Erratic Liverpool show an infuriating innocence and lack of leadership
Tuesday night's 3-3 draw in Seville showed why Liverpool can win the Champions League this season. It also showed why they probably won't.
Supporters were subjected to the best and worst of Jurgen Klopp's team in a schizophrenic display in which they raced into a 3-0 lead, only to throw it away with a pitiful, embarrassing second half collapse.
Liverpool's players came out after half time as though the game was won and they dropped their intensity. When you do that it's often hard to get it back, and they quickly found themselves under pressure and unable to get out of their own half. Still, that can happen and good teams need to be able to deal with it and weather the storm. Successful sides can dig in when they need to and if the situation calls for it, they'll employ "gamesmanship," too. At the top level you have to be streetwise, and Liverpool just aren't.
There is no leadership on the pitch when things go wrong, and that's a big problem, but why are the players not being instructed by Klopp to relieve the pressure by faking injury and breaking up play? It's the oldest trick in the book because it's an effective one. All the top teams do it. Except Liverpool. They used to, back when they won things. Now there's an infuriating innocence about them. They allowed wave after wave of Sevilla attacks to come at them and made no attempt to slow the game down or stem the home side's momentum and frustrate the crowd. It's naive, and some might even call it unprofessional.
Disappointing as it was, the result shouldn't actually be too damaging as Liverpool still top the group and have qualification in their own hands. Normally a draw in a difficult place like Seville is a good result, but not when it is achieved like this.
Victory in Spain would have made the final group game against Spartak Moscow a meaningless match and Liverpool could have given all their stars the night off ahead of the Merseyside derby the following weekend. Now, Klopp will have to go full strength against Moscow.
The Reds' boss said afterwards: "Could we have done better? One hundred percent. Do I think it's a mentality problem? One hundred percent not."
Sorry, but it clearly is a mentality problem because it happens too often. This was the fifth time under Klopp that the Reds have failed to win despite holding at least a two-goal advantage and, incredibly, it was the third time they have not beaten Sevilla after leading at half time.
Two years ago, Liverpool collapsed in similar fashion, conceding three times in a second half horror show to lose the Europa League final 3-1 to Sevilla in Basel. Yet almost all of the players involved that night are still at the club and the same player who was blamed by many for that debacle is also being blamed for this one.
In fairness, Alberto Moreno has been much better this season. There has been clear improvement in his defensive play, but all of the old doubts about him will return after this shambolic performance. For many, those doubts never really went away and this will therefore not have been a surprise.
Moreno has been particularly erratic against his old club and it is almost certainly a result of him trying too hard to impress. He carries his share of the blame for the Europa League final loss and also for this latest collapse, but it isn't just on him.
Moreno's errors led to two goals, but he wasn't to blame for Liverpool coming out flat for the second half and being unable to string more than two or three passes together. He wasn't responsible for the huge drop-off in Liverpool's play from first half to second, but he was the one most exposed by it.
While he has improved this year, the Spaniard is not -- and probably never will be -- a "backs-to-the-wall" type of defender. He has shown of late that he can be effective when Liverpool are playing on the front foot and controlling the game and the praise he's received in recent weeks has been deserved, as is the criticism that will no doubt come his way now.
Some perspective is needed, though. The Reds have had numerous defensive breakdowns this season but few, if any, had involved Moreno. Clear progress has been made on that front, but the problem is when Liverpool are forced back and Moreno is targeted, as he was against Sevilla, he tends to become rash and make poor decisions.
Moreno must not let this one bad day at the office undo the good work he's done so far this season. He needs to learn from it, but not dwell on it. He has worked hard to re-establish himself this year and this is just one bad game. It can happen to anyone; the key is to ensure that nights like this are few and far between.
Moreno has shown a lot of character to salvage his Liverpool career when all looked lost, but the biggest test of that character will come the next time he is selected.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.