From the start, this Europa League final had been a disappointing affair for Liverpool Football Club. The 10,000 tickets for their fans, and these fans being warned that accommodation in Basel was all sold out, can now be re-written as signs from the footballing gods. The comeback against Dortmund too, defying all reasonable odds and expectations. “You weren’t meant to be here”, they whisper through the fabric of time, “You weren’t meant to be here”.
At half-time, though, Liverpool will have felt like they were exactly where they belonged, winning a European final. Oh, how the gods like to toy with us.
The first period of the match, until Sturridge’s fantastic strike, was a fairly even affair. Neither side had really clicked, and there had been very few real chances. Sevilla seemed to want to play direct, but ran into the Liverpool defence and midfield, who were also counter-pressing whenever they lost the ball.
The difference in pressing styles was clear in this part of the match by how much time on the ball the centre-backs of each side had – Touré and Lovren, as well as Can, could dwell on the ball quite comfortably for Liverpool; for Sevilla, Rami and Carriço had to stay on the move to evade chasing strikers.
Each side had had one half-chance in the first half hour – a weak header across goal from Sturridge in the 11th minute cleared a yard off the line by Carriço; an overhead kick from Gameiro that flashed just past the near post in the 32nd minute.
Just a few minutes later, Liverpool were ahead, out of nowhere. It was a shot that no-one expected, because had it been anyone other than the fantastically one-footed Sturridge in that position they’d have taken the shot with their right. But no. Sturridge, with the kind of lack of backlift reminiscent of Ronaldinho’s goal against Chelsea, magicked a curled shot from the outside of his left, finding the inside of the net.
And thus was ushered in the ten minutes of Liverpool dominance. They got the ball back straight from the Sevilla kick-off, a long ball from the Spanish side going straight to Mignolet. Lovren had a goal, not five minutes later, rightfully ruled out. A minute afterwards, Milner won the ball high up the pitch from the Sevilla left-back. When the ball was lost again in the Sevilla box, Sturridge counter-pressed. The signs were pointing to a siege.
Everyone knows what happened after half-time. But before it, seconds before in a warped mirror image, Sturridge almost put Liverpool two ahead, not quite getting a full touch to a cross from Clyne across the six-yard box.
17 seconds. Another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it goal. Coutinho and Moreno failed to communicate and failed to tackle, and Mariano’s low cross, so similar to Clyne’s before the break, found a Gameiro who’d danced around Lovren to tap in.
How much the goal changed the game, we will never know. Liverpool seemed to press less in the Sevilla half, allowing their opponents to build attacks instead of forcing them to launch a hopeful ball long. Sevilla’s defence looked better structured, blocking Liverpool passing lanes while holding their shape. The game was evening up.
The game, like all great mythic tales, was roughly split into three parts. The largely equal game until 35 minutes was the underwhelming opening act. The second act opened with a bang, and 60 minutes is a rough mark for when it started to come to a close. Liverpool looked to be tiring, Sevilla were finding better positions between opposition lines and seeing these possible passes too.
With the Spanish side’s attacking threat stepping up, Liverpool had to leave more men back, which in turn impacted their own ability to go forward, and these are the real-world events which bring about a momentum change which seems like it has been passed down by fate.
As the second act had opened with a goal from nowhere, so did it end. A 1-2 cut through Liverpool’s midfield, Lovren wafted a leg, and Coke came from off-stage to whip the ball from the edge of the box and past Mignolet. A quick 1-2, and the score quickly became 1-2.
To reinforce the passing of the crown between the sides, it was Sevilla who got the ball straight from their opponent’s kick-off, just as Liverpool had done after their opener. It was only five minutes before they had to kick-off again. A pass on Sevilla’s left bounced off Clyne to Coutinho to Coke, who took a touch and took his chance, and that was the end of that.
In the 73rd minute, the broadcasters showed their first sad Liverpool fan, and in the 75th Rami was booked for timewasting as he was subbed off injured. The third act would close with disappointment, slow, with Liverpool never looking like getting back in the game.
“You weren’t meant to be here”, the signs cackled quietly.
Klopp, now having lost five cup finals in a row, could probably hear them.