“I don’t doubt the mentality of the boys, not a bit,” said Jurgen Klopp on the first and only other occasion his Liverpool side had taken and squandered a three-goal lead. “We showed already a fantastic mentality. We showed it in a lot of other games. It’s not like this.”
The trick, of course, is that they left themselves enough time to recover from IstanRedBull to eventually beat Salzburg on Wednesday. Where the Austrians equalised through Manchester United legend Erling Braut Haaland in the 60th minute, Sevilla were clever enough to leave their third goal in November 2017 for the depths of injury time.
“Yes, it was not perfect, that’s true, but it’s not a general problem. Could we have done better? 100%. Do I think it’s a mentality problem?” Klopp continued – discussing a department in which he now considers Liverpool to be “f**king monsters” – “100% not.”
The German would go on to describe those defensive lapses almost two years ago as “a misjudgement”. That would be a gentle assessment of Hwang Hee-chan turning Virgil van Dijk inside out like jeans in a washing machine, Takumi Minamino capping a sensational performance with a volley after being given the freedom of Merseyside, and Haaland exposing a defence more flat-footed than a chiropodist renting a self-contained housing unit that occupies only part of a building, generally on a single storey.
Liverpool’s goals were things of sheer beauty. Sadio Mane helped create then finish the first, although not quite as startling as Andy Robertson did the second. Mohamed Salah took both of his goals well to interrupt a three-game drought that, last season, would have been characterised as some sort of crisis.
But their defending was lacklustre, with Joel Matip the main beneficiary. Van Dijk looked far less comfortable alongside the returning Joe Gomez, who might still be blowing his cobwebs off in the dressing room. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Robertson earned complete reprieves with some incisive attacking; the midfield looked particularly leggy, with Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum both substituted just after the hour.
For around 20 minutes – five before half-time and quarter of an hour after the restart – it was difficult to identify the European champions. Salzburg were tenacious in the press and excellent on the ball, the sort of side Klopp himself would have been proud to build. But that does not and cannot excuse Liverpool’s collective lapse in concentration and attitude. As Salah’s first nestled into the goal, they expected a procession; they experienced a panic.
It is a problem Klopp will be aware of. Since the start of last season, Liverpool have conceded 17 goals in 15 Champions League matches (1.13 per game), and 27 in 45 in the Premier League (0.6). They have lost five times in the former, and just once in the latter.
The response does deserve some credit. Other teams – other Liverpool teams – might well have crumbled under such intense pressure with half an hour remaining. They at least had the wherewithal, temerity and confidence to change in public after sh*tting themselves.