As Liverpool prepare to take on Sevilla on Tuesday evening, it will start to look a lot like a play-off for top spot in the group.
And yet this game matters more for momentum, than for the spoils of finishing first. A good draw in the last 16 will matter more on luck than coming first or second as defeat to Sevilla away from home this week could actually see a Liverpool face an easier draw than they might do if they win.
Teams like Real Madrid are likely to go into the next round lying in wait as second-placed finishers, whilst Liverpool, if they are to come second, will miss some of the form sides of this season’s competition: Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United all look like being group winners, but none could face Jurgen Klopp’s Reds anyway.
For prestige reasons, and indeed in order to ensure that the second leg of their last 16 tie will be at home, though, Liverpool should most definitely be playing to win.
And in order to do that, they’ll need to guard against a certain level of complacency about two of the players they’ll know reasonably well: Nolito and Jesus Navas.
The former Manchester City duo are, to varying degrees, punchlines in English football – Navas in particular. His time in the North West saw him picked week in, week out, but his failure to score, even from seemingly easy chances, didn’t evade notice. But that’s not to say and they could come back to haunt the Premier League side.
Indeed, they’re very good players, even if they weren’t quite at the right level for City. Sometimes things don’t work out in different countries for different players, and that might have happened to the Sevilla pair.
This season, Navas has actually managed a goal, whilst Nolito has scored two and pitched in with an assist, and although Sevilla are in fifth place, just two points behind Real and Atletico Madrid, they’ve yet to really kick into gear. And that’s where Liverpool should be wary.
Sevilla are the side who inflicted perhaps Klopp’s most painful night as Liverpool boss, given victory in the Europa League final in 2016 wouldn’t just have been another trophy for the cabinet, but it would also have been a qualification route into the Champions League. Instead, they’ve had to wait another year, and draw Sevilla in the same group for good measure.
That shows just how good a European cup team Sevilla really are. A team who rise to the occasion, not one who seem to rely too much on form. Liverpool will need to be wary of that, and not just see Jesus Navas and Nolito as the Manchester City rejects they are often thought of in this country: they are both good players who are at home when it comes to Champions League level.
And with Liverpool’s record against teams who play with pace and skill up front, they could yet do some damage.