Jurgen Klopp said that this was “the game” in his pre-match press conference and he couldn’t have been more on the money. His side squandered a 3-0 half-time lead to draw at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in the penultimate game of the group stage on Tuesday night.
While the German had close to a full compliment to choose from for the game with only Joel Matip an absentee, Eduardo Berizzo had greater issues with defensive trio Simon Kjaer, Daniel Carriço and Nico Pareja all sidelined.
The Reds, who are in a rich vein of form since their 4-1 defeat to Tottenham, needed just eight seconds to make their mark on the scoresheet; Philippe Coutinho’s near post corner was flicked on by Gini Wijnaldum to an unmarked Roberto Firmino who poked the ball home at the back post despite the angle being against him.
The early setback wouldn’t perturb the hosts, though. Sergio Escudero had his side’s first sighter after being set free down the left by the trickery of Nolito, only to drive his shot into the side netting.
Nolito then won his second personal battle with right-back Joe Gomez, cutting in onto his right foot before side footing his effort towards the bottom corner, only for Loris Karius to get a superb left hand on it to push it onto the post.
The German stopper was beaten just moments later when a neat reverse pass put Wissam Ben Yedder in on goal behind Ragnar Klavan, but the Frenchman poked his shot inches wide of the far post.
However, just when the hosts thought keeper Sergio Rico he had saved his team when he threw a leg out to block from Firmino who raced through on goal, they were undone by an identical set play to the first goal; this time Firmino flicking the ball on to an unmarked Sadio Mane who stooped low to head past the hapless Sergio Rico.
By the half-hour mark, Liverpool had inflicted a third blow on the Andalusians. Mane left Johannes Geis for dead as he latched onto a long ball from Klavan, but again Rico was equal to the one-on-one, but could do nothing to prevent Firmino from tapping into an empty net.
By this stage, the intensity drained out of the home side’s play, no longer buoyed by the pre-match pyrotechnics and electric atmosphere of the opening minutes.
In fact, Liverpool ought to have had a fourth when Coutinho slid in Mohamed Salah, but again Rico’s left leg denied the Merseysiders.
Jurgen Klopp’s side went into the break much the better side, but his counterpart, Eduardo Berizzo, who introduced Franco Vazquez for Steven N’Zonzi, saw his reinvigorated in the second 45, getting a goal back within six minutes of the restart. Alberto Moreno, whose performance against Sevilla in the Europa League final in 2016 still defines his Liverpool career, was the villain of the piece again, giving away a needless freekick on the left wing before being beaten to the ball at the near post by Ben Yedder who nodded past a rooted Karius.
The Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan then found its voice again while the men in red on the pitch seemed to lose theirs as Sevilla took back control. They bagged their second as a result of yet another Moreno error – his mistimed tackle on Ben Yedder gifted the hosts a penalty and a chance to reduce their deficit further. Ben Yedder, who has been on fire in the tournament, sent Karius the wrong way twice in the twice-taken spotkick.
Klopp reacted to this blow immediately, withdrawing both Moreno and Coutinho for the more defensively-minded James Milner and Emre Can. This had the desired effect as far as Liverpool were concerned with the space suddenly compacted and the resurgent home side kept under wraps.
Mane could have finished off the tie in the 81st minute when he was put through on goal by Can’s lofted pass, but the Senegalese volleyed over the bar.
At this stage, though, Sevilla looked the most likely to get the game’s decisive goal and in stoppage time, Liverpool’s Achilles heel came back to haunt them when Klavan’s weak header from the corner fell at the feet of Guido Pizarro to sweep home with his left foot.