The media thought Liverpool missed a big opportunity by drawing 1-1 with Napoli and feel the leaky defence is now a serious concern.
The Reds passed up a glorious chance to seal early qualification for the Champions League knockout stage after being held by the Serie A side.
Dejan Lovren’s bullet header cancelled out Dries Mertens’ opener to earn a point, on a frustrating night which saw Liverpool produce a poor performance.
It now all hinges on the final matchday in Salzburg, where a draw will be enough to take Jurgen Klopp’s side through to the last 16.
Here’s what the media made of a rare difficult night at Anfield.
Reporters thought Liverpool passed up a great opportunity to make life easier amid the hectic schedule…
Standard Sport’s David Lynch bemoaned how the Reds wasted the chance to relieve pressure on the gruelling run, assessing how Salzburg is a test Liverpool “could really have done without”:
However, they could really have done without needing something from a meeting with a team who caused them countless problems at Anfield earlier this term.
Next month is already a busy one for the Reds, whose Premier League schedule will be interrupted by a trip to Qatar for the Club World Cup. And they have lost what would have been a useful opportunity to rotate heavily in Austria by virtue of this result.
The Telegraph’s Chris Bascombe is in no doubt that the Reds will face a tough task in Austria as Salzburg will relish the chance to knock the Reds out for what would be the biggest result in their history:
But the draw is not enough to erase Salzburg’s chances of sending Liverpool into the Europa League next month.
The Austrians will prepare for the biggest night in their history after giving Klopp’s side a fright on Merseyside earlier in the competition.
The Liverpool Echo’s Paul Gorst opted for the positive outlook, focussing on how Liverpool are still in control of their own destiny going into the make-or-break clash:
This wasn’t the result Klopp had hoped for, but crucially, Liverpool remain in control of their own destiny. Avoid defeat in Salzburg and the Reds’ defence of the most prestigious crown in the game will go on.
And Liverpool will be able to take confidence from previous success in make-or-break final matchday occasions, according to the Mirror’s Andy Dunn:
At least he [Klopp] can look back on last season – when progression into the knockout stages also went to the final group game (against Napoli on Merseyside) – and see how that turned out.
Red Bull Salzburg are a dangerous, effervescent side but Liverpool should have too much for them.
Certain journalists discussed an “off night” for the Reds but feel the leaky defence is now a serious issue…
The BBC’s Gary Rose reflected that the performance will at least have shown Klopp what his side need to improve ahead of the busy but potentially rewarding run of games:
It was an off day for Liverpool but the draw does keep their unbeaten run going and the performance will provide manager Jurgen Klopp with an indication of what needs improving ahead of a busy December.
ESPN’s James Capps was actually impressed with how Klopp’s side still managed to avoid defeat despite producing a “dismal display”:
It was a pretty dismal display by Liverpool’s high standards, but their ability to grind out a result, despite not being at their best, is a great habit to have.
But Dunn was very unimpressed by a performance littered with “lapses in concentration and execution” and suggested that Liverpool were perhaps overconfident:
This was a performance scarred by unusual lapses in concentration and execution.
Klopp was raging – probably at the overall sloppiness of his side, the uncharacteristic waywardness of passing and an attitude that suggested just a touch too much confidence.
The Liverpool Echo’s Ian Doyle feels the Reds’ inability to keep clean sheets is now a real concern, noting how Liverpool are on the worst defensive run since 1998:
Another failure to keep a clean sheet was an 11th in a row, the Reds’ worst such run since the dark days of 1998.
Liverpool’s attack can’t keep digging the defence out of a hole. The Reds need to rediscover their mean streak quickly.
On the goal conceded, Nicholas Mendola, writing for NBC Sport, felt Alisson should have done better with Mertens’ opener:
Also, as good as the finish was, it was helped by a rare mistake from Alisson Becker. The Liverpool goalkeeper was married to his post.
Doyle explored potential reasons behind the struggles, highlighting the lack of a settled defence, greater rotation in midfield and the higher line as key reasons:
Matters have been somewhat less settled this campaign, Alisson missing a significant chunk through injury, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and now Dejan Lovren partnering Van Dijk at the heart of defence. Continued rotation in midfield has contributed in part.
The higher line Liverpool have been playing this term, which was pierced here after a seemingly interminable VAR check, perhaps hasn’t helped.
Meanwhile, Bascombe credited Napoli for a solid defensive performance, and thought Carlo Ancelotti made a good move in setting his side to double-up on Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah:
His side was as well organised as any to come to Merseyside this season, doubling up on Liverpool’s wide men and pouncing on every midfield error.
And the Mirror’s James Whaling lauded Kalidou Koulibaly’s role in that, assessing that the Napoli defender showed his class with a display that showed why he is rated as highly as Virgil van Dijk:
And he was much the same this Wednesday, with the centre-back cutting out nearly every through ball – on the ground or in the air – with ease, and keeping Liverpool’s world-class front three quiet.
His ability to instinctively take up the correct position in the box, coupled with everything else he excels in, makes him one of the world’s best defenders.
Members of the media attributed the lack of creativity in the selection as a key reason to Liverpool’s struggles…
Capps assessed that Klopp got his selection wrong, focussing particularly on the midfield lineup which left Liverpool short of “dynamism” in the middle of the park:
Jurgen Klopp‘s selection of James Milner and Jordan Henderson in the advanced midfield roles meant Liverpool lacked dynamism in the centre of the pitch.
Carl Markham, writing for the Irish Independent, felt Liverpool sorely missed Trent Alexander-Arnold’s “pace and delivery out wide”:
It said much about the laboured play of the hosts, lacking the pace and delivery out wide of the rested Trent Alexander-Arnold, that their two main goal threats came from Van Dijk – who rifled a 35-yard shot into the Anfield Road end and headed an Andy Robertson free-kick straight at the goalkeeper.
Following that train of thought, Rose felt the ‘experiment’ of Gomez at right-back failed, with the incoming defender unable to provide the same level of creativity as Trent:
He opted to play Joe Gomez at right-back with Trent Alexander-Arnold left on the bench, but it was an experiment that failed to come off as Gomez struggled to provide the same kind of attacking threat down the right as his England team-mate.
Lynch came to the conclusion that Liverpool were better with Jordan Henderson at right-back and thinks this may be a better go-to option for Klopp to turn to:
While Joe Gomez cannot be faulted for his defensive contributions, many of which were excellent, he was found seriously wanting in terms of going forward.
And it is telling that the Reds improved when their captain Jordan Henderson moved into that position when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain entered the fray.
Finally, and turning the focus to individual performances, Lynch singled out Lovren for praise, paying tribute to the Croatian for his excellent form since stepping in for Joel Matip:
Dejan Lovren’s front-foot defending was a major factor in Liverpool pinning Napoli back for long stages of the match, while his long-range passing on either foot was a huge help in creative terms.
Joel Matip may still be a few weeks from returning, but Lovren’s form means that hasn’t proven to be as big an issue as it might have.