period took its toll. The midfield area was a no contest in that second period with Nzoni powerfully winning ball and 50/50 tackles. Liverpool’s back four looked weak on paper. Skrtel on the subs bench looked glaring. Toure in the heart of the defense was a disaster waiting to happen and so it proved.

Liverpool key players did not deliver

Apart from Sturridge and Can, the key players for Liverpool failed to deliver. Coutinho and Firmino in particular were hardly mentioned and offered little to upset Seville defensively. Milner worked hard but lacked any threat in attacking areas. Adam who? The back four were wholly exposed in the second half. The leadership in the Liverpool ranks was non-existent, no-one looked to lead the team out of the crisis in that second half. Klopp will have learned more about his team today than he would have done since he arrived at the club; expect a massive cull in defense and midfield areas as Klopp looks to Bundesliga to create the mentality and toughness required for Liverpool to take more steps forward. This loss will hurt Klopp; his final record is poor (five losses in the last six final appearances). The setup of the team was wrong and the back four was there to be picked off. Toure over Skrtel was a decision which is still baffling.

Graeme Souness needs a reality check

The pre-game prediction of Graeme Souness of Seville was damning. His assertion that La Liga was all about the top three teams; Barcelona, Real and Atleti was highly disrespectful to the teams which play in the best European league. The comments ignored Seville’s record in this competition and their speed and ability to launch counter attacks was utterly cast aside. The pundit usually is a joy to listen to but he got this badly wrong; some may say that he did not know anything about Seville but the unfounded air of confidence in Liverpool’s chances seemed to be reflected in the team lineup and team behavior. Moreno’s antics at half-time spoke volumes; thought the game was in the bag but how wrong he was and the match pundit.

Liverpool loss an indication of EPL on the wane?

The manner in which Liverpool capitulated in that second half is a worrying concern for EPL whose teams have struggled in Europe this season. EPL teams have struggled in game management and general basic skills and Liverpool in that second half were guilty of both. The league is admired globally but the fact that Leicester City (workmanlike team) winning the title by ten points should have raised alarm bells. The perceived top teams are in rebuild mode and one wonders if the EPL challenge in Europe will be any better next season than it was this season? Liverpool have provided some memorable European moments along with Manchester City but both teams were found out ultimately in their leadership and ability to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Worrying signs for the ‘best league in the world’