On Wednesday night, Liverpool will come up against their first opponent in the Champions League. They played them only 15 months ago in the Europa League, so one would expect that the team they will be facing will not be too different. With teams in La Liga and especially Sevilla, things staying the same for longer than a year rarely happens.
A team in transition
This Liverpool side has developed since the 2015-16 season. Players have come and gone, but Jürgen Klopp has continued his work and kept his key players together. In the same time, however, almost everything about Sevilla has changed. Half of the starting 11 from the Europa League final that season are no longer at the club, and they have changed manager twice, got rid of their captain, sold their star goal scorer at the time, and even lost their famous Director of Football, Monchi.
Despite all these changes, they are still a very good side, but under new manager Eduardo Berizzo, they are a good side who are searching for their identity.
League and Champions League Form
Last season, Sevilla cruised to fourth in La Liga under now Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli. In their first three fixtures of this campaign, against Espanyol, Getafe and Eibar, they picked up seven points out of a possible nine. This weekend’s 3-0 victory over the latter was their most convincing performance by far.
Their performance in Champions League qualifying was far from self-assured and saw them clinging on in the final minutes against Istanbul Basaksehir. They are currently far from the free-flowing attacking threat they were in the past, but they have shown glimpses of their potential in several games this season.
Under their new coach, Sevilla have adopted a 4-1-4-1 formation. By using a single sitting defensive midfielder they have allowed the other midfielders to push forward. This is reminiscent of the early formations used by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Guardiola has subsequently moved away from this formation, finding his teams caught out by the fast transitional dynamic of the Premier League. Liverpool will hope that they can take advantage of this on Wednesday night.
In the 2016 final in Basel, Liverpool were ripped apart by the stunning performances of Coke and Kevin Grameiro, neither of whom are still at the club. Sevilla have used the money from the sales to purchase multiple forward options rather than one main man. In many ways, this makes them a far more dangerous attacking force.
In Ben Yedder they have a young talent who has already attracted many top clubs. Sevilla took a chance by signing him, and he repaid them with 18 goals in all competitions last season. Luis Murial, signed this summer, is a talented player who has been around for a long time but never got his move. They will be hoping he can finally reach his potential with them.
Whichever of the forwards plays, both offer fast moving attacking options. In general play they will each drag defenders out of position, and be willing to let wider players move into the centre. It will take defensive organisation and discipline to keep them quiet for the 90 minutes, something Liverpool lack.
Sevilla’s midfield has many qualities, one of the most obvious of which is its wingers. In Jesus Navas and Nolito, they have two players who will be familiar faces for Liverpool supporters. Both struggled after moving to Manchester City, but at a smaller Spanish club have shined. What they will offer is a tricky contest for their opposition’s full-backs, both of whom have looked less than convincing at times this season.
Steven N’Zonzi, once of Stoke City, carries the lion’s share of the defensive responsibility for Sevilla. Grzegorz Krychowiak, on loan at West Brom from Paris Saint-Germain, gave a fantastic performance in the final against Liverpool in 2016. In replacing him with the playmaker Ganso, Sevilla have substituted some of the steel from their midfield in favour of creativity and the ability to move the ball fast. This will be an important element of the game and one Liverpool will need to control if they wish to dictate the style of play.
Can Liverpool get at them?
As Sevilla have only conceded a single goal in the league this season, there isn’t a clear blueprint for how to get at Berizzo’s side. The goals they have conceded across all competitions suggest that with one defensive midfielder they are susceptible to quick transitions when they lose the ball. In the six games Liverpool have played this year, this has been the key to their attacking success, and will give them hope they can trouble the Sevilla defence.
Equally, the conversion of chances will play a significant role. Saturday’s game against Manchester City could have been a completely different affair if Liverpool had put away their early opportunities. Against Sevilla, the Reds are likely to get an equally scarce number of chances. If they cannot put them away in clinical fashion, they may well come to rue another bad result.
For all their quality on the ball, Sevilla are far from an unbeatable side. They have the tools up front to hurt their opponents, but equally Liverpool can hurt them in return. It will be vital for them to stifle the supply rather than deal with the attacking threat. If Klopp’s side can command the midfield battle, with Sadio Mané, Mohammed Salah, Roberto Firmino and the probable return of Philippe Coutinho further up the pitch, they should have too much for Sevilla.
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