Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Napoli 4-1 Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp’s side make a disastrous start to their Champions League group

You would hope those Liverpool fans who followed Jurgen Klopp’s advice in May, to “book your hotels” in Istanbul for the 2023 Champions League final, secured refundable rates.

In the moments after the defeat to Real Madrid in Paris, an emotional Klopp pledged to oversee Liverpool’s return to the biggest club game in the world within 12 months and urged despondent supporters to follow his dream.

On this evidence, Liverpool will be lucky to make the knockout stages in 2023. The tournament that has often been a wonderful and happy diversion from domestic matters could not have started in a worse possible fashion for Klopp and his players here in Naples.

Liverpool endured an embarrassing start to their Champions League campaign, suffering a 4-1 away defeat to Napoli in Italy

Jurgen Klopp's side were ripped apart in defense throughout the first-half and struggled to mount a comeback after the break

Jurgen Klopp’s side were ripped apart in defense throughout the first-half and struggled to mount a comeback after the break

This, frankly, was an embarrassment, a display so wretched and disjointed that it made it easy to label this the worst European performance of the Klopp era. All credit to Napoli, who were young and aggressive and dynamic, for inflicting this damage but Liverpool certainly assisted them.

Three goals down at half-time – an Alisson Becker penalty save stopped the scoreline being even more emphatic – it was scarcely believable that it was only 103 days since Liverpool were going head-to-head with Madrid, looking to conquer Europe for a seventh time.

How the issues are mounting for Klopp, who bore the dumbfounded look of a man who had just seen his house collapse in front of him. The biggest compliment he would have given to Napoli, privately, is that they did everything he would want his own team to do.

Piotr Zielinski opened the scoring for the hosts from the penalty spot before netting Napoli's fourth goal in the 47th minute

Piotr Zielinski opened the scoring for the hosts from the penalty spot before netting Napoli’s fourth goal in the 47th minute

What he wanted and what he got were two different things entirely. Liverpool were an absolute shambles and the manner in which they were carved open, time and time again, was an affront to the values ​​this team prides itself upon.

It was apparent within 42 seconds that Liverpool were there to be taken apart: Napoli had seven players on the halfway line at kick-off, waiting to burst forward, but it was a decoy; they went backwards to launch their attack and pulled those in Red out of position.

The move ended with Victor Osimhen, the Nigeria international, skipping around Alisson, who had dashed out of his area, but, agonizingly, his shot cracked against the side of the post. This jolt should have woken Liverpool up but, instead, they froze.

Within four minutes, they were behind. Piotr Zielinski, a player whom Klopp tried to buy for Liverpool in 2016, broke into the area and shot but his effort was stopped by James Milner’s hand; referee Carlos del Cerro Grande had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Zielinski duly converted.

Napoli midfielder Andre-Franck Zambo Anguissa doubled Napoli's lead after Joe Gomez was caught napping on the ball

Napoli midfielder Andre-Franck Zambo Anguissa doubled Napoli’s lead after Joe Gomez was caught napping on the ball

Pacey forward Victor Osimhen - who should have scored a penalty of his own - annihilated Liverpool's high line in the first-half

Pacey forward Victor Osimhen – who should have scored a penalty of his own – annihilated Liverpool’s high line in the first-half

Games in this stadium have always given Liverpool headaches but this was the first time they had conceded here so early. Sensing the opportunity that something special might happen, the locals created a noise like thunder and watched Napoli play with the electricity of lightening.

Joe Gomez was the man whom Klopp would hold accountable at half-time, taking the central defender off, but this was not about the efforts of one man. Trent Alexander-Arnold was lamentable, Virgil van Dijk was so horribly out of sorts, Fabinho was wooden, Milner so off the pace.

Each time Napoli scuttled into dangerous areas, it felt as though they would score. Osimhen, with his changes of gear and enthusiasm, drove Van Dijk and company to distraction and he should have had a goal of his own in the 18th minute after he had been tripped by the Dutchman.

VAR advised Del Cerro Grande to look at the pitchside monitor and he had no hesitation in awarding another spot-kick but Osimhen could not convert, as Alisson plunged to his right to beat away a spot kick that lacked genuine conviction.

Giovanni Simeone capitalized on poor defending to fire in a third for Napoli to cap off a sensational first-half from the hosts

Giovanni Simeone capitalized on poor defending to fire in a third for Napoli to cap off a sensational first-half from the hosts

Any fears that Napoli would be left to rue that miss were quickly dispelled. Van Dijk had already cleared a shot off the line from Kvicha Kvaratskhella, the Georgian prodigy who is winning such rave reviews, before the 21-year-old created the second.

They have started calling him “Karadona” – in these parts, compliments do not come any higher – and his surge to the byline in the 31st minute presented Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, once of Fulham, to beat Alisson at his near post.

Quickly two would become three as Kvaratskhella, waltzed through non-existent challenges to provide a ball that gave Giovanni Simeone, son of Atletico Madrid manager Diego, the easiest opportunity to score for Napoli for the first time.

Here was where you could see how deep Liverpool’s issues are: there was finger-jabbing, shouting and arms raised in exasperation, the tell-tale signs of team that is malfunctioning. Klopp ran to the dressing room to see if he could summon a response but none was coming.

In-form winger Luis Diaz clawed one back for the visitors in the 49th minute but the Reds could not reduce the deficit further

In-form winger Luis Diaz clawed one back for the visitors in the 49th minute but the Reds could not reduce the deficit further

Right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold offered lots of playmaking in attack but was regularly caught out of position defensively

Right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold offered lots of playmaking in attack but was regularly caught out of position defensively

Did anything he say during that 15 minutes make a difference? Clearly not. Joel Matip replaced Gomez but, in the 48th minute, another counter enabled Zielinski to plunder his second and Napoli’s fourth and have historians searching for comparable misery.

This, numerically, was Liverpool’s worst European night since Ajax thrashed Bill Shankly’ side in the late 1960s 5-1 but the impoverished nature of it all had you thinking back to the 1990s when they were as effective on the continent as a domestic plug.

Luis Diaz, at least, scored a consolation but that will not bring any kind of warmth to Klopp. One game down and they already face an almighty challenge to get out of Group A. Istanbul has never seemed so far away.

Relive all the match action throughout the clash on Sportsmail’s live blog below, written by Ben Willcocks.

Follow Sportsmail’s live blog for the Champions League group stage clash between Napoli and Liverpool.

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