Sevilla soar to third straight Europa League crown as Liverpool flop in Basel
BASEL, Switzerland -- Three quick thoughts from Sevilla's 3-1 win over Liverpool in the Europa League final on Wednesday.
1. Sevilla soar as Liverpool flop in Basel
For manager Jurgen Klopp, it was a fifth lost final in succession. For Liverpool, after a Premier League season in which they finished eighth, European football, and the prize of a Champions League group place that Sevilla will again enjoy, will not be returning to Anfield next season.
Perhaps they could take lessons from the Spanish side, who finished 40 points behind Barcelona in this season's Liga, and yet still pulled off the amazing feat of winning a third Europa League in a row. The last team to win the same European trophy three consecutive years was the Bayern Munich team of Franz Beckenbauer, winning three European Cups from 1974 to 1976. This was Sevilla's fifth success in this competition within 10 years. For a club dwarfed by an institution the size of Liverpool, let alone Barcelona and Real Madrid, it is a stunning achievement.
Meanwhile, Basel provided compelling, damning evidence of the rebuilding job that Klopp must perform on Liverpool. His team were soundly beaten by an opponent of class and poise.
At half-time, it had looked as if Liverpool could grasp their first European trophy since 2005's Champions League win, only their second glint of silverware of the past decade. With an impudent waft of the outside of his right foot in the 34th minute, Daniel Sturridge, seizing on Philippe Coutinho's through pass, gave Sevilla keeper David Soria no chance.
Liverpool were undone when left-back Alberto Moreno's lax defending, which had already been a worrying feature of the night, allowed overlapping right-back Mariano Ferreira to set up Kevin Gameiro to equalise with less than a minute gone in the second half.
Whereas before half-time, Liverpool had missed chances to double or even treble their lead, Sevilla stepped up and should already have scored when Gameiro struck a one-on-one straight at Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. Coke's driving finish for his 64th-minute goal, arriving on the ball after an interchange between Ever Banega and Vitolo had prised open a gaping hole in Liverpool's defence, was a lead deserved on the balance of play.
His second, six minutes later, awarded after a delay that followed a linesman waving an offside flag and the referee overruling him, had again resulted from a lapse on that Liverpool left flank. With captain Coke's second, the die was cast for Liverpool and Sevilla seized more history.
2. Klopp and fans reflect Liverpool's nerves
As expected, Liverpool fans outnumbered their Sevilla counterparts at a ratio of around five to one within St Jakob Park. With travel arrangements complicated, it had taken most of the day for the prematch party to get fully started, but those in red were in full voice by kickoff.
Sevilla's fans were confined to a corner behind a goal, but once the game began, dominated the night air with constant singing while Liverpool's fans were quietened by a similar anxiety to that gripping their team.
Before the match, Liverpool fans had been asked by a pitchside interviewer who their team's match-winner might be. The answer of Coutinho was unanimous, but aside from that key pass to Sturridge, the Brazilian could not get into the game -- nor could the equally disappointing Roberto Firmino.
Liverpool were too often penned in, their touches heavy, with Emre Can defending desperately in front of his defence. In the early stages, Klopp, maintaining his usual position on the very edge of the technical area, was not yet in panic mode but his folded arms and fidgeting suggested a growing dissatisfaction. By the half-hour mark, he was baring his teeth in rage, and by Coke's second was in deep, impotent despair.
It took Liverpool until the 27th minute for them to be able to mount anything approaching a patient buildup. They were being harried and hurried in midfield, even if Sturridge had by then had a header cleared off the line and an angled shot saved by Soria.
For the last 15 minutes of the first half, and especially after Sturridge's strike, all appeared sweetness and light, but then came the gloom that followed Gameiro's goal. It took the sting out of the Liverpool fans, and when Klopp urged them to rouse themselves in the edgy moments that followed, he did not receive a response to his liking. And, in the end, his team similarly disappointed.
3. Sevilla show class of serial holders
The pace of change at Sevilla was represented by there being only four player returning from the starting XI of last season's Europa League final: Banega, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Vitolo and Daniel Carrico. It made little difference.
Sevilla's dominance of this competition clearly lent itself to the confidence with which they began the game, with Banega in particular strutting his stuff when making some winding solo runs through midfield.
The Spanish club were physically strong, highly robust in midfield and in right-back Ferreira, had an overlapping full-back of clear quality against the obvious weakness of Moreno on Liverpool's left. Winning that individual duel pulled Sevilla back level, after Ferreira cut the ball through Moreno's legs before crossing to Gameiro.
It was a bitter psychological blow for Liverpool. Sturridge's goal really should have been added in those moments when Sevilla, knocked out of their stride, started conceding possession in dangerous areas. Dejan Lovren had the ball in the net, but Sturridge's run to chase it in caused him to be ruled offside.
It was a severe let-off for Sevilla and would allow manager Unai Emery thinking time to pull his team back into the game during the half-time break. That was a chance this competition's serial holders did not pass up.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.