Champions League starts this week and on Wednesday night, in Group E, we will see a match between two teams in two of the topmost leagues in Europe – both hopeful of at least a top-four-finish in their respective leagues, both on 7 points after three game weeks, and both with a similar start to the season. Liverpool host Sevilla as they return to Champions League and they are seeking revenge for the defeat in the 2015-16 Europa League final.
Champions League is returning to Anfield after a two-season break. But, Liverpool have not had the auspicious portents that they would have hoped for. They were thrashed 5-0 by Manchester City on Saturday and it will take some effort for the Reds to put that at the back of their minds. In that regard, this match against their last European opponents comes at a good time. Jurgen Klopp will hope that his side will pick up their arms and spirits that they had apparently laid down after the 37th minute red card to Sadio Mane on Saturday. If Liverpool manage to beat Sevilla well, a top-of-the-group finish becomes more probable, which could mean progress in the competition. Klopp and his men will be aware of these possibilities and would love to bounce back with a win.
Sevilla have undergone a lot of changes since the Europa League final victory against Liverpool at the end of 2015-16. Their new manager Eduardo Berizzo has had an unbeaten start in the league with 7 points in three fixtures. They had a much better preparation for Wednesday’s match as they beat Eibar 3-0 in a league match Saturday. Sevilla will also be aiming to reach the knockout stages in the second consecutive season.
- Liverpool do not have as good a record as they would want when hosting Spanish teams. In sixteen matches, they have won 5, drawn 6 and lost 5.
- Both Sevilla and their new manager – Berizzo played their last European games against English opposition. Sevilla lost 2-0 to Leicester City on their last trip to England, while Berizzo’s Celta Vigo drew against Manchester United at Old Trafford in Europa League.
- In eleven encounters with English sides thus far, Sevilla have won five, lost four and drawn two.
While all eyes will be on his compatriot Philippe Coutinho’s possible involvement in the match, Roberto Firmino is key to Liverpool’s attack. In the Premier League, Firmino has an xG per 90 minutes of 0.42. He also has a similar expected assist per 90 minutes number. This means that for every 90 minutes played, Firmino has a 42% chance of scoring and a 42% chance of assisting. As seen in the home leg against Hoffenheim, his movement also creates spaces for Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah to utilize with a devastating effect.
Luis Muriel is Sevilla’s most expensive signing of the summer. Last season he scored 11 goals and assisted 9 for Sampdoria. For Sevilla’s initial games, the striker has proven himself to be a bit profligate, as 3.91 shots per 90 minutes for zero goals thus far suggest. However, his xG per 90 minutes is 1.54, which means that he packs a good shot and it is a matter of time and luck before his shots start finding the back of the net.
Everyone will be taking a cold hard look at how Klopp rotates his side as his rotations have been amusing at best and baffling at the worst. Lovren could be back for Klavan, while Joe Gomez will likely replace Trent Alexander Arnold, who had a terrible game on Saturday. Similarly, Moreno might make way for Robertson and Mignolet for Karius. Klopp has said that Coutinho could be involved on Wednesday and should find a spot in the midfield, if he plays. Liverpool’s attack was rested after the result became clearer on Saturday, so Mane, Firmino and Salah will start upfront for the Reds.
Sevilla have not included new signings Nolito and Johannes Geis in their squad to England as both of them are injured. Ever Banega is available for the away side after serving a suspension at the weekend. Jesus Navas returns to England after being released by Manchester City earlier this summer.
Sevilla’s attacking play and pressing style could trouble Liverpool a bit but the Reds will have plenty of motivation on Wednesday. If exacting revenge on the team that delayed Champions League for Liverpool by one year was not enough, Liverpool have an added incentive of putting Saturday’s abject performance behind them. These two factors, a better team than Sevilla, and a buzzing Anfield should propel Liverpool to a victory.
Liverpool 3 – 1 Sevilla