Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool don’t sit and feel sorry for themselves for too long, but the question is what will remain of the season by the time the Reds pull themselves back together?
A sobering night in Naples it was then.
The laws of average and all that, Jurgen Klopp’s poor record of results in Naples was theoretically there to be overturned, but currently, this isn’t a Liverpool that is capable of dealing in the practicalities of such a mission.
The fate of this game was cast within the first five minutes, as Victor Osimhen struck the outside of the post within 60 seconds or so of kick-off and Piotr Zielinski sent Alisson the wrong way from the penalty spot a short few minutes later, after James Milner deftly tipped a Matteo Politano goal-bound effort wide of the post.
It made for a torrid opening at a venue where you can’t encourage them like that, either down on the pitch or up on the terraces. Virgil van Dijk was soon bearing further potential gifts with a mistimed tackle on Osimhen inside the penalty area. With the referee having been implored to check VAR, he readily awarded a second penalty to Napoli and issued a yellow card to Van Dijk.
This was where Napoli made their one error of the evening, with Osimhen demanding the ball, rather than Zielinski taking the honours again. You simply don’t change your penalty taker when your regular one has just converted; it is a project of vanity and ego, a gamble that temporarily embarrassed the Napoli number nine.
Saved by Alisson, Liverpool were handed the opportunity of using it as a strategically beneficial turning point, yet by half time they had conceded two more goals to Zambo Anguissa and Giovanni Simeone, the latter being the man who entered the fray before the interval when we had been blessed to see the back of the early departing Osimhen.
Utterly ragged, Liverpool were porous at the back and pedestrian when in possession. A Van Dijk goal line clearance saved further blushes on an evening that will keep Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold awake for several nights to come.
Again, we worked a few interesting positions but failed to take advantage of them. Alexander-Arnold had a free kick touched over the crossbar by the alert Alex Meret, while Mohamed Salah found himself well positioned with the goal at his mercy, only to shockingly take his eye off the ball. He would later see a low shot easily dealt with by the Napoli goalkeeper.
Van Dijk with a header and Harvey Elliott at the back post also might have prospered on another day, but it was all about ifs and buts, rather than absolutes. Give us the hint of a chance at the moment and we are more likely to pass up on it than take it. Conversely, offer our opponents an opportunity and they will snap our hand off in their haste to grab it.
Liverpool applied a bit of pressure when the scoreline lay at 1-0, but movement proved our downfall, both within our patent lack of it and Napoli’s embracing of their own. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Stanislav Lobotka were always seeking the ball and for 45 minutes we were faced with a pretty compelling tribute act to the type of pressing and fast-paced interchanges that have been our calling card under Klopp. It was horrendous to play against, in what was our worst half of football in a very long time.
Too many key components electing to, or forced to be anonymous, this is a blast back to how we used to embrace away European ties in the late 1990s. Blink and it could have been PSG, Strasbourg, or Celta Vigo circa 1997-99.
The early exchanges of the second half offered no solace, despite Joel Matip replacing the shellshocked Gomez, and the criminally exposed Allison was hung out to dry by his defence yet again when Zielinski made it 4-0. He was one of the few players who genuinely deserved better.
On the plus side, Luis Diaz did score the goal of the night, a fine strike that tempered the remainder of Napoli’s attacking intent, as the rest of the game petered out with an unspoken agreement that if we weren’t foolish enough to attempt a ludicrous comeback, then the home side would not torture us any further.
Three games now stand between us and the first international break of the season and it isn’t outlandish to suggest that they will set the bar for our aspirations and targets for the remainder of the campaign.
A reaction required against Wolves, an early fork in the Champions League road against Ajax, and a trip to face a dysfunctional Chelsea that should be under new management by the time we roll into Stamford Bridge. The steps ahead are straightforward, but perhaps easier said than done.
The destruction of Bournemouth and the final flourish against Newcastle had seemed a good foundation to strike forward from, but we haven’t utilised that. Instead, a further step to the side and another one back has left us going around in troubling circles.
We have been in similar positions before under Klopp. I’ve written before about the extremes Liverpool swing between under him, but for every relatively brief retrograde motion it is inevitably followed by a prolonged upward trajectory, and he will find the right formula once again. The only question is, just what his team will still have to realistically play for this season by the time the turbulence settles.
Currently, it is hard to see anything except more of the inconsistent same, at least until some big personalities start making the kind of consistent contributions that we know them capable of.
Liverpool aren’t suddenly a poor team, this is no overnight condition, a series of negative events have deflected us to this point, and a series of positive events will guide us away from the resultant fug, be that alterations to formations and tactical approaches, or certain playing personnel being taken out of the firing line for a while.
There is not going to be a light switch moment of eureka where everything magically becomes awesome once again, it will need working for, and there will be more bad days ahead as a side-effect of that.
As supporters, it’s up to us to show a bit of patience, and as part of this, there must be an acceptance that other teams can play football very well too. Our levels of performance have been exceptionally high in recent years, and it is a big task to keep them there when carrying the type of mental baggage that the last week of last season dealt us.
Added to this, we have produced a blueprint for other clubs to replicate. There are an increasing number of teams that are adhering to the contemporary ‘Liverpool Way’ and Napoli essentially out-Liverpooled us.
A soul-searching week lays in wait.