Missing end product costs Reds but “no reason for soul-searching” – Media on Napoli 2-0 Liverpool

18 September 2019

The media thought Liverpool’s misfiring attack was costly in the 2-0 Champions League loss to Napoli but noted that the defeat is far from fatal.


The defence of the Champions League crown got off to a disappointing start as the Reds collapsed to a late defeat in Italy.

Late goals from Dries Mertens and Fernando Llorente ensured Jurgen Klopp’s side left Stadio San Paolo empty-handed for the second year running.

Liverpool were punished on the night for uncharacteristic sloppiness in the final third and mistakes at the back and from VAR, but it’s now all about bouncing back positively against Chelsea.

Before the buildup to that game starts, here’s how the media assessed another off-night for the Reds in Italy.

 

Most reporters thought Liverpool’s performance was better than the result suggests…

NAPLES, ITALY - Tuesday, September 17, 2019: Liverpool's goalkeeper Adrián San Miguel del Castillo looks dejected as a penalty is awarded to SSC Napoli during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between SSC Napoli and Liverpool FC at the Studio San Paolo. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

David Lynch, for the Evening Standard, echoed the thoughts of most reporters in noting the Reds were much improved from last season and that there were genuine positives with the overall display:

“In the aftermath of yet another defeat in Naples, it would be easy to say that Liverpool did not deliver on that specific target for the game, but that would be completely unfair.

“He won’t be happy having lost, but Klopp will take pleasure from plenty of elements of the Reds’ performance, which showed they are a far better team than at this stage of last season.”

Writing for Goal, Neil Jones felt Liverpool were particularly good in the first half, highlighting Fabinho’s performance as key:

“For 45 minutes, there was not too much wrong with their performance. They pressed intelligently, they threatened on the break and they bossed the midfield, with Fabinho in particular producing a magnificent first half.”

The Telegraph’s Chris Bascombe thinks there is no shame in defeat as Napoli are a good side who could go far in the competition, and thought the altered midfield was key to the improvement:

“Napoli were unlucky not to progress at Klopp’s expense last season and they look capable of going far in the competition, beautifully balanced and boasting one of the most coveted defenders in Kalidou Koulibaly.

[…]

“The real difference between Liverpool in Naples this time and last was in midfield, however.”

NAPLES, ITALY - Tuesday, September 17, 2019: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk looks dejected after his mistake led to SSC Napoli's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between SSC Napoli and Liverpool FC at the Studio San Paolo. Napoli won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Not everyone saw it this way though, with the Independent’s Miguel Delaney labelling it Liverpool’s “most tepid display of the season so far”:

“This was not just a slow start for the defending European champions, but their most tepid display of the season so far.”

Going somewhat overboard, the Mirror’s David Maddock went as far as labelling it a “depressing” defeat:

“If the performance was much better than that sorry night here in Naples a year ago, which Jurgen Klopp branded his side’s worst of the season, then the outcome was equally depressing.

“Depressing, for the fact that the Reds should have killed off the game long before that penalty converted by Dries Mertens on 82 minutes, should have secured victory even, despite a second goal deep into stoppage time for Napoli.”

 

The media felt Liverpool’s display still lacked in certain areas – particularly in attack…

NAPLES, ITALY - Tuesday, September 17, 2019: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah looks dejected after missing a chance during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between SSC Napoli and Liverpool FC at the Studio San Paolo. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

ESPN’s Harry Kettle thought the Reds were too slow in possession and didn’t counter-attack with enough pace:

“The Reds showed Napoli far too much respect on the ball and seemed far too laid back when they were in possession.

“The hosts were often able to reset themselves pretty efficiently, and one of the key reasons for that was Liverpool’s slow pace, which always ensured they were living dangerously.”

Jones thought Klopp’s side paid the price for lacking end product and becoming increasingly disjointed late on:

“The final ball, though, was lacking. Mane was denied by Meret, Mo Salah buzzed but couldn’t find an end product. Napoli defended stoutly and gave their fans reason to stay with them as the game wore on.

“Liverpool dropped off after the break, the home side exploiting the gaps which appeared as a result.”

