Sevilla - How, Why And Looking Forward

There's no denying it, the result against Sevilla felt like a kick in the teeth. And yet, in years gone by most of us would have happily accepted an away draw to a club that had recently beaten us in a European final. It was the manner of the recent draw that made it hard to swallow, going ahead by three goals and then conceding three goals. I would argue, with the benefit of retrospection, perhaps we shouldn't be quite so surprised with what occurred in Seville and it may even work in our favour in the long term.

No, I haven't been taking the happy pills but I have been giving this a lot of thought. First of all, although we missed the opportunity to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, and finish at the top of our group, we still have a game at home against Spartak Moscow in which to do so. The important thing is that no actual long term damage was done by our capitulation and it's crucial the players remember that. We have many difficult games yet to come this season and if this squad is made to feel like losers they'll play like losers. As it stands, nothing is lost.

If you think back to the Liverpool players that took to the field in Seville there wasn't actually a lot of big game European experience in the side and before Milner was substituted onto the pitch the side didn't contain any 'old heads'. The value of experience is often overlooked but what it often does is overcome panic and that's exactly what Liverpool did in the second half. Much is made of the Anfield atmosphere being the twelfth man but few seem to acknowledge other grounds could have the same effect on our players. For all of our faults in the second half of that game a Liverpool team, one that's fairly inexperienced at this level, walked out into a cauldron of light and sound and played a restructured Sevilla side that had clearly gone up a gear. I don't think, in hindsight, it is inexplicable why our side as a whole, not just individuals, lost their way.

It's probably apt to mention Moreno at this point. Unusually, I have a degree of sympathy for him. I don't think he should have ever started that game for what I thought were obvious reasons - 1) We know he's a 'passion player' - his heart dominates his head, 2) A few days previously his wife had given birth to a son: in terms of emotions and focus this could be an issue, 3) He was playing at his old club in front of friends, family and fans, 4) He was playing the team against whom he had his infamous Europa League final meltdown. He might have got away with playing had everything gone well but once things became difficult, and in the pressured environment we saw that night, any or all of these factors could have come into play. The reason I have sympathy is because I have a lot of respect for players who manage to turn their careers around. These days, in the court of public opinion most players get one chance. The idea that players can actually improve, given the chance, seems outdated so when a player actually makes the effort to reach a standard, and achieves it, that is something to be acknowledged. Whether Moreno will ever be the player Klopp wants him to be remains to be seen but it does no-one any good to bury him under avalanche of criticism, not until he's sold anyway.

There's no escaping it, I'm going to have to bring up Jordan Henderson, another player who has taken a battering in the media post-Sevilla. I actually thought he handled the first half well, nothing extravagant but perfectly acceptable. I, unlike many, don't have a problem with the way Henderson plays because we need at least one player in midfield that is more conservative than the others. Playing at full throttle as our team often does may be great on the eye but without someone helping to orchestrate the play it would lack direction and discipline. Henderson is often accused of 'only passing sideways and backwards' but few ask why he passes the way he does. To understand why I think you have to follow the evolution of the player since his arrival at Liverpool. When Henderson started out under Kenny he played as an attacking midfielder and was more direct. However, when Rodgers took over two important changes occurred - 1) Our play became more centred on passing, 2) Gerrard and then Henderson became clearly defined 'number 6's' whose responsibility was not just that of a defensive midfielder but also a builder of play. This role didn't necessarily mean getting the ball forward as quickly as possible, its primary purpose was to help create the openings and passes more attacking players could take advantage of. Look at Henderson's passing with that in mind - he receives the ball, looks up, can't see a productive pass so he lays the ball off to a wider player, the receiving player will either make a productive pass themselves or return the ball to Henderson. Whilst this exchange is taking place there should have been the movement of players up ahead so that when Henderson receives the ball again he has a new set of possible passing options to choose from. This is why both Rodgers and Klopp made/make the importance of being patient very clear. When Klopp took over from Rodgers he too used Henderson in the same role but the difference is Klopp's style of play is more direct and of a quicker tempo making Henderson's deliberations seem hesitant. For those still not convinced by Henderson, simply consider these questions - 1) Why hasn't Klopp simply asked Henderson to stop passing the ball sideways and backwards if that is what he wants, and 2) Given Klopp was perfectly willing to sell players like Benteke, Sakho and Allen when they didn't fit his requirements why would he retain Henderson if he can't even pass the ball in the manner he wants? Klopp didn't just retain Henderson, he kept him as captain.

