Sevilla and their manager Unai Emery created history in Switzerland on Wednesday night as they became the first team to win the UFEA Europa League three times in a row. Sevilla came from behind to win 3-1 in a game that featured some chaotic attacking and fantastic finishing – Daniel Sturridge’s opener the pick of the bunch. Jurgen Klopp has now lost his second final as Liverpool manager and miss out on a chance to play Champions League football next season. Here are five things we learned from a breathtaking final.
5. Where’s Moreno?
Alberto Moreno was all at sea for Sevilla’s equaliser just 17 seconds into the second half. Firstly a poor headed clearance and then missed a tackle on Mariano before getting nutmegged. A nightmare 17 seconds for Moreno and after that he capitulated. We’ve seen similar performances from the Spanish left back in the past but on the biggest stage of his Liverpool career he fell to pieces after playing a big hand in dragging Sevilla, who had been awful in the first half, back into the game. Moreno nearly gave away another goal as he was caught ball watching while the electric Kevin Gameiro drifted off him. Only Simon Mignolet prevented it from getting worse a lot sooner.
Moreno’s miserable night was capped off when Coke ghosted in on the left hand side to controversially put the Spanish outfit 3-1 up to complete an total defensive collapse from the entire Liverpool team – save for Kolo Toure who was excellent on the night.
4. Game of two halves
The biggest cliché in football was evident in this final. Liverpool were in complete control in the early stages of the game and Sturridge’s outstanding, bending shot which found the right side of the goal was Liverpool’s just desserts. Liverpool were dominant and could have had another goal or two before the break – even having a Dejan Lovren goal disallowed for Sturridge in an offside position and flailing his leg at the ball, thus interfering with play. Sturridge, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho ran proceedings and it was the English side that looked like the back-to-back winners of the competition.
Then all the momentum was sucked from Liverpool in the opening 17 seconds of the second half. Sevilla looked reenergised. It must have been the team talk of his life from Emery as his side came at Liverpool in waves and never looked like relenting. Klopp could only look on in concern as he saw his full backs exposed, wingers pinned back and his forward isolated up front struggling to hold up the ball. The German manager threw on Divock Origi and Christian Benteke on to try and give Sturridge some support but it was too late, Sevilla were in cruise control. Gameiro, Coke, Mariano and Ever Banega extinguished any Liverpool attacking threat and gave their defence nightmares.
3. Credit Klopp
When Jurgen Klopp came to Liverpool in October he inherited a Brendan Rodgers side that needed ‘so much work’. Fast forward to the middle of May and he’s taken them to two finals. Granted that they lost both but nobody envisioned that Klopp could work such wonders with the group of players he inherited. Liverpool fans will no doubt hurt now but they will be immensely proud of what they have achieved since Klopp arrived. Liverpool do need to recruit a number of players in the summer but they are in good hands with the charismatic German. James Milner said after the game that they didn’t do themselves justice on the night but knocking out rivals Manchester United, their comeback against Borussia Dortmund and their brilliant display against Villarreal will be moments to look back on with pride. None of this was even in a Liverpool fan’s dreams before Klopp came in.
2. Width killed Liverpool
Emery is an astute tactician when it comes to making changes at half time and on the fly. He set up his side to attack the flanks of Liverpool and it paid off. Mariano bombed up and down the right hand side at will and while Moreno was exposed he had very little help from Philippe Coutinho. Nathaniel Clyne on the other side faired a little better although he too had some hairy moments and it was from his side that the ball came in for Coke’s second goal that effectively killed off the game.
The beneficiary from the increase in width was French forward Gameiro who found more space through the middle as the second half went on. Soon after he scored his 29th goal of the season to put his side back on level terms he could have put them ahead breaking down the centre of the pitch only for Toure to make a superb last ditch tackle. Emery won the battle of tactics and in the end it became a rather comfortable victory.
1. Emery’s stock rising
A third Europa League will no doubt prick up the ears of bigger clubs around Europe. In three years the former Valencia boss has lifted three European titles and he has done it while losing his best players year after year. Ivan Rakitic, Carlos Bacca, Federico Fazio, Aleix Vidal and Moreno himself have all moved on since Sevilla won the first of their hattrick of titles in 2014. To keep replenishing the squad with so many key players leaving – not to mention rotational players being on the move too, Emery has done an incredible job to maintain the level of success he has done.
The knock on him may be that his side does not perform well in the Champions League but when you consider that during the Champions League group stages the squad may still be gelling then it is no surprise at their exit from Europe’s biggest competition.
It will be interesting to see if any big clubs in England, France or Italy start to sniff around the Sevilla manager with European success so hard to come his unique triumph will have put him on every club’s radar.