Two teams in two of the largest European leagues, both placed fifth domestically after playing 12 matches, go head to head in the fifth game week of this season’s UEFA Champions League Campaign. In Group E, Liverpool travel to Sevilla on Tuesday night with an aim to ascertain their progress beyond the group stages. Sevilla on the other hand will want to leapfrog their visitors and climb into the top position in the group.
Sevilla are currently fifth behind the two Madrid giants, Valencia, and Barcelona in the La Liga table after playing 12 games. One would consider that par for the course overall. But, their progress both in La Liga and Champions League has been punctuated by a few major losses. In eight days between 14th October and 21st October Sevilla had lost away to Athletic Bilbao, Spartak Moscow, and Valencia, conceding ten goals and scoring just one. Other than these, the only other losses have been expected results versus Barcelona and Athletico Madrid- again away. However, Eduardo Berizzo’s men have converted the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium into a fortress this season. In eight home games this season, Sevilla have scored 16 goals and conceded just 4, winning 7 and drawing one.
Liverpool are also fifth in the Premier League. But they have lost fewer games, losing three away games against Manchester City, Tottenham and Leicester City. But between 9th September and 22nd October, Liverpool only won one, drew five and lost two games. Liverpool too have been strong at Anfield but have struggled a bit away. However, they have not struggled since losing to Tottenham, having won the next four matches by three goals. Liverpool have looked in their element in those games and they gave ample evidence of it against Southampton on Saturday. They had not beaten the Saints in last five attempts but on Saturday they were simply too good. It has only been two attempts against Sevilla and the Reds have not won a game, but if their attack comes together, Sevilla will be heavily tested.
Berizzo will look to welcome back Joaquin Correa who scored the second goal for Sevilla at Anfield earlier this year. This might mean that Nolito could start the game on the bench but other than that, Berizzo is not expected to ring in too many changes. He will like to continue with the outfit that won on Saturday.
For Liverpool, Klopp has already admitted that he is making team selections based on a view over the winter that is crowded with games. Joe Gomez had played in both the England friendlies during the international break, so he was rested on Saturday. He should be available to play on Tuesday. Emre Can who started off the bench against the Saints could also come back into the midfield – possibly at Wijnaldum’s expense. The mandatory goalkeeper rotation will also take place. But in a game that will need all of Liverpool’s firepower, Klopp might push his attack for one more game and play the same front three as he did against Southampton. Coutinho is also likely to be played as a left midfielder but will eventually join the attack to make it a front four for the Reds.
- In 36 matches against Spanish opponents, Liverpool have won 16, lost 11 and drawn 9 matches. In the previous ten games against teams from Spain, they have won 3 and lost 6, drawing the last match against Sevilla at Anfield.
- Liverpool have lost 1-0 on each of their last three visits to Spain, most recently going down at Villarreal CF in their 2015/16 UEFA Europa League semi-final first leg. The 3-0 home win in the return is Liverpool’s sole victory in their last six matches against Liga opposition.
- The Spanish side have won six of their last eight European home matches, losing one and drawing the other, against İstanbul Başakşhir in this season’s play-offs (2-2). Sevilla’s record at home to English teams is W3 D0 L1.
- That single loss was when the Andalusian side succumbed to Manchester City 1- 3 in the 2015-16 UEFA Champions League group stages.
Sevilla are a team that depend on a strong defense and several options in attack. But Sevilla build their goals primarily through quick passing and not through individual skill. This season, Sevilla are taking 12.4 shots per game that are supplied by 9.2 key passes per game. Pablo Sarabia is one Sevilla’s key players this season in this aspect. With an expected assist per 90 minutes of 0.43, he has the ability to supply Sevilla’s attacks with smartly placed through passes, which have proven Liverpool’s bane this season. His assist supplied the goal that won Sevilla the game against Celta Vigo on Saturday and Berizzo will be hoping that Sarabia can keep that supply line open against Liverpool.
Liverpool also have several goal scorers and they also score a lot of goals. For the Reds, the front four – including Coutinho – are equally proficient in either scoring or providing a scoring opportunity to each other. But the player who is benefiting the most from this is Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian winger has surpassed expectations with his form this season. 13 goals and 3 assists in the Premier League and Champions League, xG per 90 minutes of 0.70 and expected assists per 90 minutes of 0.19, a goal contribution every 77 minutes – all these point to an exceptional player in great form. Jurgen Klopp will be hoping that Salah can continue to capitalize in this form and beat Sevilla’s tight defense.
Both the teams know that a win on Tuesday can send them through to the round of 16. In fact, if Liverpool beat Sevilla, they are almost sure to top the group as well. This could mean a bit easier draw in the round of 16, which means progress beyond what either team has achieved in recent history. The stakes are high for this game and both the managers know it. The game should pan out how away Liverpool games against defensive opponents have panned out recently with Klopp’s men attacking in volume and Sevilla’s defense holding them at bay. I feel this game is likely to end in a draw. Both teams will have to wait for one more game week before finalizing their Round of 16 berths.
Sevilla 1 – 1 Liverpool