It was Henderson's captaincy that was questioned against Sevilla. I'm not going to lie, I thought he was poor in that regard but I don't think simply labeling him a bad captain is explanation enough. If you watch the game back it's apparent Henderson does react to the situation but not really in the most productive way. His instinct is to clear the ball from the danger zone but because the players ahead of him were having such trouble maintaining possession it frequently came straight back into the Liverpool half. It's hard to judge how communicative Henderson was with his players during the second half because television cameras spend the majority of the time filming the spot where the ball is. Much of what happens off the ball remains unseen by the viewers at home, it is only those in the stadium who can really testify to the truth. Apart from trying to refocus Moreno, who was thankfully substituted (two goals too late), I'm not sure what else Henderson could have realistically done as events unfolded. It's one thing to coach a struggling player to the end of a game, it's another to carry half a team of players who have come unstuck. One thing that has annoyed me is the easy pot shots some people have been taking by comparing Henderson's captaincy to those of Gerrard and Souness. When Gerrard was captain he had Carragher organising everything behind him, the likes Alonso and Macherano helping keep order around him, and players like Kuyt being vocal up front. If I were to list the equivalent players under the captaincy of Souness during his tenure at the club I'd be here all day. Who in Henderson's team takes on the responsibility to help organise and motivate when things get tough, with the exception of Milner who is now part-time?  It is simply unfair to make comparisons between Gerrard and Henderson at this point, the latter has nowhere near the support network the former had. I think it's no coincidence that once Carragher retired Liverpool saw the infamous Crystal Palace collapse and the final day 6-1 rout at Stoke under no other than 'Captain Fantastic' Steven Gerrard. Collapses can happen to the best of captains, it would appear.

I genuinely believe what happened against Seville was a collective failure and the manager wasn't completely innocent. What puzzles me is how Klopp decided to approach the second half. The home side had taken a pounding but the stadium hadn't been quietened - the ingredients were there for a fightback. Further motivation was injected into the Spanish side after their manager, during the interval, informed his players he was suffering from cancer. Of course, Klopp wasn't to know this but what he did know was that his team were three goals ahead and didn't need to take risks. Given the renowned inconsistency of his defence surely some kind of defensive adjustment - be it in terms of tactics, formation or personnel - would've been reasonable considering the expected pressure his players would undoubtedly come under. When the Liverpool team appeared they didn't seem to approach the game any differently to how they did before the break. Players have said that they spoke about the potential dangers but it seems no further action was taken, no obvious change in tactics, no visible change in formation, no calculated change in personnel. Why is this significant? Because whatever happened one thing is for sure - Liverpool weren't prepared for what hit them. It's also important to acknowledge Henderson didn't actually create the problem, he reacted poorly to a problem that already existed.

Thankfully, all things Sevilla are now behind Liverpool and there's still one match left to achieve Champions League knockout stage qualification. The one positive in all of this is that it's only through experiences like this that a squad hardens. They shouldn't act so surprised if they find themselves in a similar situation and the analysis Klopp goes through with his players should be valuable in identifying areas of weakness under pressure. It is up to us, as supporters, to allow these lessons to be learnt and for the players move on.

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  • Excellent read Sam, cheers.

