Liverpool vs Sevilla: 3 Key Battles

Can Liverpool enact revenge on the side that beat them to the 2016 Europa League?

In a repeat of the 2016 Europa League final, Liverpool host Sevilla at Anfield to kick-off their Champions League campaign.

After making it through a qualifying round against Hoffenheim, the Reds find themselves paired with their 2016 enemies, whilst Spartak Moscow and Maribor comprise the rest of the group.

Theoretically, this group should be a relative walk in the park compared with some of the other Champions League groups, but the double-header against Sevilla will likely have a significant bearing on who finishes top.

Here are three key battles that could have a decisive outcome of tonight’s game.

Philippe Coutinho vs Steven N’Zonzi

The Brazilian magician was left out of the squad to face Manchester City after a chaotic summer of speculation, with links to Barcelona disturbing his pre-season and match fitness.

However, Liverpool were woeful against Manchester City, losing 5-0, which may encourage Jurgen Klopp to reintegrate the playmaker into the first XI quicker than he would have planned.

Despite their frightening front three, Liverpool lack a variety of means of progressing the ball up the pitch into the attacking third, relying heavily on their gegenpressing system.

In Philippe Coutinho, though, they have a player with an exceptional ability to pass the ball between the lines, finding the gaps in the midfield or defence, something Liverpool’s other midfielders lack.

Therefore, we may see Klopp use Coutinho in a slightly deeper role to give the Reds more ways of progressing the ball should counter-pressing fail them.

Last season Coutinho had an average pass length of 18m in the Premier League, showing his fearlessness when it comes to attempting a risky ball.

If the Brazilian starts, he will likely come up against former Stoke City destroyer Steven N’Zonzi.

The Frenchman has been a revelation since joining Sevilla and is excellent at protecting his defence. For instance, N’Zonzi made 48 clearances, 37 interceptions and 47 tackles in last year’s La Liga, including quelling the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric as Sevilla beat Los 2-1.

The Frenchman also exemplifies comfort on the ball, shown by his 84.2% passing accuracy in La Liga so far this season, despite a penchant for playing the long ball and switching the play.

Roberto Firmino vs Simon Kjaer

Roberto Firmino has somewhat reinvented himself as a false nine since Klopp took over, blossoming into an important part of Liverpool’s fluid and high pressing front three. The forward has made a great start to the season for Liverpool with two goals and two assists in his opening four Premier League games and a goal in the game against Hoffenheim.

However, as busy as Firmino is, Simon Kjaer is a central defender who is used to a high number of defensive actions.

His average of 10.5 clearances per game in La Liga is an extraordinarily high number and shows he doesn’t mind being kept occupied by strikers. It will be interesting to see how tightly the Dane sticks to Firmino as he drops off and drifts around for the Reds. 

How well Kjaer contains this threat will have a great impact on the overall result, though Firmino is flanked by Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, two dangerous threats in their own rights.

Jesus Navas vs Alberto Moreno

The former Manchester City right winger is likely to battle his Spanish counterpart tonight in a battle that could come down to a lack of quality rather than a moment of magic.

Navas is a direct dribbler who nearly always tries to take his man down the outside before crossing the ball into the box. However, the Spaniard rarely registered an effective ball or cut back into the box towards the end of his time in England and ultimately became rather predictable.

However, a return to Sevilla may see a new lease of life for Navas and he is someone who can expose the space in behind the Reds’ defence with his pace, dribbling ability and direct style of play.

Alberto Moreno, meanwhile, still has the defensive deficiencies that have blighted his time in England. He can be effective when going forward with his pace and left foot, but he consistently has an error in his game that can lead to a chance or goal for the opposition.

Both sides weaknesses could turn into the others’ strength. 

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