The Reds were authoritative in the first half against Sevilla but never recovered after Kevin Gameiro scored early in the second period, losing their belief and shape
Jurgen Klopp had insisted the Europa League final did not represent pressure for Liverpool but an opportunity. For 45 minutes at St Jakob-Park, they seemed to have seized it, and decided this was to be another glorious night to be painted red.
Daniel Sturridge’s outside-of-the-left foot wonder strike on 35 minutes had the Premier League outfit ahead in Basel, and when the half-time whistle blew, they might have been three goals to the good. Instead, at full-time, Emre Can’s shirt was soaked in tears as the scoreboard read 3-1 in favour of Sevilla.
Philippe Coutinho could barely keep his head up, and Kolo Toure had to resume his role of comforting team-mates during the depths of despondency.
Eleven years ago, Liverpool provided 15 minutes that shook the world against Milan in Istanbul to win their fifth European Cup. Sevilla needed just 17 seconds to undo the Reds in Basel and land a hat-trick of Europa League titles.
The second half had just kicked off when Mariano capitalised on a poor clearance from Alberto Moreno, before getting beyond the Liverpool defence and rolling the ball across goal for Kevin Gameiro to score. It was as easy as ABC for the lethal France forward.
Klopp would have expected his men, who were so dominant before the interval, to strike back. Instead, they were stretched, scrambling and unsure of themselves, which encouraged Sevilla. The Liga side’s second was inevitable and was supplied after the hour mark as Ever Banega shuffled and the ball was eventually slipped to Coke, who struck from the edge of the box.
Six minutes later he took advantage of more chaotic defending and left Liverpool two goals down and out.
The steely mentality that characterised Liverpool in the previous three rounds against Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal was AWOL on Wednesday.
Belief, the buzzword for Klopp’s side, was too easily sapped away. Once Gameiro levelled for Sevilla, UEFA could have started inscribing their name on the trophy. Liverpool forgot who they were, where they were and the defiant performances that got them to the Europa League final.
They were ruled by a fear of failure rather than faith in their talents. Liverpool’s organisation in the second half mirrored that of UEFA’s for the showpiece. The venue was unsuitable and the security was lax, with no segregation between a section of Sevilla and Reds supporters, which led to punches being thrown.
Klopp took full responsibility for the defeat – the club’s second in a final this season – and admitted perhaps their development is as not advanced as thought given the mental collapse.
He pointed out Liverpool only played at 50 to 60 per cent of their capabilities, which is an accurate analysis.
“We lost everything in a second – faith in our style of play, our defensive organisation, our ideas,” Klopp said. “But I promise everybody we will use this experience and come back stronger.”
There will be no comfort for Liverpool after another cruel ‘almost’ moment, but they need to ensure the loss is not a failure but a lesson.