    A top class CB and a top class DM and our problems with conceding goals will be sorted out or at least conceding so many. There's so much frustration with this team and for obvious reasons but Klopp most definitely has to shoulder some blame as well. How he can persist with the likes of Moreno and Lovren is beyond me, we have other options in these position, Robertson/Gomez and when given the chance they have done well, why persist with two players that you know it's only a matter of time before they cost us goals and points and they do this on a regular basis. I'm guessing Klopp is hoping they suddenly become top defenders but i'm afraid in this case he might very well be delusional, simply not going to happen.

    Henderson gets a lot of flak and rightly so, he's the captain, he's supposed to inspire, encourage, motivate and be a leader, i don't see any of this coming from him and i don't think he has the full respect from the other players as our captain should. His passion for the game can't be questioned but you need much more than this to be the captain of any team never mind a club as big as LFC. We've had some amazing captains down the years and all have been unique in their own way but Henderson i feel won't be remembered in this way, he'll just be remembered for his sideways and backwards passing, rightly or wrongly that is a fact

    Yesterdays result against chelsea was another kick in the teeth, our 2nd in a week and this is why there's so much anger and frustration being aimed at this team and especialy the defence and until we change the personal at the back we will get used to these results, drawing/losing games from a winning position. The january window is not too far away now and we can only hope there are plans being put into action right now to solve these problems. If we go til the end of the season as we are it will cost us big time.

    • Thanks for reading it. One main point I was trying to make is that nothing we saw in that game happened in isolation. The collapse was so dramatic only because several factors happened at the same time. Saying it was Moreno's, Henderson's, Klopp's or the whole team's fault kind of misses the point, it was the combination of these factors, and others, that led to the result. If just one or two of these factors had occurred Liverpool would've probably have got away with it.

      I can accept people will have different opinions of Henderson, what I question is how those opinions are reached. It is just not physically possible for your average television viewer to fully appreciate Henderson's captaincy because much of it will occur beyond the view of cameras and earshot of microphones. When I've seen Henderson live he's always been very vocal. Some will say we conceded three goals after leading by three goals so Henderson must be a bad captain but so did Gerrard as captain against Crystal Palace. Was he a bad captain? You can't have one rule for one and not the other. People will bring up Istanbul but I would argue how likely would that result have been had Carragher not been on the pitch? If Liverpool sign a player with the attributes of Carra then we can really make comparisons between Gerrard and Henderson. I don't agree with your assessment that the players don't have full respect for Henderson, what is this based on? That they don't react to him on the pitch? Did Gerrard not have the respect of his players when they got walloped 6-1 against Stoke in his final game? Why didn't he turn their performance around if he did have their respect? The truth is you can have the best captain in the world but they still won't turn games around if their teammates aren't up to it, for whatever reason. In all the interviews I heard with current and past players where Henderson's been mentioned they've all been positive apart from one and that was with Joey Barton. I think that says it all. When it comes to the Henderson's game the only parts I have a real problem with are his close shot accuracy and his defensive positioning. As he's never been trained as a defensive player it's 50/50 whether he'll improve on this but it's Klopp's responsibility to make that call.

      I think Klopp will bring in further defensive players but whether he can get the necessary quality in January is doubtful. Until that can occur I can't see the point of crucifying players in the meantime, just making already struggling players struggle further. It might feel good but it won't help results.

  • When i say the other players don't respect Henderson what i mean is as a captain not as a human being, of course they respect the person, i just don't think they look up to him as their captain. He doesn't have the presence of a Gerrard, Cara, Terry of Kompany to name but a few. 

    I think the crucifying of some players is necessary, supporters can't be expected to say nothing, so long as the criticisim is constructive i see no harm in it, you would hope the player would improve his game to prove people wrong, at least that's how i react to criticisim. I think only weak willed people go in the other direction and flounder, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, as the saying goes. If the players i mentioned are feeling the heat from supporters they should react in a positive way, much like Moreno has done this season, until his inevitable brain freeze against sevilla.

