Klopp has achieved virtual miracles with a limited squad since arriving on Merseyside just eight months ago, taking them to the League Cup Final ( lost on penalties to Manchester City) and on a thrilling ride in the Europa League which ended in Switzerland with a 3-1 defeat against a Spanish side who lifted the trophy for the third time in a row.
For a moment it looked like the Liverpool dream of silverware in Klopp’s first season was about to be realised as Daniel Sturridge opened the scoring with a superb first-half effort; but what followed after the break hinted at limitations which can probably only be addressed in the transfer market this summer.
Liverpool squandered the chance to end an 11-year European drought as defending champions Sevilla came from behind to secure an unprecedented third successive Europa League title.
Kevin Gameiro scored just seconds after the interval as the Reds were exposed defensively before Coke grabbed two in the space of six minutes to end Liverpool’s dream of a return to the gloried European nights of yesteryear and also a place in next season’s Champions League.
In the build-up, Liverpool’s players were at pains to stress how much belief Klopp has given them during his seven months in charge and how they had learned from the experience of losing February’s Capital One Cup to City.
The harsh reality of the result, in fact, is that there will be no European football for Liverpool next season and after finishing a disappointing eighth in the Premier League, Klopp’s project is suddenly looking tougher.
Captain James Milner admitted last night it may take a long time to get over this defeat. A brutally honest assessment from Milner but it’s not to say Klopp has in any way failed — far from it. When he walked into Anfield in October, he said his first task was to turn “doubters into believers” and he had achieved that long before this game which was decided in the end by two second-half goals from Coke and one from the prolific Kevin Gameiro.
But Liverpool do need surgery. Their midfield and defence continues to be a concern — Alberto Moreno proved again to be a weak link in Basel, for instance, and Kolo Toure is no long-term solution in the absence of Mamadou Sakho. Even up front, there is no real out-and-out striker who can be depended upon to score 20 goals in a season.
“You have to say this result It’s a shattering blow,” said Liverpool legend Michael Owen. “Now you look back on all that hard work and you have nothing to show for it because was a poor season in the Premier League, too.”
Even so, you can see why Liverpool fans have been excited. The sheer personality, enthusiasm and passion of their new manager is intoxicating — and some of the performances in the Europa League have been spine-tingling; so there could be no better man to rebuild the squad than the one they already have in charge.
For a while, in fact, it looked as though he was set for glory in Basel. Referee Jonas Eriksson turned down an early penalty claim when Sevilla defender Daniel Carrico appeared to block a ball from Roberto Firminho with his arm. And then Liverpool scored an opening goal of real quailty.
Firminho fed Philippe Coutinho on the edge of the box, Coutinho found Sturridge and the England man curled a stunning shot into the far corner of the net, using the outside of his left foot.
Sturridge then had a second goal disallowed when he got a close-range touch to a Dejan Lovren effort and was flagged offside; and for a while Sevilla were rocking as Liverpool reached the halfway stage in the ascendancy.
All that changed just 17 seconds into the second half, however, when Mariano Ferrerira was allowed to wander unchallenged into the Liverpool penalty box and his pass was simply and efficiently tapped home by Kevin Gameiro for his 29th of the season.
At this stage Liverpool suddenly began to realise the potential of the Spanish side who may have finished seventh in La Liga but included victories over both Barcelona and Real Madrid during the season.Even Liverpool’s noisy supporters began to sound deflated as Sevilla rampaged forward, taking advantage of a poor performance from left-back Moreno and forcing Simon Mignolet into two fine saves.
The second goal seemed inevitable and it came after 63 minutes when, after a slaloming run from Vitolo, Coke fired home his own stunning first-time effort to completely turn the tables on a Liverpool side running out of ideas.
Klopp’s answer was to bring on Divock Origi but Sevilla’s third goal, a controversial one as the linesman appeared to raise his flag and then put it down again as Coke curled home his second of the night, sealed victory and a remarkable Europa League hat-trick for Unai Emery’s side.
As for Klopp, he has now been in charge for 52 games, winning 23, drawing 17 and losing 12. That’s a mixed record which perhaps gives a better picture of where Liverpool are right now and how much work is ahead. The project still has a way to go.