Sixteen months ago, Alberto Moreno played an unforgettable part in Liverpool’s Europa League final against Sevilla. I’d like to say unforgettable because of his brilliance at left-back that Wednesday evening on May 16th of last year, but you and I both know that would be an utter lie. After Liverpool initially led in that game, Moreno bore the brunt of the criticism for a second-half capitulation that cost Klopp a trophy in his first season and, maybe more importantly, instant entry into the group stages of the Champions League. So when the Reds were drawn in the same group as Sevilla in the CL group stages this season, Moreno could have been forgiven for harbouring some nerves when facing his old team again on the big stage. But this performance at Anfield by the flamboyant Spaniard couldn’t have been more different.
Rather than let the demons of that night in Basel haunt him, he put on a display that left even his most severe of critics having to concede defeat. His blistering pace has never been in question and he showed that in abundance on Wednesday night; linking up with the attacking players brilliantly down the left-hand side. He was instrumental in Liverpool’s equalising goal in the twenty-first minute after a sublime one-two with Jordan Henderson followed up by a cross that fell neatly into Roberto Firmino’s path for an easy tap in.
Along with Moreno, Liverpool’s attacking intent was prevalent from the first kick of the ball which was instantly played upfront. There’s not much that can be said about Liverpool going forward. I write about it every week. The speed, vision and intelligence is there for all to see as Mané, Salah and Firmino deepen their understanding and harmony with each other week upon week. Give them a slight whiff of a counterattack and they’re off and there’s hardly a defence that can keep up with them. Counter attacks aside, they’re tenacious, determined and will do everything to win the ball back as did Salah for Liverpool’s second. When his pass to Wijnaldum didn’t quite come off, he barged N’zonzi off the ball and took a shot at goal which took a deflection off Kjaer to fall into the net for a 2-1 lead.
However, the stunning nature of this attack would be even more wonderful if the rest of the team could manage not to concede pathetic goals every week. It must get to the goal scorers on a gut level when all their efforts are cancelled out in the blink of an eye. Surely they’d have grounds to demand higher wages as they have to try six times as hard to help Liverpool to win a game. I know I’d be knocking down Klopp’s door trying my luck at least. It took just five minutes into the first-half, a half that Liverpool dominated, for Sevilla to be the grateful recipient of some Liverpool loving. A series of errors stemming from midfield culminated in Dejan Lovren missing what seemed like the easiest clearance kick you will ever see. The cross was eventually made by Sevilla but appeared to be approaching Lovren at a reasonably manageable pace, but the centre-back somehow let it pass under his foot to a waiting Ben Yedder who gleefully tapped in past Karius. Despite the subsequent vitriol surrounding the mistake, it was one that Lovren would have cleared 99% of the time. As it is, the Croatian has given his critics even more ammunition to attack him, as if they didn’t have an overflowing arsenal to begin with.
Despite the early blow, Liverpool responded just how Klopp would have wanted. In fact, he places great emphasis time and time again on how it’s “important how the team reacts to problems” and his men certainly delivered. Chance after chance was created and it was only a matter of time before the rewards were seen. Three minutes before the break, Nico Pareja couldn’t deal with Mané’s persistence in the box, and after having handled the ball, brought Mané down and a penalty was awarded. Firmino, who has taken over Milner from spot-kick duties stepped up, and even though he sent the keeper the wrong way, could only find the right post leaving him sinking to his knees in despair. But with the multitude of chances Liverpool were creating and options to come from the bench including Sturridge and a return for Coutinho, it wasn’t time to panic yet. And the next forty-five minutes would tell if missed opportunities would be regretted later.
Unfortunately, the second-half didn’t excite as much as the first. The first bit of entertainment came from the Sevilla manager, Eduardo Berizzo, who after having twice thrown the ball away petulantly at the touch line, was hilariously sent to the stands much to his shock. His team, however, responded much more maturely to having their throats under Liverpool’s foot in the first-half. Their patience paid off in the seventy-second minute when Correa found himself in enough space to curl his shot past flailing Karius. Karius, who Klopp confirmed will be starting CL games, has surely learned that goalkeeping at Liverpool is a unique beast. Two shots on goal in the whole game equated to two goals. How does a goalkeeper deal with that when everything about his performance rests upon clean sheets? Liverpool had six shots on target. Imagine if Matip and company had to face Salah and friends in competitive games. It’s then that score lines like 5-0 at the Etihad occur. Thankfully, attacks like ours and Manchester City’s aren’t so common.
Left chasing the game, the Reds were vulnerable to concede, but a win at home was important too. Phillipe Coutinho, returned to the fray to try and win the game, to a good reception from the Anfield faithful despite his recent poor form off the pitch. Sturridge joined in with ten minutes to go as did Oxlade-Chamberlain with a few minutes left. How these three were meant to impact the game in fifteen, ten and five minutes is over my head. As was the decision to take Mané off who is now out for the next three games with a ban. Removing the teams biggest attacking threat when a goal was needed was slightly baffling. Even more so now he has some enforced time off. Some may say a draw would be a good result against a tricky side and there was no need to take risks, but knowing how there’s a penchant for conceding goals how can that be a good strategy? Had it not been for fantastically named Muriel slotting just wide of Liverpool’s goal in the ninety-third minute, even a point would have gone begging. To compound frustrations further, Joe Gomez, was sent off in the last minute for a second bookable offence meaning he will miss the next group game against Spartak Moscow.
The rationale police will tell you that all is well with Liverpool; that Liverpool were unlucky and played very well. But that’s just it! It’s because of the brilliance of this team that fans get so upset at the inadequacies habitually shown by the midfield and defence. Yes, there are good games where clean sheets are even kept, but more often than not, this team will continue to concede ridiculously stupid goals annulling the outstanding work done upfront. It’s nothing short of counterproductive to the development of the team and will unlikely win silverware. And I’m 99% convinced that the tears seen streaming down Roberto Firmino’s face at full time, were more about “why are we so remarkable at conceding goals?” rather than “oh God, I missed a penalty”. Penalties are missed every now and then, but Liverpool will always concede an absurd goal or two.
Wissam Ben Yedder ⚽️
Joaquín Correa ⚽️
— #UCL (@ChampionsLeague) September 13, 2017
It’s possible, some might say even probable, that Liverpool go on to win their group and everything is fine and dandy. What’s guaranteed is a rollercoaster ride of games up until then of Liverpool trying to out score the opposition. It’s amazing to watch for the neutrals but for fans, who are heavily emotionally invested, it’s exhausting. Here’s hoping the players are able to brush it off a lot more easily. For the likes of Salah, Firmino, Mané and, for the last few games at least, Moreno, it’s a shame that their efforts are sometimes lost in the ensuing exasperation of failings elsewhere. Fortunately for Klopp, Spartak Moscow were held to a draw away to Maribor thanks to a late equaliser by the group’s “minnows”, leaving no team at a disadvantage. In two weeks time, Liverpool travel to Moscow to play the Russian champions in a game with added pressure after the draw at Anfield on Wednesday night. Liverpool should be the favourites, but nobody truly knows what that means where the Reds are concerned. Any predictions are mere guesses rather than an informed prognosis. There’ll unquestionably be goals though. At both ends probably. Unequivocally. Strap in, ladies and gents.