LIVERPOOL, England — Here are three thoughts from Liverpool’s 2-2 Champions League draw with Sevilla at Anfield.
1. Liverpool blow chance of a strong start
Liverpool should now be at the top of Champions League Group E after a convincing win over Sevilla, but their failure to capitalise on a host of opportunities against the Spanish outfit saw Jurgen Klopp’s team waste a golden chance.
Sevilla emerged with a 2-2 draw at Anfield after punishing Liverpool for their wastefulness, with Joaquin Correa’s second-half equaliser earning a point. Defensive mistakes and poor finishing cost Liverpool dearly in a game that they dominated against their most likely rivals for the top spot in the group. And it could have been so much worse for Jurgen Klopp’s team had Luis Muriel not dragged an effort wide with a clear chance in the third minute of stoppage time.
Perhaps Liverpool’s absence from Europe last season showed, and maybe their lack of Champions League football in recent years was another factor, because they were naive at times. In Europe, it is all about taking chances when they come. Liverpool failed, but Sevilla did not.
Many will point to Roberto Firmino’s missed penalty just before half-time as being key to Liverpool’s failure to see the game out.
Winning home games in the Champions League is crucial, and Liverpool know they should have three points. Anfield should be a fortress, as it has been in the past, but it was not a cauldron on this occasion. It was a missed opportunity and, with a trip to Spartak Moscow in two weeks’ time, Liverpool need to make amends quickly.
2. Liverpool need to find their balance
Liverpool’s Champions League campaign is unlikely to rest on how many goals they will score. Rather, it is likely to depend on how well they do in keeping them out of the net at the other end. With a favourable group to negotiate, Jurgen Klopp’s team should safely find their way into the knockout stages, but they will need to tighten up at the back if they are to have any hope of going deep into the competition.
They are so exciting going forward, with Mo Salah, Firmino and Sadio Mane offering pace and purpose, that they will give any opponents’ defence a testing time. But against the best teams in the Champions League, their back four will come under huge scrutiny, and there were enough worrying moments against Sevilla to suggest that they will have a long night against Barcelona or Real Madrid.
Alberto Moreno is the biggest problem, with the left-back beaten time and again by Jesus Navas. Moreno gets forward well, but defensively, he is a liability. Goalkeeper Loris Karius, once again selected ahead of Simon Mignolet, does not inspire confidence in those around him, while Dejan Lovren’s careless mistake for Sevilla’s fifth-minute opener was symptomatic of the defensive issues that have plagued Klopp’s Liverpool.
Then came a mistake by Joel Matip in the closing stages, when he lost possession on the touchline only to see Sevilla fail to take advantage. But for their forwards, Liverpool would be beaten by the first strong team they face in the Champions League, but with such attacking qualities, they will always have a chance — if the back four can avoid a bad night.
Joe Gomez’s getting sent off at the end of the game means he will miss out against Spartak, so at least one position must be changed.
3. Coutinho back but not his old self
If Philippe Coutinho had any fears over his treatment at the hands of Liverpool’s supporters following his failure to secure a summer move to Barcelona, the warm reception he received as a second-half substitute might have surprised him.
By asking for a transfer, Coutinho risked ruining his previously strong relationship with the Liverpool fans, but, for now at least, his so-called sins have been forgiven. How long that lasts will depend on what Coutinho does from this point onward.
Having been given just over 15 minutes to make a difference with the score 2-2, Coutinho struggled to make any real impact. But now that the fans have chosen to give him a chance to redeem himself, Coutinho has to take it. With Burnley due at Anfield at the weekend and Sadio Mane set to begin his three-match domestic suspension, Coutinho might well start against Sean Dyche’s team.
If he can conjure a match-winning contribution, he will go some way to repaying the fans’ faith in him, even if it is only a sticking plaster before he gets his dream move to the Camp Nou at the end of the season.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_