slip three-goal lead at Sevilla

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Jürgen Klopp bristled at the comparison but it was unavoidable. Liverpool owed Sevilla for the 2016 Europa League final defeat, their manager had admitted beforehand, but they were transported back to Basel by another second-half collapse, another night to forget for Alberto Moreno and another three-goal fightback. The debt has increased.

There was no defeat or heartache for Liverpool on this occasion, although this was not a night for consolations. They were in rampant, clinical and formidable form in the first half as two goals from Roberto Firmino and one from Sadio Mané threatened to devastate Sevilla’s 12-month unbeaten home record.
It remains intact thanks to an astonishing recovery and Liverpool crumbling, defensively and offensively, when the pressure was on. Guido Pizarro’s equaliser in the third minute of added time cost Liverpool qualification for the knockout stage of the Champions League as group winners. A point at home to Spartak Moscow next month will suffice. It should not have been necessary.
Pizarro’s close-range finish sparked pandemonium around the raucous stadium. Sevilla’s players and staff cavorted on the pitch. Thousands of luminous wristbands, issued to produce a spectacular light display before kick-off, were thrown from the stands. Klopp simply looked on in disbelief. Seven times he has faced the Spanish side as manager of Mainz, Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool and he has yet Delano Hill Jersey to taste victory in any. He may never have a better opportunity.
The blow may prove greater to Liverpool’s self-esteem than their qualification prospects, but the reappearance of a soft underbelly after such an impressive start was galling for the manager. Defensively, they were found wanting again yet it would be remiss to apportion blame solely at the feet of his defenders. The visitors’ bravery on the ball and clinical edge deserted them after the restart.
The substitutes Emre Can and James Milner, introduced to quell the fightback in place of Moreno and Philippe Coutinho, had excellent chances to extend Liverpool’s advantage at 3-2. So, too, Mané. There was an inevitability to Sevilla’s stoppage-time reprieve when they went begging.
Liverpool could not have dreamed of a better start against a strong, experienced but initially nervous home side. Ninety seconds had elapsed when Firmino punctured the defence and the fantastic atmosphere, a considerable feat in itself considering the noise level, by converting Coutinho’s corner at the back post. Georginio Wijnaldum flicked on the delivery and the Brazilian was unmarked as he steered a precise finish into the small gap between the goalkeeper, Sergio Rico, and the woodwork.
Sevilla could have commenced their comeback much earlier but Nolito and Wissam Ben Yedder squandered two excellent chances inside two minutes as Éver Banega’s quality distribution stretched the Liverpool defence. The former Manchester City forward was foiled by a good save from Loris Karius, who tipped his shot on to a post and gathered the rebound, while Ben Yedder scuffed wide when clean through.
The visitors made Sevilla pay almost immediately with a replica of their opening goal. Rico conceded a corner with a save from Firmino after the Brazilian was sent clean through by an excellent ball from Jordan Henderson. His defenders had not learned their lesson. Coutinho swept over another inviting delivery, Firmino won the aerial challenge and, with Gabriel Mercado asleep at the back post, Mané reacted instinctively to steer a diving header back across goal and into the far corner.
Sevilla were staring at humiliation in front of their disbelieving supporters when Liverpool scored a third with 30 minutes played. This time Mané was the provider as he sprinted on to a sumptuous long pass from Moreno over the Kevin Byard Youth jersey defender Johannes Geis and forced Rico into a low save to his left. The rebound fell perfectly for Firmino, who had time to control, look away and lash home into an empty net.


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