Player ratings: Napoli 2-0 Liverpool

Adrian-making-save
We kicked off the defence of our Champions League trophy against a familiar opponent in Napoli, having played them in last season’s competition and again in pre-season. This fixture last year was arguably our worst display of the season and although we were much better performance wise, the result still went Napoli’s way. Let’s see how the defending champions got on.

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Adrian (9) - Bit controversial but I’ve gone for Adrian as my man of the match. Pulled off a good double save in the first half and then a world class save in the second, where he seemed to hang in the air for ages before tipping the ball over the bar. Not much he could do about the goals and was desperately unlucky not to save the penalty. Handling was steady all night and showed some nice distribution. Most improved player in recent weeks.

TAA (7) - Not as involved in our attacking play as much as usual but was better defensively. Three times he read the game really well and came across to snuff out danger when it looked like Napoli were in on goal. Not a particularly memorable display from Trent but steady enough.

Matip (7.5) - Matip seems to start every game with a string of sloppy passes but once he found his rhythm he put in another solid display. He and Virgil demonstrated their aerial prowess by mopping up every cross into our box and he got forward to help out the attack when he could. Another solid display from him, which has just become par for the course.

Van Dijk (7) - Virgil begins every game as if he’s been on pause since the last. Effortlessly into his stride immediately, a picture of consistent quality. However even the great man is only human and he more than played his part in the shambolic second goal, after being caught overplaying at the back when he should have just cleared his lines. We all make mistakes however and Virgil’s are so infrequent, I think we can forgive him.

Robertson (6) - Picked up a knock against Newcastle that caused him to miss training this week and you could see he wasn’t moving completely freely. Moments before the penalty I thought to myself that he’s not running normally. As for the penalty itself, in real time I thought it was a penalty and don’t blame the ref for giving it but when you see the replay, he pulls his leg back and Callejon was already diving prior to contact being made. It’s the second game in a row that makes you question the point of VAR. Clear penalty on Matip at the weekend and a clear dive last night. If the ref missing these incidents isn’t a clear and obvious error, then what is? God knows what went on for the second goal as he looked like he could clear it but stopped as if he’d heard a shout. Rare breakdown in communication between our back line. 

Fabinho (8.5) - Unlucky to miss out on man of the match as the Brazilian put in a superb display, especially in the first half. Fabinho is now demonstrating the passing range that our midfield has so badly lacked since Gerrard departed. One that stands out was when, after brilliantly winning the ball back, he released Salah with a superb pass. It wasn’t his only one of the match however as he proved both a defensive shield all night as well as trying to get us on the front foot as often as possible. Fabinho is fast becoming one of our most important players.

Henderson (7) - It’s no secret I don’t like Hendo playing the number six role. I’ve always felt he slows our play down too much and isn’t progressive enough with his passing from that position. I have a theory however that this may be because the position is unfamiliar to him and he’s having to think about his positioning all the time. When he plays as an eight however, the positioning becomes much more natural and his passing and all round play becomes much more progressive. There was a point in the first half where this stood out to me as he was running away from the opposition goal and had an easy pass backward but instead he turned sharply and passed the ball forward again, getting us into a good position. Created a decent chance for Mane and pressed well throughout.

Milner (6) - Huffed and puffed around the middle of the pitch with his usual vigour and intensity but struggled to influence the game. One of our players that’s streetwise enough to deal with the dark arts of the game however and has a few of his own. Subbed second half, shortly after picking up a booking.

Salah (7) - I could probably write the same thing about all our forward players last night, as our attacking play just wasn’t quite at its usual standard. Salah looked the most likely to score however and forced the Napoli keeper into an excellent save. Didn’t get much change out of Khoulibaly on the night and will probably be annoyed with himself that he couldn’t capitalise the one time he did manage to get past him.

Firmino (6) - After a masterclass against Newcastle at the weekend, it just wasn’t quite happening for Bobby last night. Uncharacteristically over hit a number of passes and should have at least hit the target after finding himself with a free header from a corner. Pressed well and worked hard as always but his usual quality deserted him last night.

Mane (6) - Another who it just wasn’t happening for in an attacking sense. Squandered our best opportunity of the game after making a right mess of a simple pass to Salah, which would surely have resulted in a goal. Some decent running and looked threatening at times but it went wrong in the key moments. An evening to forget for Sadio.

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Subs:

Wijnaldum (6) - Brought fresh legs into a hotly contested midfield battle but had minimal influence on the game. I do feel our midfield isn’t quite as good without Gini in it though.

Shaqiri (N/A) - Not enough time to make an impression.

Klopp-watch (7) - Quite a difficult one to score Jurgen on as the game could have gone either way. I thought the substitutions were telling from both managers. Both managers made changes at the same time and I expected Milik to come on for Napoli and either Ox or Shaqiri to come on for us. The managers opted for Zielinski and Wijnaldum however, which tells me both were happy with a 0-0 which is what I was expecting prior to the penalty. I thought he waited too long before bringing Shaqiri on as well. We should have had another attacking player on the minute we went 1-0 down. Bringing him on with three minutes of normal time remaining is pointless and subs coming on too late has been something of a feature of Klopp’s tenure.

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Summary:

Our first defeat of the season then but I’m not too despondent about it. We were probably the better team on the night and had done enough to win, or at least draw, the game but what happened was the reality of Champions League football. If you don’t take your chances and have lapses of concentration, you’re likely to be punished and we know we can’t rely on the officials to get the big decisions right, even with VAR. Ultimately, in a city known for its crime, we were the victims of a bit of a mugging.

If there was one game we could afford to lose this season however, last night was probably it as it should have no effect on our progress through the group stage. It’s not ideal however and our away form in europe is becoming something of a worry. We didn’t win a single away fixture in last season’s campaign, with the exception of that famous night at the Allianz against Bayern.

Ultimately however, whenever we lose, I look to the performance as to whether or not we should be worried and on the back of last night, I don’t think we should be. We more than held our own and actually probably bettered one of Europe’s top teams, at one of Europe’s toughest away grounds. There were many uncharacteristic traits in our play last night too, from our forwards not being as clinical as usual, to a very rare mistake from Van Dijk and Robbo having a bit of an off night, which is again a rarity. Given all that and the fact we could afford to lose last night, I think it should just be chalked up as ‘one of those games’.

Anyway, no time to dwell on it as we have the small matter of Chelsea at the weekend and I expect to see a strong response from a team that isn’t used to losing these days, against a Chelsea team who... well... are used to losing these days and I’ll be unhappy with anything more than another three points against a very average Chelsea.

Not the best of starts to our European campaign then but no need to be eyeing up any panic buttons just yet. Onwards and Kloppwards, walk on.

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