Sevilla a litmus test for Liverpool's backline
Sevilla will show if Reds' recent defensive improvements are for real
For a considerable time, Liverpool's defence has been one of football's great punchlines.
Parting like the Red Sea at the first sign of pressure, only West Ham and Crystal Palace boasted worse concession records than Juergen Klopp's side at the beginning of October.
Were it not for one of the EPL's most free-scoring forward lines, the Reds would have joined their relegation-threatened counterparts in the bottom half of the league table.
True to Anfield's timeless adage, however, a golden sky is finally appearing on the horizon.
Since last month's chastening 4-1 defeat at Tottenham, the Reds have been transformed from one of the leakiest backlines to one looking pretty formidable.
Their Champions League encounter with Sevilla tomorrow morning (Singapore time) offers the chance to take another leap towards redemption, with a fifth consecutive victory.
Eduardo Berizzo's charges represent Liverpool's strongest challenge since their Spurs humiliation. A run-in comprising Huddersfield Town, Maribor, West Ham and Southampton, though potentially testing, offered a much-needed confidence booster.
Several of Klopp's predecessors fixated on removing perceived weak links at the first sign of trouble. He was guilty of it himself with Mamadou Sakho banished and later sold.
Some were quick to pinpoint that departure as a watershed moment in the case for the defence. But the former Borussia Dortmund coach has persevered with more players than he has abandoned hope; three-quarters of his current backline are living proof of that.
Turning doubters into believers was Klopp's mission statement when he arrived on Merseyside over two years ago, but he freely admits that Alberto Moreno's transformation from an outgoing misfit to Liverpool's first-choice left back has even taken him aback.
The Spain international's return to form came from a position of genuine adversity.
Heavily maligned over his previous three seasons in England, he appeared to be heading for the Anfield exit over the summer as new arrival Andrew Robertson waited in the wings.
LEAP OF FAITH
Moreno chose to rip up the script rather than follow it and rendered the £8-million (S$14.4m) signing a glorified understudy as he prepares to step out at the Ramon Sanchez Pijuan Stadium tomorrow as a player who has been revitalised by Klopp's leap of faith.
His underdog story has also had a springboard effect in providing Dejan Lovren with fresh motivation to revive his own Liverpool career against a backdrop of widespread doubts.
Klopp's decision to withdraw Lovren in the first half of the Spurs debacle appeared to have left the writing on the wall for the Croat at a time when he had already admitted to popping painkillers like sweets just to play through injury problems.
Lovren already knows how close he came to being surplus to requirement, with only Liverpool's ham-fisted pursuit of Virgil van Dijk affording him a second chance.
More unflattering similarities with the events which saw Sakho ostracised and ultimately offloaded had begun earlier in the campaign with Lovren's calamitous slip which had allowed Sevilla to break the deadlock in September's corresponding 2-2 draw at Anfield.
Yet the former Southampton man has responded to the numerous setbacks with a series of improved performances that have made him an obvious choice in the interim at least.
He has been helped by the assured presence of Joe Gomez during Nathaniel Clyne's prolonged absence.
It is a far cry from the FA Cup campaign that bordered on tokenism last season. Instead, the versatile 20-year-old has resumed his impressive start to life at Anfield before the fate of injury intervened, cruelly in the same week that Klopp had taken charge.
With 12 appearances to date, Gomez's stock is again on the rise, with his captaincy of England's Under-21 side proving short-lived as he was promoted to the senior side to nullify teammate Philippe Coutinho and Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar in the recent friendly with Brazil.
Sevilla will set about proving whether he and the other defensive musketeers can last the distance or will revert to type.
OTHER GROUP E FIXTURE
- Spartak Moscow v NK Maribor