Liverpool players let Klopp down in Europa League final loss to Sevilla
BASEL, Switzerland -- As Sevilla turned on the style in the Spanish club's 3-1 victory over Liverpool in the Europa League final in Basel on Wednesday, Jurgen Klopp turned to the travelling Kop and tried to rouse them. It failed. The fans could not help. His team had let him down.
"We lost faith," the 48-year-old said. "I am responsible, too. I have no criticism of my players."
In the cold light of day, he may reassess that comment. "We have to use this experience," he added. Experience should show that a number of this squad are not good enough to succeed at this level. An eighth-place Premier League position and two cup final defeats are all Liverpool are left with despite the boundless optimism of the Klopp era that started in October. Reality hit home in Switzerland.
Liverpool led 1-0 at half-time courtesy of a sublime goal from Daniel Sturridge, and indeed could have been further ahead. Calamity struck quickly in the second period, though.
The whistle to restart the game was still echoing round St. Jakob-Park when Kevin Gameiro equalised after two critical mistakes by Alberto Moreno. After that, the English club were never in it. Coke scored twice, and even though Liverpool claimed that the third goal should have been ruled offside, it was correctly allowed to stand, and the Premier League side could not legitimately suggest the final score was unfair. The second-half performance was the most shambolic of Klopp's Anfield tenure.
"We never started in the second half and it is devastating," Liverpool captain James Milner said . "We didn't show near our ability, and that is the biggest disappointment. We gave a sloppy goal away and never got back into the game."
The defeat was even more bitter because Sevilla claimed the Champions League spot that comes with the Europa League trophy. The chance to play in Europe's most significant competition was even more valuable to Klopp than the cup because it would have allowed him to recruit players of higher quality. His rebuilding job must now be continued in the absence of European football.
The warning signs were there from the start. Sevilla's front four attacking players looked sharper and trickier from the beginning. Gameiro led the line tirelessly, but the three players behind him -- Coke on the right, Ever Banega in the middle and Vitolo on the left -- played with a style and energy that their Liverpool counterparts could only envy.
Banega was everywhere, busy and neat on the edge of his own box, and menacing and incisive around the opposition's 18-yard area. Nothing quite came off for Sevilla in the opening 45 minutes, but the portents were clear and went unheeded.
The contrast with Liverpool's front four was marked, even though the Merseysiders took the lead 10 minutes before half-time.
Sturridge had struggled to make an impact, but the 26-year-old has a predator's instinct when his mind is tuned in to the game. When Philippe Coutinho touched the ball to the striker on the edge of the area, Sevilla's defence was well set, and it appeared it would take something remarkable to create a goal. Sturridge obliged. He curled the ball with the outside of his foot so delicately and deviously that Sevilla keeper David Soria could only watch as it nestled in the corner of the net. It was a goal of stunning quality. Liverpool came close to extending their lead, but a penalty appeal was turned down and Dejan Lovren's headed goal was disallowed for offside against Sturridge.
Sturridge's work rate compared badly with Gameiro's, though, and the three Liverpool players behind Sturridge were a pale imitation of Sevilla's attacking trio. Roberto Firmino contributed little, Coutinho was fitful and imprecise with his passing, and though Adam Lallana played well, he never really appeared to be able to turn the game.
Emre Can was the best of Klopp's midfielders, dropping into defence and allowing Nathaniel Clyne to range down the line while Kolo Toure ventured upfield. Can's disciplined performance helped keep Sevilla's attack at bay during the first half. It demonstrated that Klopp's organisational and inspirational abilities can be effective with the right players. It all unraveled after the equaliser, though. Even Can was bypassed in the second period as the Spanish side swarmed forward.
Klopp has complained about individual mistakes, and Moreno is one of the most serious perpetrators. First, the left-back headed weakly out to Mariano Ferreira, but then, as the Sevilla defender drove into the box, Moreno's challenge was even more timid than his header. Ferreira crossed and Gameiro had the easiest of tap-ins.
Liverpool fell apart. Within moments, Banega spit the defence and Gameiro raced through on goal. His touch was uncertain, though, and Simon Mignolet was able to stop the threat. Not for long, though.
The goal that put Sevilla into the lead in the 64th minute was a masterpiece of movement and intellect. Vitolo played one-twos with first Coke and then Banega as the threesome ran Liverpool ragged. Coke, who started the move, finished it with a clipped shot into the net. Liverpool were struggling and Klopp looked helplessly to the supporters.
Five minutes later it was all over. Coke might have appeared to be standing offside upon receiving the ball but was not in such a position when one of his teammates last touched the ball, which subsequently ricocheted off two Liverpool deflections to the Sevilla captain. He rammed a shot home, and though the assistant referee flagged for offside, he was overruled by the referee.
Klopp has some serious thinking to do during the summer. His goalkeeper and defenders are error-prone and his midfield is lightweight. His attempts to change the shape to counter Sevilla's dominance as the game slipped away were disappointingly ineffective.
In mitigation, these are not Klopp's players. He will be in control of the summer's recruitment and has a chance to fashion a side of his own. A victory in Basel would have allowed him to shop in the transfer marker from a position of strength. Now, he will do so from weakness. The mess will take some unpicking, and few of these players, or the fans, will be able to give the manager much succour.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC on the Premier League. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.