Liverpool suffered a dramatic second-half collapse as Sevilla claimed the Europa League for the third season in succession with a superb comeback.
Jurgen Klopp’s side looked on course to secure the prize of Champions League football – on offer to the winners of the competition – when Daniel Sturridge’s magnificent strike with the outside of his left foot gave them the interval lead.
The good work was wrecked in the first 17 seconds of the second half when Kevin Gameiro turned in Mariano Ferreira’s cross to put Sevilla level.
Liverpool, who were denied a clear first-half penalty when Sevilla’s Daniel Carrico clearly handled as Roberto Firmino tried to weave past him, never recovered.
Coke’s fine 64th-minute finish confirmed Sevilla’s superiority and he added a contentious third from close range, which was initially disallowed but was then given as Liverpool slumped to their second final defeat this season after losing to Manchester City in the Capital One Cup.
Klopp’s plans suffer huge blow
Klopp has revived Liverpool for much of this season – indeed some of their fans were still hoping for the sort of comeback that saw them score three goals in the last 20 minutes to beat Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-final – but this defeat is a major setback to his summer strategy.
Liverpool had so much riding on this game. The lure of Champions League football, set alongside the chance to play for Klopp and at Anfield, would have completed an attractive package to set before any potential signings.
Now they cannot offer any sort of European football as they ended well beaten here in another night of disappointment for Klopp, who has now lost five successive finals with Dortmund and Liverpool.
Liverpool will still attract players of high class, but a crucial plank in their transfer strategy has been removed by this defeat.
Liverpool’s weakness exposed
Klopp’s spirit of renewal papered over some of the cracks in the Liverpool squad he inherited but they were brutally exposed by Sevilla’s second half masterclass.
Liverpool were fragile mentally after the equaliser and it was quite simply too easy to get behind their defensive unit, with Alberto Moreno’s shocking performance demonstrating once again he is a weakness that must be addressed.
Klopp’s problems were compounded by the failure of his creative players to put their stamp on the game. Philippe Coutinho barely had the ball while Firmino was subdued and substituted.
Sturridge shows his class
In one moment on 35 minutes, Sturridge showed the class that demonstrates how much he means to Liverpool and he may yet mean to England at Euro 2016.
Taking the ball on the angle of the penalty area, he produced a moment of instinctive genius, curling a left-foot finish past Sevilla keeper David Soria into the corner.
Sturridge is arguably England’s most gifted striker but has been overtaken by Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy while he has suffered injuries.
If he stays fit, England manager Roy Hodgson will have a serious dilemma at Euro 2016. Will Sturridge yet put captain Wayne Rooney under pressure for his place in France?
Liverpool’s rough luck
The better side won this Europa League final. Once they got on terms, Sevilla were simply in a different class, but how different it might have been had that penalty been given when Carrico handled under pressure from Firmino, along with one or two other acceptable claims.
Liverpool could point to those but ultimately they ended a beaten and bedraggled side, a Europa League that promised so much ended in anti-climax and disappointment.