S.S.C. Napoli 2 - 0 Liverpool F.C.
Napoli: Mertens (Pen) 82’, Llorente 90+2’
Liverpool started their Champions League winning campaign with a statement victory over Paris Saint-Germain last year, and they’ll be looking for a similar result this year, outside of the safe confines of Anfield, at that. Considering the relative strength of the two Group E favorites, a win tonight would go a long way toward not only qualifying for the knockout stages, but toward winning the group outright. Klopp makes a pair of changes in midfield, bringing in captain Jordan Henderson and vice captain James Milner on for Georginio Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Otherwise, the back four are the back four, and the front three are the front three. Get in, you Champions of Europe!
Adrian is called on early, with a couple of hard-hit half chances in quick succession, but saves them both. Napoli manage to put the ball in the back of the net on the third time of asking, but it is correctly disallowed for offside. Going the other direction, there appears to be plenty of space to hit the home side on counter. Salah & Co. have been close to doing precisely that on a couple of occasions, but haven’t yet found that crucial final ball and/or touch.
The ref is letting Napoli get away with a lot half fouls, or in some case, full fouls without much reprieve. Klopp is not happy about it. Regardless, Liverpool have shown a lot more in the opening half an hour in this encounter than at any point in this fixture last year. In fact, you’d say the Reds have just about shaded it, even if they haven’t really troubled the Napoli defense.
Just before the half, Liverpool create two of their best chances. First, Milner is played through, but cannot quite square the ball to Mane at the back post, and it is put out for a corner. On the ensuing corner, it is played short to Milner, who finds a wide open Bobby in the box for a free header, but the Brazilian puts it just wide of the post. All in all, it’s a good opening 45 from the Reds. With a little more composure from the front three, the Reds should have enough to escape with all three points.
Adrian called into action at the beginning of the half again, this time with a dangerous cross to the back post. Van Dijk, to the shock of just about everyone, misjudges the cross, and whiffs on the clearing header, but Adrian was alive to the danger and makes a diving save. We’ve become accustomed to Liverpool starting second halves on top, but it is Napoli who are threatening early. Mane gets a fantastic chance to open the scoring, springing a counter off a Napoli corner, but fails to slide Salah in on goal when it was 2 vs. 1.
Robbo and Milner each get booked in quick succession, while Napoli are getting away with pretty much everything. Somehow the home side have only had 2 fouls called against them, compared to 8 for Liverpool.
Salah is nearly gifted one! A sliced clearance falls to Mo in the box, and he hits a first-time left-footed shot that was destined for the far corner, were it not for a diving save from Napoli’s keeper. After the ensuing corner, Klopp takes the opportunity to sub Gini Wijnaldum on for Milner. The substitution immediately starts playing dividends; the home side can barely get a foot on the ball with Gini on the pitch.
Penalty - And it’s a harsh one on Robbo. It looks like he pulled out of the challenge, with Callejon initiating contact after the ball had already gone, but “you’ve seen them given.”
Goal. Mertens converts. Adrian gets a hand to it, but it’s not enough. Sigh.
Klopp decides to bring on Xherdan Shaqiri for Hendo, hoping for some late magic from the Swiss. Can he channel his inner Origi?
Goal. The Reds lost their heads after that goal, and miscommunication at the back allowed Llorente to pick up the scraps for an easy goal. Oof. That’s going to make tonight harder to take.
It was a much better performance from start to, oh, about eight minutes than last year in the Stadio San Paolo, but whereas they were lucky to only lose 1-0, they’ll feel hard done by tonight. The Reds were just one poor touch, or pass, or finish away from opening Napoli up, but it just never came tonight. And then their heads went, chasing a goal. Welp, on to the next one.