UEFA Champions League defending champions Liverpool were on Tuesday shocked by their Italian opponent Napoli. The 2-0 defeat marked a poor start for the English Premier League side considering their first five-match unbeaten record in England.
Two second-half goals from Dries Mertens' penalty and a stoppage-time stunner from Fernando Llorente were enough to leave the last season's English Premier League runners-up completely disappointed. The defeat consigned Liverpool to a fourth successive defeat on the way in Champion's League group stages.
The Reds came into the games with their heads held high, thanks to their excellent form so far this season and a better part of last season. Having made a comeback last weekend against the struggling Newcastle United, to win by three goals to one, many soccer fans expected the team to replicate this exceptional form in their Champion's League group stage matches. However, this was not to be, as last minutes clumsy tackle and uncharacterized play saw them concede two clear goals.
As much as this could be considered a low start for Jurgen Klopp's men, it was rather one of the worst displays and unexpected so far. Numerous chances were created, but none was converted into a goal.
Napoli vs Liverpool match review
The defending champions were visitors to the Italian counterparts at the Stadio San Paolo stadium. As expected, the club fielded their lethal squad that comprised of Adrian, Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Virgil van Dijk, Robertson, Fabinho, Milner, Henderson, Mane, Salah and Firmino. On their substitute bench, the Reds were assured of the services of Kelleher, Wijnaldum, Lovren, Gomez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lallana and Shaqiri.
Their opponents Napoli, on the other hand, fielded an equally strong team that was made of Meret, Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Koulibaly, Rui, Callejon, Allan, Fabian, Lozano, Mertens and Insigne. On their reserve, they had Llorente, Ospina, Elmas, Maksimovic, Zielinski, Ghoulam and Milik.
The match began on a high note with both teams trying to keep possession and surge toward the opponent's goal post.
Carlo Ancelotti's side came into the game with the intention of creating an impression and therefore, the first minutes of the match were characterized by high speed. However, the pace and high concentration required was not attained and they left a lot of space for Mo Salah, and he almost scored on two occasions. Salah's presence in this particular match was, however, a little bit off as he failed to take advantage of the Napoli's mistakes.
The Red's stand-in goalkeeper, Adrian displayed what could be considered the best moment in the games with a superb save that saw him deny Dries Mertens. The ball had been cleverly clipped behind Liverpool's defenders, and Dries Mertens had the opportunity to place it right inside the goal. He was, however, denied by the goalkeeper who arrived at it in a nick time to push it away. The first half ended in a barren draw.
Some of the decisive moments for this particular match came in the second half following the introduction of Fernando Llorente.
Napoli became sharper in the dying minutes with Jose Callejon's mischievous ingenuity earning them a penalty. The penalty happened in the 81st minute when Andy Robertson came in on the forward clumsily dangling his tired legs and causing him to fall over in the penalty area. On viewing the replay, it seemed as though the Spaniard had jumped to the ground, but the VAR confirmed that the referee had not made a "clear and obvious error" and thus awarded the penalty.
The penalty gifted the Belgian forward Dries Mertens yet another opportunity to test Adrian's goalkeeping prowess but this time around he was too good for the Liverpool's goalkeeper.
The penalty decision was, however, disputable according to Jurgen Klopp. It was so because he felt Jose Callejon jumped before there was any contact. While speaking to BT Sport, this is what he had to say.
I saw it now, and for me, I thought it was clear and obvious not a penalty.
The second goal came as a result of an error from Virgil van Dijk. The defender who had physically dominated most of Europe last season was outdone by Fernando Llorente who is basically at Napoli because of fitness issues.
With Jurgen Klopp's men chasing the game in the last minutes, the defender tried to clear the ball out of the defence only for him to place it squarely in the path of Llorente. This must have been an easy goal for Fernando having stepped into the stage as a substitute. The player shot the ball past Brazilian goalkeeper securing a goal for Napoli in the very last minutes of the match.
Considering that Llorente was in the Tottenham squad that lost against Liverpool in the last season's UEFA Champion's League finals, perhaps this was a better 'revenge' for that Tottenham lose.
The defeat set a poor Champion's League record, as Liverpool is the recent defending champion to lose its first Champion's League match the following season. The last time such an outcome happened was in 1994 against the Italian side AC Milan.
The defeat is the second one in a row against in group stage following their last season 1-0 lose, but Klopp's overall assessment of the game shows that the team has technically improved.
There were opportunities, this was a much better game than we played away last season and lost in the last minute, he told BT Sport.
This poor start leaves Liverpool third in their group with Napoli leading. However, the defeat can be regarded as a non-issue putting in mind the RED's group stage results last season. The chances are the lose will serves as a wake-up call for the players.