On the back of Liverpool’s heavy defeat to Manchester City on Saturday afternoon, Jurgen Klopp’s side will have to pick themselves up off the mat for what could turn out to be a crucial Champions League group stage clash with Sevilla.
On paper, these are the two strongest teams in the section, and as a result, the home game against the Spaniards could be vital if Liverpool are to qualify as winners of a group of modest Champions League quality.
There will still be enough time to rectify any potential slip-ups and this is only the first game and a timely one to use your Bet365 sports welcome offer on, but after a heavy defeat on Saturday, Liverpool probably need victory more than they would have imagined this time last week. To complete a symmetrical irony, there will be at least one former Manchester City player aiming to compound the misery. Possibly two.
Nolito is a doubt for the Spanish side’s trip to the North West on Wednesday evening, but Jesus Navas is poised to play for Eduardo Berizzo’s side, as he plots something similar to what Pep Guardiola managed on Saturday.
But if Liverpool are looking for a former City foe to fear, perhaps they should look to one who has now left Spain.
This time last year, Samir Nasri was arguably Sevilla’s best player. In the first half of last season, the Frenchman rectified his form. He is a special footballer, one who has always drawn comparisons to Zinedine Zidane because of his Algerian ancestry, Marseillais upbringing and his position, but also one who has never managed to take his form to the heights his talent can hit.
Last year, his nosedive in form after Christmas – and the unforgettable ‘Drip Doctors’ Twitter saga which led to an anti-doping investigation – saw him return to Manchester City this summer before moving to Turkey for a cut-price fee. But that only seems to underline what a dreadful waste Nasri really is.
In the Champions League group stages last season, Nasri completed 142 passes against Dinamo Zagreb, the most ever recorded in a Champions League game. Somehow, Sevilla have managed to replace him, and in order to do so, they may well have uncovered this season’s parallel tale of the renewal and revival, and the regeneration of a talent who never made his genius count.
The Brazilian midfielder Ganso has played well so far this season, but we’re only a few games in. It’s too early to talk of the rebirth, but it’s certainly worth talking about talent and pedigree.
In 2010, anyone paying attention to Brazilian football’s conveyor belt of talent had two names on the lips: Ganso and Neymar. Both emerged together playing for Santos in Sao Paulo, and both made their international debut in exactly the same game, away to the USA just after the 2010 World Cup.
Spending your career in comparison to the defining Brazilian talent of a generation is a poisoned chalice of the most obvious kind. It is unfair and it is unseemly, but it is also nothing new: Ganso has spent the guts of a decade seeing his name in those lights, never living up to the billing. But then again, he has failed to live up to his own talent, too.
This season, though, his position as the heir to a similarly tortured, similarly hyped playmaking talent who preceded him in Sevilla’s starting XI allows for such seductive thought, at least for hopes of a temporary vein of bountiful form. And yet, it’s not just the flair or the moments of greatness which have shone through in the three games he has played so far. Two goals in three games is a good record, but like Nasri last season, he has also added something new to his game that wasn’t always visible before.
Ganso: No La Liga player has won possession in the midfield third more times than Ganso (16) this season pic.twitter.com/bU9bS3FQGW
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) September 11, 2017
Seen previously as a traditional number 10, Nasri turned himself into something of a midfield general last season playing alongside Steven N’Zonzi. Ganso, for his part, may not be Sevilla’s main tempo-setter so far this term, but he carries out a different role: he has turned himself into an attacking midfielder who now finds himself carrying out pressing duties, harassing opponents and making tackles.
That might sound like an odd mix for a Brazilian flair-merchant, yet his effectiveness isn’t in talent but his calmness and quality on the ball to be able to do something with it when he wins it. Perhaps it’s fair to think of Adam Lallana since the arrival of Klopp: what’s the point of having a midfield geared to pressing the opposition and winning back the ball if they aren’t composed enough to make it count when they get it?
That’s where Liverpool will have to be wary tomorrow evening. Sevilla aren’t Manchester City, nor will they start with a man advantage. But they do have the tools to make a Liverpool side – who are coming off the back of what probably should still considered be an embarrassing defeat – work hard for a result that could be crucial to the rest of their Champions League campaign.
Until Christmas, and the revival of Leicester City after the sacking of Claudio Ranieri, Sevilla looked like they could gatecrash the party of the elite. This season, they could well be repeating that formula.