Napoli snatched a deserved 1-0 win at the death against lacklustre Liverpool in their Champions League group stage encounter
The home side overran the midfield for much of the game and should have added more to their tally against the toothless visitors.
Liverpool are now locked in second place in the group with PSG who dished a 6-1 drubbing on Serbia’s hapless Red Star Belgrade earlier in the evening.
Liverpool’s backline frequently breached
Napoli began the match with a blueprint for aerial dispatch over Liverpool’s high-line and within the first five minutes, their deep-lying midfield pair were launching long balls over the top which Lorenzo Insigne was oh so close to latching on to.
Liverpool’s brittle defence seemed to be superglued thus far this season but the hallmarks of those fissures reappeared in Naples with Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold’s tendency to saunter forwards consistently leaving Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez exposed and outnumbered. And as Napoli began to apply added pressure midway through the second half, they cut through the backline at will via land or air and only their dismal final ball deprived them of extra goals on half a dozen occasions.
Keita injury leaves a hole
Klopp had carefully rotated captain and new signing thus far this season but after Keita was stretchered off on the stroke of twenty minutes there was a distinct loss of dynamism to Liverpool’s play. Keita is an old-fashioned box-to-box midfielder as capable making marauding runs into Napoli’s half and playing incisive balls as he is a spiteful clutch-tackler in front of the back-four. Henderson may well have started in place of the Guinean on the weekend but after his introduction to the midfield tonight Liverpool’s agility and menace through the centre wilted. If Keita is out for a considerable period as feared, and Fabinho remains a mythical entity, Liverpool lose a dimension.
Salah still scarred since World Cup
After being taken off at Chelsea on the weekend, affirming that even Klopp has reluctantly acknowledged Salah’s dip in form, the little Egyptian again rarely made the temporal shift to visibility in Naples. The added pressure since last season continually has him see-saw from over-egged urgency to twitchy hesitancy and those traits were again on display this evening.
Salah’s acute ability to drift deftly inwards from the left-flank has deserted him, epitomised none more so than on the half-time whistle when presented with the ball on his favoured corner of the penalty box only to stutter and allow Napoli’s to crowd him. With each loss of possession, the cycle becomes more acute, his shoulders shrug a little more, and the comparisons to Mane’s bustling presence on the opposing wing dampen.
Liverpool lacking ruthless rabidity
From the moment Liverpool took to the Naples turf they looked happy to settle for a draw. They started each half sluggishly, inviting attacks and lacking the typical trifecta of unstoppable energy up top that we’ve come to know in the Premier League. The generous interpretation would be that Liverpool have a newfound maturity that allows them to grind out a deadlock when desired and suppress their attacking nous when needed. The more callous conclusion would state that there was an unfamiliar meekness and caution to Liverpool’s attack rather than the ruthless rabidity in the face of their opponents.
Stadio San Paolo remains a damned fortress for the English
In the Premier League era, English teams have successfully plundered three points from Southern Italy on only one occasion. Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were all defeated during Walter Mazzarri’s era in Campania and the trend continues under Carlo Ancelotti. Whether it’s the tenacity of the Ciucciarelli (The Little Donkeys) on the pitch, the blazing flames that ignite the stands below Mount Vesuvius or the mythology of the Camorra and violent away fans who blindside Brits in the courtyards, the cauldron’s curse persists.