Liverpool’s level under Jürgen Klopp has now reached the stage whereby any loss is seen as a shock. After all, the Reds do not lose too often these days.
However, Liverpool did fall to Napoli on Tuesday night in their opening match of this season’s Champions League. Their 2-0 defeat to the Italian giants meant Liverpool became the first defending champions to lose their first game since AC Milan in 1994.
Late mistakes costly for Liverpool in Italy
The scoreline was harsh on the Reds, who had engaged in a fascinating tactical battle with Carlo Ancelotti’s side, in a game which ebbed and flowed and where both teams had chances to win.
Liverpool’s attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané were kept quiet for long periods by the imperious Napoli defence, led by Kalidou Koulibaly. Nevertheless, there were a couple of counter-attacks in particular that Liverpool’s front three will feel they could have converted on another day.
See Mané’s face after failing to play Salah in on goal for instance.
With ten minutes to go, a 0-0 draw was looking likely, which would have been a fair result on all sides. Yet Andrew Robertson, who was only declared fit just before the game and clearly tiring, lost concentration and stuck out a leg which José Callejón, unsurprisingly, made the most of to win Napoli a late and controversial penalty.
Dries Mertens subsequently converted the penalty and suddenly Liverpool, who were mounting a challenge for a late winner themselves, now found themselves odds on to leave Italy with a defeat.
Liverpool’s perilous predicament was then sealed in injury time by another of Klopp’s usually dependable stars – just not in that moment on Tuesday night.
Virgil van Dijk will hope he got his one mistake for the season out of the way in Naples. The Dutchman failed to deal with a ball in the box, leaving new signing Fernando Llorente free to score past Adrián and seal the three points for Napoli and Ancelotti.
Adrián was impressive throughout but unfortunately could do nothing against Napoli’s late salvo that turned a solid away performance into another Champions League defeat away from Anfield.
Reds must replicate Anfield form on the road
Of their last ten trips away from home, including the two Champions League finals, Liverpool have now lost seven of those ten encounters.
The Reds prevailed in varying degrees of comfort against Bayern Munich, Porto and, of course, Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid. However, their second defeat to Napoli inside a year also falls alongside losses to Roma, Real Madrid, Red Star Belgrade, Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona, even if the last defeat inspired Liverpool’s most glorious comeback at Anfield.
Anfield is a special place and at this present time probably the toughest stadium to visit and secure a result in all of Europe. However, despite the security of their home fortress, Liverpool could do with giving themselves some breathing space by improving their performances on the road.
Whilst the Premier League is different to the Champions League, Liverpool only lost one league game across the entire 2018/19 campaign, avoiding defeat away to the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham.
Therefore, picking up a few extra points away from Anfield should be more than achievable and would help relieve pressure on their home performances, regardless of the strength of their results at Anfield.
Napoli tough, but easier group than a year ago
Yet there is certainly no need for panic. Liverpool progressed through a ‘group of death’ in their Champions League-winning campaign last season, finishing behind PSG and ahead of Napoli on goals scored.
Red Bull Salzburg and Genk have to be taken seriously, particularly the attacking talent of the former, but the Reds should almost certainly ensure a more comfortable passage into February’s knockout stages.
Finishing above Napoli and topping the group would be ideal but difficult following a two goal defeat in Naples. All Liverpool can do is win their games against Salzburg and Genk with no complacency and hope Napoli slip up somewhere along the way, or treat the Italians to a thrashing at Anfield.
Regardless, even if the Reds finish second in the group, it would hardly constitute a disaster, as last season showed. A quality differential may exist in many of the Champions League groups, but the quality of teams is consistently high in the knockout stages.
Moreover, playing away from home in the second leg can be an advantage if you can keep a clean sheet at home in the first leg, as Liverpool proved against Bayern.
Therefore finishing first is not an all-consuming objective for the Reds. There is plenty of time to secure at least second place and ensure Liverpool’s defence of their title continues into the New Year, alongside their chase for the Premier League title.
No place for online abuse in society, let alone football
Finally, the game against Napoli has since been marred by abuse Robertson has received online following his performance and conceding the penalty. The abuse has led the Scot to effectively remove himself from Twitter, at least for the short-term.
Robertson may have not been at his best late on against Napoli, but he has become arguably the best left-back in the world through his consistently fantastic performances in a Liverpool shirt. The 25-year-old is already one of the club’s greatest signings and promises to deliver so much more in his career at Anfield.
To abuse anyone for their performance on a football pitch is horrendous, but especially a figure who has always given his all for the club and has become a world-class player in his own right.
Social media has many positives, but often showcases the worst in people, providing a platform for negative characters to spread their hateful language.
Andy, all I can say is ignore them and focus on what you do best – being a brilliant footballer and a brilliant human being.
All true Liverpool fans are behind Robertson and the rest of the team, as the Reds look to continue their perfect Premier League campaign against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
The Champions League will have to wait, but it has only just begun – Europe are not getting rid of Liverpool that easily.