Napoli Humble Liverpool in Dominant Champions League Display
Napoli dominated Liverpool in the opening round of UEFA Champions League fixtures at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in Naples. Thus, Jürgen Klopp’s curse at Napoli continues. The German coach suffered his fourth consecutive defeat in Naples – his most painful and humiliating yet. Previously, he lost while coaching Borussia Dortmund in 2013 and later with Liverpool in 2018 and 2019.
Luciano Spalletti’s men were a true nightmare for Liverpool, and the goal difference could have been even wider based on what was happened on the pitch. Overcoming the English back-line with long, vertical plays was too easy for Napoli, who sent a clear message to Italy and Europe: despite this summer’s significant departures (Kalidou Koulibaly, Arkadiusz Milik, and Fabian Ruiz), they are still very much alive.
Early Warning Signs
Nigerian international Victor Osimhen had an early chance less than a minute into the game. The near post stopped him from scoring after beating goalkeeper Alisson to the ball and shooting from a tight angle. That early warning would be a sign of things to come for Napoli (and for Liverpool!).
Napoli’s first goal came in the 5th minute via a penalty, after Polish midfielder Piotr Zieliński scored after a handball in the box was called on Liverpool captain James Milner. Ten minutes later there would be another infraction in the box by the Liverpool defense. Footage from the VAR review showed that Virgil Van Dijk indeed stepped on Osimhen’s right foot, after which the referee ran and pointed to the penalty spot. It was Osimhen himself who took the penalty this time, only to be stopped by Alisson followed by an immediate miss over the crossbar on the rebound by Giovanni Di Lorenzo.
Liverpool could not generate any significant danger offensively beyond the occasional harmless corner kick. Luis Diaz did not come into play, Mohamed Salah did not help in the attack or the transitions, and Roberto Firmino seemed out of position. Finally, Liverpool’s first attempt came at the 21st minute after a free kick taken too high from Trent Alexander-Arnold from just outside the box.
Liverpool’s Horrendous Defending
But even that early in the game, Liverpool’s back line couldn’t contain Napoli’s relentless attacks: Van Dijk cleared on the line a shot from 21-year-old Georgian Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, in what could have been Napoli’s second goal.
And that goal would materialize in the 30th minute, precisely through Kvaratskhelia again, who undeterred, sprinted past Joe Gomez down the left flank. He cut the ball back for Cameroonian international Zambo Anguissa, who played a one-two with Zieliński, ran past a forest of still Liverpool defenders, and shot a poewrful shot past Alisson.
Then came the debacle: in the 44th minute, Diego Simeone’s son, Giovanni, once again punished Liverpool for their appalling marking, scoring into an empty goal from two yards out. Napoli would again make everything look too easy. When barely upon returning from the half-time recess a long ball by Anguissa would find Simeone and Zieliński leading a fast charge that a defense-less Alisson could not keep from crossing the goal line. Napoli 4-0.
Very little to salvage
Luis Diaz’s skill and spirit was the only thing worth adding to Klopp’s notebook. In an almost immediate response to Napoli’s fourth goal, Diaz found himself with the ball and plenty of space on the left flank, cut inside, and fired an unstoppable shot past goalkeeper Alex Meret and into the bottom right corner. Liverpool would have two more timid approaches to the Italian goal, both from Diaz, but Napoli’s defense remained in complete control. The last 15 minutes of the game were marked by a flood of substitutions in both teams, which only helped Napoli secure their magnificent win.
Liverpool had a crash landing in the Champions League – a pale shadow of the team that reached the final back in May. The attack performed especially poorly (with the noteworthy exception of Diaz). Salah struggled to control passes throughout the game and was substituted in the 61st minute. Darwin Núñez seemed very out of the loop and failed to connect with the players around him, while Firmino simply looked exhausted. In fact, after Luis Diaz’s goal, the entire Liverpool team appeared pretty much resigned to their fate. It must have been a quiet plane ride for the disappointing six-time European champions.