I watched the Europa League Final last night in a pub near Kings Cross station in London with my Dad and Our Kid, both of whom are fervent Liverpool supporters. Arriving just before 7pm I was amazed to see how packed the place was even more than 45 minutes before kick-off; the game had seemingly brought every ex-pat Scouser, London-based and tourist Liverpool supporter out for the evening. Some wore colours, others had scarves and flags but the majority were in their working garb, which served to demonstrate just how broad and diverse the congregation of the footballing church is.
The atmosphere was one of optimism and hope, even if the normal nervousness of football supporters meant that it had to remain somewhat guarded.
As the teams emerged, everyone in the pub settled into any perch they could find that offered some view, any view of one of the three screens scattered around the place; those who obstructed others’ views were ‘encouraged’ to alter position as quickly as possible.
The opening quarter of the match was one in which both teams tried to settle; Sevilla looking comfortable on the ball, playing quick passes to negate Liverpool’s press which had been so effective in previous matches. Liverpool for their part struggling to get forward initially but gradually got more and more of a grip of the midfield. Having for the most part held Sevilla at bay, save for an audacious overhead kick by Gameiro that whistled just wide of the post, Liverpool took the lead on 33 minutes through a brilliant outside of the left boot strike from Sturridge which nestled inside the far post. Cue unrestrained celebrations around the pub. On the sideline, after his own wild celebrations, Klopp put both index fingers to his forehead, urging his players to refocus, nothing was won yet. Minutes later it could have been two but Can’s header was ruled out for Sturridge being offside at a corner. At half-time it felt like the job was halfway done, but a disciplined second half would be required to see Liverpool home.
When the teams came out for the second half Sevilla formed a huddle, seemingly given a new sense of impetus by whatever Emery had said to them in the dressing room. Whatever it was it worked, as after a mere 17 seconds they were level. Moreno got drawn too far in field, Sevilla exploited the space he had vacated, he couldn’t get across quickly enough to halt Mariano’s progress and he squared it for Gameiro to tap home. Minutes later Gameiro went through again only to be denied by a last ditch tackle by Toure when he looked certain to score. Liverpool were rocking and it was all Sevilla now.
Mignolet denied Gameiro after a flick on from a throw in. Then two goals in 6 minutes effectively ended the match; first after some incisive passing cut through the heart of Liverpool’s defence the ball fell to Coke on the edge of the area and he curled it into the bottom right hand corner; then he tucked the ball home from a seemingly offside position on the right of the area, the officials ummed and ahhed over their decision before deciding that he had been level with the last defender and the goal stood. You could feel the crowd in the pub deflate and the remaining quarter of the game was played out to pleas in hope rather than expectation.
There was to be no fairytale ending to Klopp’s first season, and perhaps the threat of Sevilla had been somewhat underplayed, after all a team that has now won this trophy three seasons in a row must have something about them. From a neutral point of view it had been a fast-paced lively final and very enjoyable to watch.