Liverpool’s Champions League group campaign started with an embarrassingly one-sided defeat at Napoli, as a series of defensive errors saw us four down before any kind of response was seen.
Napoli 4-1 Liverpool
Champions League group stage (1)
Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, Wednesday 7 September 2022
Goals: Zielinski pen 5′, Zambo Anguissa 31′, Simeone 44′ 46′; Diaz 48′
Missed pen: Osimhen 17′
Given what has come over the last few years perhaps there’s a case to be made that it’s right to keep the faith, except for this particular issue has been responsible for many of the dropped points already and we were no closer to finding the answer here.
In fact, given Napoli are the most aggressive and adventurous side we’ve played this season, the problem was worse than ever – massive gaps repeatedly passed through, nobody able to get close to their metronome Lobotka and a woeful lack of physicality to keep pace with the other two.
Look, James Milner had to be replaced at the break. He should have been booked for the penalty – yes, it was obviously on purpose – and then was for scything down Anguissa. He was fortunate to not see another booking for clattering Lobotka before the interval.
We’re fortunate he got to the hour mark, in truth, when the triple sub was made and he departed. It’s harsh to hear, but Milner’s mobility, agility and technical ability is not Champions League level and unless the rest of the team is in perfect form, he’s not a player who can be carried now.
Yet this isn’t all down to the No7 in the slightest.
Fabinho was miles off it, the full-backs were abysmal again in terms of positional work and tracking, the cohesion in attack isn’t there on or off the ball. What a pretty picture it all paints.
Gomez’s ghastly night
Once was unfortunate, twice was ridiculous, three times an abomination – Joe Gomez had the ball and yet was still beaten for technique and power by a series of forwards, thankful to Alisson and Van Dijk before his profligacy in possession proved costly.
Our No12 has had a reasonable run of games coming into this week on account of injuries elsewhere, but his touch has been off even when his performance level has been fine defensively.
Here, neither were on point.
As noted earlier, he wasn’t the only one who was lacking in a first touch: Salah should have scored but missed the ball entirely at the far post, Robertson’s passing was all over the show and Diaz missed an attempted control by about a yard, with the ball instead bouncing up onto his hand.
A first-half to forget all-round even if Gomez will take the brunt of the blame.
At least there’s Alisson
Positives? Our goalkeeper again, which definitely isn’t actually a massive plus point when a) it’s needed in the first place and b) he still conceded four.
But Alisson‘s starting point was necessarily excellent more than once, he made a couple of big stops and even saved the second penalty.
No blame on him for any of the goals.
If we’re searching for anything beyond that it’s pretty slim pickings, but more minutes for Jota off the bench, Thiago‘s return and Matip getting back fron injury too are all worth mentioning.
So too Diaz’s performance in the second half, as he scored one and nearly added another, while generally leading the charge for respectability.
Klopp has questions to answer
It’s high time the manager, who is rightly held in greater regard than any other since Kenny Dalglish‘s first spell at the club, came out to speak honestly.
Not the getting irate Klopp when his team is questioned, not the sidestepping Klopp who protects his team by avoiding the obvious.
Answers, hard truths, are needed at this point: exactly what’s going on with the Reds’ energy and power levels? Where has the pressing, the famous intensity, gone?
There will be at least an element of understanding, or at the minimum the benefit of the doubt for him, if he says something the supporters don’t like or didn’t expect.
But pretending things are more or less there when we can blatantly see Liverpool are a million miles away from the required form and standards isn’t fooling anybody at all and will only make the situation worse game by game.
Domestic return and a huge European night
Let’s look ahead, then: relentless fixtures maybe comes at a decent time as there’s no opportunity to dwell on what was admittedly one of the worst showings of the last half-decade.
Wolves at home at the weekend – they are good, they have a better midfield than we do right now for sure, but they are again lacking attacking threats after an ACL injury to new striker Sasa Kalajdzic. We’ll have to be a whole lot better defensively than tonight, all the same.
Liverpool’s only job right now is to rediscover the control of last season in the middle, the aggression of many years all over the pitch and a bit of confidence throughout.
After that it’s straight back into Europe with our first group game at home and it’s against Ajax.
If you think Napoli’s passing and movement was good tonight, you can now start getting very concerned about when the Dutch side come to town – on matchday one it was Mohammed Kudus and Co who were the top performers.