In what was unquestionably the worst performance of the new season thus far, the Reds stumbled in their second Champions League match. Liverpool fell to Napoli 1-0 at Stadio San Paolo.
Apart from the triumvirate of Alisson, Virgil van Dijk, and Joe Gomez, Liverpool played poorly from start to finish. In fact, the scoreline could have been a lot worse. After the best start in club history, the Reds have spent the last week struggling.
Against Napoli, Liverpool looked listless in the first half, never able to actually get a foothold in the game. As good as the home side may have played, the Reds were their own worst enemy. Everything looked out of sync, the passing, movement, and pace. With and without the ball, Liverpool languished while Napoli attacked with aggression but profligacy.
While the second half picked up for both sides, Napoli was by far the better of the two. After so many games in such short succession, Liverpool looked even leggier than they had in either match against Chelsea. None of the substitutes seemed to make much difference either.
Liverpool nearly hung on for a point. Yet, in the end, it was a last gasp counter-attack finish from Lorenzo Insigne. The pacey attacker slid onto the end of an excellent, low cross that curved behind the defence, leaving Alisson defenceless. Napoli deserved the win.
Here are four findings from the match.
As much impact as Virgil van Dijk has had on the Liverpool defence, Joe Gomez’s emergence as the centre-half partner has already proven this season’s revelation. The 21-year-old was far and away Liverpool’s best player in Naples. The composure continues to Gomez show since taking his opportunity to complete the pair has been stunning. In his preferred position, the rising England international has seized his chance. He has been so strong in supplanting Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip, it is now inconceivable how either find a way regularly back into the starting eleven. This was not a perfect performance but there was nobody better in red.
In a statement of intent, Naby Keita got the nod to start his first Champions League match for Liverpool. The dynamic midfielder has shown flashes of what he can bring to the Reds but has yet to put together the kind of consistent run of form that demands automatic minutes. It was not to be. Before 20 minutes elapsed, the Guinean collapsed in pain. A back injury saw him stretchered from the pitch and taken to hospital for tests. Regardless of the seriousness, it will be a setback for the £50 million player who has yet to find his perfect fit in the side.
The matches look like they are catching up to the midfield. Unlike last season, Jurgen Klopp has been a bit more circumspect in how he has managed his rotation. Given how successful the side had been since the start, it is understandable. Yet, Gigi Wijnaldum and James Milner look like they are toiling at the minute. With Keita falling to injury and Jordan Henderson still finding his form, the strength in depth will be tested with Manchester City at the weekend. While there is an international weekend in the offing, the Reds midfielders could do well with some rest and relaxation before refreshing their challenge on all fronts. Unfortunately, many of them may not have that luxury.
Liverpool’s front line may have tallied some goals but it has been clear that they have yet to fully hit stride. Now, it looks like that reality is settling into the threesome. All of them are starting to show some frustration. Each looks like they are pressing a bit too hard, trying to force things instead of letting the game come to them. With teams paying special attention to Mo Salah, last year’s sensation’s confidence has gone cold. Meanwhile, Sadio Mané’s strong start has cooled slightly as his partners struggle. Last, Roberto Firmino’s linchpin linkup play has lacked the usual deft precision and creative space-making. Time is likely the answer but the front cannot start firing soon enough.