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.