Kettle also thought Klopp should have done better from the touchline, bemoaning that the boss was too hesitant with substitutions which gave Napoli the upper hand:

“The manager struggled to make the necessary changes, and while Liverpool showed a clearer attacking incentive in the second half, Klopp’s hesitation with his substitutions didn’t help matters.”

The Guardian’s Barney Ronay thinks Napoli may have discovered the blueprint to beat the Reds:

“From the start Liverpool were tested by a Napoli gameplan that involved breaking the press and springing forward in numbers. This will be the pattern now.”

NAPLES, ITALY - Tuesday, September 17, 2019: Liverpool's Sadio Mane looks dejected during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between SSC Napoli and Liverpool FC at the Studio San Paolo. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

BBC Sport’s Steve Sutcliffe rightly reserved some praise for Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly for his work in thwarting Liverpool’s front three:

“Named the best defender in Serie A last term, the 28-year-old made several key interceptions and dispossessed both Roberto Firmino and Salah in one-versus-one situations.

“And he continued in that vein, patrolling behind left-back Mario Rui to snuff out the danger posed by the Egyptian’s pace and trickery. His reading of the game was exemplary throughout, ensuring he was rarely caught out of possession and was able to spring Napoli attacks.”

 

However, the watching journalists thought there were still several positive individual displays to take forward…

NAPLES, ITALY - Tuesday, September 17, 2019: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between SSC Napoli and Liverpool FC at the Studio San Paolo. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Mirror’s Alex Richards thought Trent Alexander-Arnold did well up against Lorenzo Insigne, labelling the right-back’s performance “one of his most intelligent defensive displays”:

“The Kop’s homegrown prince was more than a match, and this was perhaps one of his most intelligent defensive displays in a senior Liverpool shirt; throughout he got the distance between himself and Joel Matip spot on, always on hand to cover but detaching himself when the opportunity to go forwards presented itself.”

The Independent‘s Mark Critchley lauded Fabinho’s performance, noting just how vital and influential the Brazilian is to this Reds side:

“The control he exerted over this contest, most noticeably in the first half, is why Liverpool can be confident of leaving any ground on the continent with a positive result.

[…]

“He is quickly becoming one of Klopp’s most dependable performers.”

NAPLES, ITALY - Tuesday, September 17, 2019: Liverpool's Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between SSC Napoli and Liverpool FC at the Studio San Paolo. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Richards, again, thought Adrian “was on another level” and believes the Spaniard is doing a fantastic job in ensuring Alisson’s absence is not being felt as heavily as first envisaged:

“It says much about Adrian that he has made light of the continued absence of Alisson – arguably the world’s best goalkeeper.

“He received plenty of plaudits for his Super Cup heroics but here he was on another level; you could have been forgiven for thinking that he was indeed Liverpool’s £67 million No. 1.”

 

Certain reporters noted that the opening defeat is no disaster and backed the Reds to respond…

NAPLES, ITALY - Tuesday, September 17, 2019: Liverpool's Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' (L) and captain Jordan Henderson applaud the supporters after the UEFA Champions League Group E match between SSC Napoli and Liverpool FC at the Studio San Paolo. Napoli won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

First off, Jones does feel that Klopp has to find the solution to Liverpool’s poor away form in group stage matches:

“Klopp has solved most puzzles in his time at Anfield, but one remains. How does he get this team to win Champions League group matches away from home?

“This was the seventh his side have played, and they have won only one. They lost all three last season, including here, scraping into the last 16 courtesy of their imperious home form.”

But summing up the early situation nicely, the Mail’s Dominic King correctly assessed that one defeat changes nothing and that Liverpool are still a serious contender to retain the trophy:

“Liverpool may have lost the first battle but they remain a threat to all and have quality players with which they can go to war.

[…]

“This defeat will sting but it is certainly no reason for soul-searching.”

Lynch played down the significance of the defeat to Liverpool’s ambitions and feels the Reds have a great chance to bounce back in the next games:

“That is not a disappointment they can afford to dwell on too long, though, with three winnable group games following this testing trip to Naples.

“The Reds will fancy themselves to beat RB Salzburg at Anfield before doing the same to Genk home and away, and that combination of results will put them in touching distance of qualification. Klopp’s side know they have it in their hands still.”

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