Jurgen Klopp rallies Liverpool to face Ajax after ‘five days of truth’
Liverpool trained ahead of Tuesday's Champions League match with Ajax (Getty Images - Andrew Powell)

The flight back from Naples was a quiet and subdued affair. As Liverpool travelled back to John Lennon Airport in the dead of night, having just been dismantled 4-1 by Napoli in their Champions League group-stage opener, there was plenty of time for minds to replay the chastening events of an evening both to forget but also learn from.

The postponement of the weekend’s Premier League match with Wolverhampton Wanderers also means that six days will have passed since the Napoli encounter and the next time Jurgen Klopp’s team take to the pitch again. Trying to right the wrongs of a display that the Liverpool manager declared as “the worst” since he joined the club would have been easier to undertake during a relatively humdrum 3pm Saturday league match rather than another high-stakes European game.

When Ajax arrive at Anfield on Tuesday evening they will expect a response from their hosts. Klopp admitted that with the absence of a game over the weekend, there has been plenty of thinking, talking and training. Clear-the-air meetings, in which “absolute truths” were laid bare, have also taken place.

I watched the game back plenty of times and it was a real horror show to be honest,” Klopp said. “It was the worst game we played since I was here. We had a few bad games — everyone remembers Aston Villa [beating his side 7-2] and some others where we were just not up to speed, but there were always glimpses in these games. In this particular game: nothing.

“You solve all individual problems as a team and that’s the first thing we have to do, to follow a common idea again. My teams are based on a real foundation if not nearly perfect defending. We could have conceded more in this game, we could have scored a couple more, but the fact we could have let more in is really crazy.

Klopp speaks ahead of Liverpool's game with Ajax (Getty Images)

“Eight out of 11 were below their level and the three others were not on a top level, just a normal game. [We had a] general meeting, showing these situations and they are too obvious. The players knew as well. It was not needed to say a lot about it but I did anyway.

“There are four or five days of absolute truth. We didn’t hide anything, we didn’t hold back anything, there was no need for that. We just said it how it is, but not to knock the players down or whatever, just to make sure where we are now is the starting point for us and we make sure we sort the problems together on the pitch.

Disjointed away performances in Europe have reared their head from time to time throughout Klopp’s tenure, but when added to their underwhelming start to the season this one is more concerning. Liverpool have only won two of their opening seven games — both coming at Anfield — and the manager believes part of the problem in Naples may have been the players were trying to over-correct a disappointing start to the season.

We had obvious football problems, defending and attacking, but what led to this problem was a misjudgement of the situation,” he said. “I know the players want to sort the situation: we are not over the moon about our season so far. In this game it looked like everyone wanted to sort the problem but by themselves and that didn’t give us the structure to work together.”

A new formation may be tried

There is a theory espoused by some at Anfield that Liverpool are simply knackered after the tight turnaround from last season when they played 63 matches. Yet centre-back Joel Matip down-played such thinking and highlighted that when playing for a team like Liverpool “you want to play as many games as possible”.

Liverpool train at Axa Training Ground (Getty Images)

Ensuring their season gets back on track and that a feel-good atmosphere resurfaces is a primary target for Klopp and his players. However, even a back-to-basics approach will be tested by the visit of Ajax. The Dutch champions are in fine form and have made a perfect start to the season: winning all seven of their games, including a thumping 4-0 victory over Rangers in their opening group game.

Liverpool, who will be without left-back Andy Robertson until after the international break due to a knee problem, must “reinvent themselves”, according to Klopp — but personnel changes will be few and far between. Injuries are still prevalent throughout the squad, especially in midfield — an area of the pitch which has come under scrutiny.

A change of formation from Klopp’s trusted 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-2-3 is therefore more likely. The Liverpool manager hinted at his team taking small steps on their pathway back to the high level they have been associated with in recent seasons. Any which way, Anfield will be hoping for a response of sorts against Ajax.

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