Belfast Telegraph

Painful Liverpool defeat shows major rebuild is still required at Anfield

By Tim Rich

Rafa Benitez was sitting in the press room at Anfield which once upon a time was where men like Bill Shankly, Ronnie Moran and Bob Paisley used to come and talk football. The Boot Room.

On the walls were photographs of the players who a couple of years before had won Liverpool their fifth European Cup.

"You wouldn't believe how difficult it was to find anyone who wanted to buy these players," said Benitez.

Benitez was saying the team that had performed the 'Miracle of Istanbul' was at its core a moderate collection of players and he considered the majority surplus to his long-term plans.

He would not have been averse to selling Steven Gerrard to Chelsea if the price had been right.

When he arrived on Merseyside, you wonder how many of the Liverpool squad Jurgen Klopp thought worth keeping.

Was Alberto Moreno the kind of full-back he required? Was Simon Mignolet one of the best four goalkeepers in the Premier League? How many of his centre-halves would thrive in the big Champions League squads?

Klopp would have known the answers long before the 25 disastrous minutes that cost Liverpool everything in Basel.

It says something that Christian Benteke, the forward on whom Liverpool's transfer committee had blown most of the money they received from Manchester City for Raheem Sterling, was considered a last, desperate fling of the dice.

By then, Liverpool required two goals in less than 10 minutes merely to force extra-time against Sevilla.

Klopp had inherited a club that had come within an ace of winning a Premier League title.

His achievement in driving Liverpool forward is undeniable. It would be wishful thinking to imagine he can achieve much more with the players who were by turns impressive and invisible in Switzerland.

Klopp would have had many doubts about Daniel Sturridge. Not in terms of ability - Graeme Souness thought him technically as good as any in England.

However, Sturridge has suffered 33 separate injuries and you cannot coach an injured player. He had been left out of the side that was beaten 1-0 in the first leg of the semi-final at Villarreal and responded with a desultory display in defeat at Swansea.

The goal he scored in a first-half that Liverpool ran with what seemed astonishing ease was an answer to his critics, beautifully and deliciously struck with the outside of his left boot. Had he timed his run a fraction better, Sturridge would have scored a second before the interval.

Sevilla were not the kind of team that could be brushed aside for very long and for all the noise of the Liverpool crowd, the sound that will linger is that of Daniel Carrico lying on his back after the final whistle and howling with joy.

Liverpool probably deserved to win the trophy. They had been in the Europa League from the start, convincingly beaten Manchester United, pulled off an astonishing recovery against Borussia Dortmund. But it was not enough.

Ten years before, Middlesbrough had done something similar, reaching what was then the Uefa Cup final after breathless turnarounds against Basel and Steaua Bucharest. They were then humiliated in the final against a team that on the night was far, far better. That team was Sevilla.

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