    • Not all captains are the same type. Hyypia, Pirlo, Iniesta and even Bobby Moore - all captains that took a lower key approach on the field but were effective nevertheless. A lot Liverpool of players have commented on how Henderson helps them off the pitch, especially when they arrive at the club. That kind of thing builds trust and goodwill which translates onto the pitch. Could Henderson be more commanding? Maybe, but he hasn't got the leaders around him, like Gerrard had, to enforce commands in different areas of the pitch. There is another problem. When captains return from long injuries they have to re-establish their form and that can be difficult. At times they can be so concerned with their own form their decision-making as captain can suffer. That certainly happened to Gerrard on occasions and I fear Henderson is going through one of those patches himself. I don't think he looks very confident at the moment.

      When it comes to criticism I might agree with you if we were talking about thirty years ago but the internet has changed the whole dynamic of fandom. When a player has a nightmare game it doesn't just get reported in a paper, it literally gets broadcast all over the world via the Web and tens of millions of people comment on it, many going well overboard as we saw with the death threat to Lovren's family, although admittedly that was at the extreme end of the spectrum. What the internet does to fans is give them license to go further than they normally would because it's easy to find agreement with others and there are few consequences for what they say. This can create a kind of disproportionate 'witch hunt' culture at times where there always has to be someone to blame for a team's loss and a price must be paid for failure, ranging from substitution to execution in the minds of some. Struggling players can quickly become pariahs and this often translates to the terraces. If a player is failing due to lack of effort I have no sympathy with them but this is rarely the case these days. Most players fail due to psychological reasons, unsound technique or bad management. These are things that can't be altered with the flick of a switch so booing, ironic clapping or outbursts of swearing will do little to help. I don't know whether Moreno can keep up his good form but at least he went away and worked on his problems over a long period of time and that's what struggling players usually have to do to put significant problems right. He didn't need tens of millions of people to tell him to do that, he knew it and Klopp would've told him as well. I don't, and have never, seen the point in actions that reduce further the confidence levels of players who are already struggling, be it at matches or on the internet, it's self-defeating. I'm not talking about the occasional annoyance with a player after a match, I'm talking about the disproportionate responses that build over a period of time and manifest themselves at matches and on the Net.

  • Nice blog Uncle., but I wonder why you just burden JK with some of the blame?  Why not most of the blame?  He has kept two of the most incompetent defenders in the EPL on the team despite cries for their scalps.  Name another top coach (or team) that would have kept the two this long in their tenure.  Mo?  Pep? Conte?  Why has Klopp been so forgiving of these two when they have cost us much so often?  In fact, except for the aborted attempt  to sign VvD, Klopp has seemingly been uninterested in rebuilding the defence yet it continues to gift goals to the opposition.  It defies all logic for Lovren and Moreno to be on the team yet they are and (get this) also first choice when healthy.  Why, Why, Why, Why. WHY?

    • It would be disingenuous to say Lovren and Moreno haven't had good games as well as bad this season and therein lies the problem. Klopp is an optimist by nature and in the case of Moreno he obviously thinks he can see enough in him to make him a better player. To be fair to Klopp, up until Sevilla Moreno had been performing better but I think once things started to go wrong in Seville it was likely to be a perfect storm that would bring out the worst in the full back. The question is whether Klopp can make Moreno good enough on a consistent basis and especially in the high pressure games? We all have our own opinions on that. Whatever we think, it's up to Klopp to make that decision and live with the consequences.

      I think the situation is different with Lovren. Had Klopp managed to secure VvD then Lovren would've fallen down the pecking order and we wouldn't be having these discussions. Therefore, the questions are why didn't we secure VvD and why didn't we have an alternative? I tend to think these were issues beyond Klopp's direct control, the transfer committee should've been on top of them, so when the season started without a signing Klopp had no choice but to make the best of the players he had. That's why I think Klopp is partially but not wholly responsible for the defensive situation.
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