Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne may have struck late at the San Paolo but the visitors could have no complaints after a shocking display in Italy
Maybe the “smart fox” got it wrong for once?
Before this game, Napoli boss Carlo Ancelotti suggested that Liverpool had “gone up a level” since last season; that they represented an even more formidable foe than the one which had gone so close to Champions League glory back in May.
If they have, they hid it well here in Naples.
It looked as if the Reds would escape Stadio San Paolo with a draw they didn’t merit, but Lorenzo Insigne’s 90th-minute strike ensured justice was done in the end. Not even Jurgen Klopp could argue his side were worth a result here. He didn’t even try, to be fair to him.
The damage need not be huge in the grand scheme of things. Liverpool still have a handle on Group C, and have back-to-back games with its weakest team, Red Star Belgrade, to come. They will still fancy their chances of progressing, for sure.
They’ll need to improve quickly, though, and drastically. If Pep Guardiola, who takes Manchester City to Anfield on Sunday, was watching this performance, he’ll have been licking his lips. Liverpool were abject. They started slowly and got worse. “Not good enough,” admitted Klopp, who asked for “one day” to revisit the game and understand exactly why it was as poor as it was, from his side’s perspective.
The last time Liverpool came here, eight years ago, they drew 0-0. It wasn’t a memorable night, but it could be excused by the fact that Roy Hodgson was in charge and the team featured such luminaries as Milan Jovanovic, David Ngog, Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen.
This was just as bad, if not worse. Klopp’s side failed to muster a single shot on target in the 90 minutes, playing with a lethargy and a sloppiness that is at odds with everything they stand for. Maybe Hodgson gave the pre-match team talk?!
They could have been put away long before Insigne’s dramatic finale. Dries Mertens hit the bar from close range, Alisson Becker made a couple of smart saves from Arkadiusz Milik and Liverpool played with fire throughout, their passing risky and inaccurate, their threat on the counter-attack non-existent.
Sadio Mane struggled, Roberto Firmino was swamped, Mo Salah, at times triple-teamed by Napoli defenders, was as anonymous as the callers to Pete Price’s local radio show.
“We weren’t good enough,” Klopp said. “And normally when you are not good enough you lose football games.” Napoli, to their credit, stifled their visitors excellently, compact and aggressive defensively, with Kalidou Koulibaly immense for the Serie A side. Insigne, and later Mertens, were the game’s outstanding attackers.
It felt it could be ‘one of those nights’ from very early on. Naby Keita’s injury, 19 minutes in, represents a further blow to Klopp’s side. It looks a bad one, a back problem according to Klopp. For the second time in three Champions League games, Liverpool lost a big player before half-time – Keita, like Salah before him, left the field in tears. He was taken to hospital for tests, but should fly home with the rest of his team-mates on Thursday morning.
A headache, no doubt, for Klopp, who was far from amused by what he saw from his players. “It did not look like it should have looked,” he said of the performance, though in fairness to him – and contrast to some others – he took his own share of the blame too.
He described his last trip to Napoli, with Borussia Dortmund in 2013, as “one of my bad experiences” and he can file this one right alongside it. This was a sixth defeat in nine games for the German against Italian opposition. Insigne, as the local press were keen to point out both pre and post-match, scored the last time he was here, too.
“It’s always a bad sign when you have to say your goalkeeper was your best player, but it was obvious tonight,” Klopp said. Alisson Becker was overworked, saving well from Milik and Mertens; in front of him, there were too many errors, too little energy, not enough quality. Liverpool were unrecognisable from the side of last season, and a few levels below their last outing, at Chelsea on Saturday.
City’s presence at Anfield on Sunday should prompt a reaction – “It will be better, 100 per cent,” Klopp insisted. It needs to be. Those Liverpool fans who made the trip here deserved more than they got. Imagine being kept behind after a performance and a result like that!
“I have kind of a filter in my brain where I forget bad stuff immediately,” Klopp said pre-match, so we can assume this game will never be talked about again.
No wonder. It might just be the worst display Liverpool have delivered on his watch. They’ll need to improve immeasurably against Guardiola & Co.
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